A lot of the work I do in the kitchen is utilitarian. I cook because the family (by which I really mean me) needs to eat. With so many mouths to feed (and mine counts for about three—if you knew me personally you might even say four), a full-time job, and a (teetering) social life, there isn’t much time to experiment.
Still, we can’t eat the same thing week in and week out, so I was excited to try a recipe a friend had given me for Vietnamese chicken salad.
I don’t have any idea how authentic this dish is. My friend didn’t give me a source for the recipe. All she said is that she visited Vietnam and Cambodia in '95 or '96 and came back in love “a cuisine (Vietnam's) and some temples (Cambodia's)." And in my bleary-eyed, sleep deprived state I misread her instructions and substituted ginger for garlic in the dressing. No matter; it was fantastic.
I can tell you who’s also in love with this salad: Santa Maria. I made it this morning before breakfast while she was out biking. She came home hungry and instead of pouring herself a bowl of cereal or cooking some eggs, she dove straight into this salad. She couldn’t stop eating it, and raving about it.
For me, this was an experiment in technique as well as in foreign flavors. It was the first time I poached a chicken breast. It's much easier than I imagined. And I liked the way the breasts plumped up as they cooked. I put them in a large frying pan, with just enough water to cover them. I tossed in some salt, mint, and ginger; brought the water to a boil; and simmered for just a few minutes. The meat came out moist and delicious.
One utilitarian note: I took the salad to work today for lunch, and noticed that the mint didn't age well. In the future I would travel with that separately and add it to the salad just before eating.
- 2 or 3 boneless chicken breasts
- 1 small cabbage, shredded for slaw
- 1 bunch carrots, julienned into matchsticks
- 2-3 handfuls of chopped peanuts (I substituted cashews because I didn’t have any peanuts in the house)
- 1 bunch of mint, torn or cut into chiffonade
For the dressing:
- 1 lime, juiced
- 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
- 2 tablespoons rice-wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
Poach the chicken breasts with some ginger and mint (you can use salted water or chicken stock).
Shred the cooked breasts.
Combine the cabbage, carrots, mint, and chicken.
Dress and serve.
Note: I doubled the amount of dressing. And used half a head of cabbage. And added white wine to the poaching liquid.