Vowing to make use of the prolific Vietnamese cilantro in our herb garden, last night I took a page out of Mai Pham’s book Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table to make this Hue Chicken Salad (ga bop). I was apprehensive about serving it to my husband on several levels, not the least of which had to do with the fact that this dish has zero guilt factor, which all too often correlates to zero pleasure. Not to mention that “we’re having salad for dinner” doesn’t usually elicit an enthusiastic response. Additionally, Vietnamese cilantro is quite pungent, sort of like cilantro on steroids so it’s a love it or leave it flavor. The herb is also enjoyed by Vietnamese Buddhist monks to stave off sexual urges, also like steroids, and assist in their celibate lives. But I digress.
Above is the Vietnamese cilantro—or rau ram as it’s known in SE Asia—which has taken over our herb bed. I love how fragrant and pretty the leaves are. I let Tiny G play with a sprig in the garden while I was picking herbs to bring inside. Much to my surprise, my husband TOTALLY flipped over dinner and has requested that it go into regular rotation. It’s so flavorful, with a bit of heat from the chilies and exotic intensity from the rau ram.
But I may have told a teeny white lie about serving a guilt-free dinner. Mai Pham’s excellent and healthy recipe follows with a slightly less angelic suggestion from yours truly. The recipe virtuously has you boil half a chicken in salted water. She suggests serving ga bop on a bed of butter lettuce leaves. I ended up reserving two cups of the water from the chicken to make basmati rice, which adds to the sin factor with a hint of chicken fat, but gives just the right note of depth to the rice.
HUE CHICKEN SALAD (GA BOP)
(Adapted from Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table, by Mai Pham)
1 organic chicken leg and breast, scored for faster cooking
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste
1 teaspoon sugar
2 ½ tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1 small yellow onion, sliced paper-thin, rinsed (about ½ cup)
2 Thai bird chilies or 1 serrano chili, chopped or to taste
1 cup loosely packed rau ram (Vietnamese Cilantro) leaves or mint leaves
1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup basmati rice
Fill a pot with 2 quarts water and bring to vigorous boil. Add 1 tablespoon sea salt and chicken and bring water back to boil. Reduce the heat and simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let the chicken sit in the pot, covered, for 20 minutes. Remove the chicken and set aside to cool. Reserve two cups of boiling liquid for rice.
While chicken cools, bring two cups broth to boil. Add 1 cup basmati rice, return to boil, and then reduce heat to simmer. Keep covered and continue to simmer for 20 minutes.
In a medium bowl, combine lime juice, onions, chilies, rau ram and oil and toss gently.
Remove and discard the skin and bones from the chicken. Hand shred the meat into ¼-inch thick strips and transfer to a mixing bowl. Add the black pepper, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon sugar and gently massage into the chicken. Gently fold into onion and rau ram mixture. Serve over rice.