This dish has had quite a long gestation in my repertoire… It all started many years ago – and I mean many years – when I was out for dinner with friends. As is so often the case everyone had a different idea of what they wanted to eat, so deciding on where to go was a bit of a pain. To cut a long story short we ended up in a Pan Asian/Asian-Fusion chain restaurant with a rather confusing menu.
Confusing because the name of each dish was written in the local language followed by an Anglicised transliteration. The description of each dish then being confined to a few bonus words to guide you in the right direction. I can’t remember the exact wording, but for a dish like my Basil and Red Pepper Beef it would have said:
ผัดกะเพราเนื้อ | Pad Gra Prow | Thai. Beef, Red Pepper, Basil. Spicy.
It was obviously a bit of fun and made choosing dinner a bit of a lottery… The waiting staff were helpful but why ask for more details when you could just take a stab in the dark? Is this going to be more like a stir-fry or more like curry? Does it come with noodles or rice? Am I going to like it at all?
I ordered Gà xào sả ớt (maybe described as “Lemongrass Chilli Chicken | Vietnam | Chicken, Chilli, Lemongrass” as if they needed to list the ingredients). I had no idea what to expect but I loved it. Hot, fresh, slightly sour and absolutely delicious.
So good in fact that when I got home I tried to remember (a) what it was called and (b) what was in it, so that I could make it myself. My first attempt was pretty good and packed with flavour but not quite right. It needed more work and I kept trying to get it right – though over time I suspect I deviated even further from my starting point. I gave up on trying to recreate Gà xào sả ớt at home, but never abandoned the pairing of lemongrass, chilli and chicken.
I’ve since found out that it’s one of those local dishes that comes in a different version depending on who you ask! There is almost no consistency in the recipes you find online so how could I ever get it “right”? Some versions call for a much drier dish than I’d experienced – with a thick coating of sauce on the chicken and little else. Others demand a generous helping of sauce and extra vegetables, making it more like a flavoursome stew.
My version – which I will call Lemongrass Chicken (without any reference to Vietnam as it’s not authentic) takes the “low sauce” approach. This concentrates the flavour in the chicken and allows you to surround it with a whole host of complimentary tastes and textures. Here it’s served in a big bowl with fresh vegetables, bean sprouts and noodles.
The noodles are coated with nuoc cham which is a salty/sweet/spicy/savoury sauce that saves them from being bland and soul-less. The vegetables come as they are and are a perfect fresh partner to the spicy chicken and warm noodles.
It all comes together as a glorious clash of colour, flavour and texture. A long way from where the journey started but I’m more than happy with the destination.
Lemongrass Chicken Bowl
- 1 Shallot finely chopped
- 3 stalks Lemongrass grated
- 2 cloves Garlic crushed
- 3 cm Root Ginger peeled and grated
- 1 Red Chilli deseeded and chopped
- 2 tsp Soft Brown Sugar
- 1 tbsp Olive Oil
- 1 Lime juiced and zested
- 1½ tsp Fish Sauce
- 1 tsp Freshly Ground Black Pepper
- 1 tsp Sea Salt flakes
- 400 g Skinless and Boneless Chicken Thigh Fillet cut into large chunks
- 60 ml Water
- 30 ml Fish Sauce
- 1 tbsp Sugar
- 1 clove Garlic crushed
- 1 tsp Chilli Flakes
- 2 Limes juiced
- 100 g Bean Sprouts
- 1 Carrot grated
- 1 pack Ribbon Rice Noodles
- ¼ Cucumber cut into strips
- ½ Red Onion thinly sliced
- Start by making the marinade for the chicken - you will want to marinade the chicken for at least 2 hours but preferably overnight. Mix all of the marinade ingredients together in a zip-lock bag (or large bowl) before adding the chicken thigh and agitating until the chicken is well coated. Put in the fridge to allow the flavours to develop.
- Make the Nuoc Cham - mix together all of the ingredients, making sure the sugar dissolves and put to one side whilst you cook the chicken.
- When you're ready to cook the chicken heat a griddle pan over a high heat and brush it with vegetable oil.
- Add the chicken thighs and cook for 10 minutes on each side until they're charred on the outside and cooked through.
- Meanwhile assemble the bowl. Firstly, cook the noodles as per the packet instructions, then drain and toss with the nuoc cham. Add to the bowl along with the fresh vegetables and top with the cooked, hot chicken. Serve immediately.