It’s now early summer here in Australia and the herbs I grow in pots outside my flat are beginning to grow again. My Vietnamese coriander has been especially prolific, sending out new leaves everywhere. I felt it was time to give it a light pruning, and harvest some leaves at the same time.
I decided to try out a recipe from Mai Pham’s excellent cookbook New Flavours of the Vietnamese Table. Ginger Chicken looked straightforward enough, so I substituted the spring onions and coriander in the original recipe with my Vietnamese coriander.
The resulting dish was a sublime blend of fish sauce, sugar, chilli and a hint of pepper from the Vietnamese coriander. I think I made the gravy a bit more watery than it should be, but it didn’t matter as I was slurping it up like soup. It’s a good thing I live alone as I forgot most of my table manners while eating this dish.
This is a simple recipe that’s relatively quick and easy to prepare. Try to use chicken stock if possible as it adds an extra dimension to the final taste. The caramel sauce can be a bit tricky to prepare, but it’s definitely worth the extra effort.
Vietnamese Ginger Chicken
Adapted from Mai Pham’s New Flavours of the Vietnamese Table.
Serves 2-4 as an Asian-style shared main served with rice and a vegetable dish.
325g (11 oz) boneless chicken breast or thigh, sliced into thin bite-size strips
4 button or field mushrooms, sliced
5cm (2 inch) piece of ginger, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small red onion, thinly sliced lengthways
1 long red chilli, sliced
2 tbsp vegetable oil, for frying
1 1/2 tbsp fish sauce, plus extra if needed
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
125ml (1/2 cup) chicken stock, preferably homemade
2 tbsp caramel sauce (see recipe below), or 1 tbsp brown sugar
handful of fresh Vietnamese coriander leaves (about 10-15 leaves)
For the caramel sauce:
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp boiling water
To make the caramel sauce, heat the sugar in a thick-bottomed saucepan gently over low heat until it browns. Remove from heat and slowly stir in the boiling water. Take care as the mixture will splatter. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a wok or frying pan over high heat. Add the onion and fry for about 1-2 minutes until it begins to soften. Add the garlic and ginger and fry for another 30 seconds until fragrant.
Add the chicken, sugar, salt, chilli, fish sauce along with half of the Vietnamese coriander. Fry for about 2-3 minutes until the meat is just seared.
Add the chicken stock and caramel sauce (or brown sugar), then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Simmer for about five minutes, then uncover. Add the mushrooms and continue cooking for another 5 minutes until the sauce thickens and the chicken is cooked. Taste the sauce and adjust as desired with extra fish sauce and/or sugar.
Remove from heat and transfer to a serving bowl or plate. Garnish with the remaining Vietnamese coriander leaves and serve hot.
Vietnamese coriander is also known as Vietnamese mint and available in most Asian markets. It is called rau ram in the Vietnamese language. In my native Singapore, it is known as laksa leaf.