Thursday, February 28, 2008

Fragrant Vietnamese Chicken-Noodle Soup

Yes, I used Jim Fobel's Big Flavors this week as my main source. What can I say? Big flavors grab me.

This takes more time than you would think, due to the many fresh ingredients that need preparation. However, it is all very simple. Just don't do what I did and walk into the kitchen 45 minutes before you plan on serving dinner, only to see that the chicken should be marinated for 1-2 hours ... and then grilled or broiled. Guess what? It did just dandy with 1/2 hour of marinating.

My recipe notes:
  • I added basil, which makes it the spitting image of my favorite bowl of soup at our local Vietnamese restaurant.
  • I didn't have the thin rice sticks called for but, rather, broad rice noodles. They made for a bit more difficult eating perhaps, but worked perfectly well.
  • Not wanting to deal with grilling or broiling at the moment, I simply sauteed the chicken in the pot I later used for the soup.
  • I always use limes with this. Not only does it seem more authentic to me, but I like limes better.
Everyone loves this, even our discriminating Hannah.

Makes 4 main-course or 8 soup-course servings.

Chicken and Marinade
3 tablespoons Vietnamese or Thai fish sauce (nuoc mam or nam pla)
3 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon sugar
1 large garlic clove, minced or crushed through a press
1 pound split skinless and boneless chicken breasts
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

8 ounces thin dried rice noodles or rice sticks (1/16")
8 cups chicken stock
About 1/4 cup Vietnamese or Thai fish sauce (nuoc mam or nam pla)
5 large, thin slices fresh ginger
1 large garlic clove, minced or crushed through a press
8 whole scallions, cut into 1-1/2" lengths
4 cups fresh bean sprouts (12 ounces), rinsed and drained
2 cups finely shredded romaine lettuce (preferably the small inner leaves)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh mint
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil (my addition)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup chopped, unsalted, roasted peanuts
1 lemon or lime, cut into 8 wedges
Vietnamese chili-garlic sauce
  1. Marinate the chicken. In a large, shallow glass dish, stir together the fish sauce, lemon juice, ginger, sugar, and garlic. Add the chicken, turning to coat all. cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours.
  2. Preheat a charcoal grill or the broiler. Take the chicken from the marinade and pat dry with paper towels; discard the marinade. lightly coat the chicken with the vegetable oil. Grill or broil for 3-5 minutes on each side, or until cooked to the center. Let stand until needed. If making ahead, when cool, cover and refrigerate. Tear into 1/2" wide shreds. If the chicken is cold, reheat in a small amount of the soup broth.
  3. Make the soup. Drop the rice noodles into a large pot of boiling water over high heat. After the water returns to a boil, cook for 1 minutes. Drain in a colander and rinse under cold water. let air-dry in the colander, tossing occasionally, for at least 30 minutes or as long as 2 hours.
  4. In a large saucepan or soup pot, combine the chicken stock, 1/4 cup of the fish sauce, ginger, and garlic. Bring to a boil over moderate heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes. cover and keep warm until serving time.
  5. Just before ladling into bowls, bring the soup to a boil. Remove the ginger slices and add the scallions. Taste and add more fish sauce, if desired.
  6. For main-course servings, choose 4 large (6-cup) bowls. Into each, arrange one-fourth of the noodles (they will heat in the broth); one-fourth of the shredded chicken; 1 cup of the bean sprouts; 1/2 cup shredded lettuce; 2 tablespoons each of the mint, basil and cilantro; and 1 tablespoon of the chopped peanuts. Ladle in about 2 cups of the scalding hot broth, putting some of the scallions in each. Serve hot, garnished with lemon wedges. Guests should spoon in a little of the chili sauce to taste. For soup-course servings, use large shallow soup plates and halve the quantities given above.

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