Friday, August 12, 2005

Lemongrass not-chicken

Last week I got a new cookbook, a Vietnamese one recently published by Hippocrene. A Vietnamese Kitchen by Ha Roda chronicles family recipes, particularly those from her aunt Bac Kit, a retired chef. The recipes range from authentic Vietnamese fare to dishes influenced by the family journey to America and Bac Kit's career as a chef in the new country. The family's story is well told, and there is additional information about Vietnamese culture, but the main thrust of the book is the recipes (almost all illustrated by a black-and-white photo).

My maiden voyage with this cookbook turned out to be "Lemongrass Chicken." Chopped chicken is marinated in a blend of fish sauce, soy sauce (I used Chinese light soy), rice vinegar, honey and oyster sauce; this marinade is additionally spiced with lemongrass, salt, garlic, onion, ginger and black pepper. I also added some Tabasco sauce, since Roda admits she prefers to reduce the heat in her recipes.

After the chicken has marinated for at least half an hour, it is cooked over high heat for ten minutes, along with the marinade. This led to a near-burning experience as the marinade was absorbed by the Quorn tenders I was using instead of chicken. Just in time, I got to add half a cup of water, stir, then cover and simmer for 20 minutes. When done, the chicken is garnished with scallions and served with jasmine rice.

I had high hopes for this dish, and indeed it was very simple to cook, but the taste wasn't quite to my liking. I'm not sure whether it was the mix of spices, not using real chicken meat, or just the near-charred quality; maybe it was a mix of them. Maybe it was even the hopeful chef's relative lack of familiarity with real Vietnamese food. In any case, the final result was a very strongly flavored dish, even when mixed with the jasmine rice. That probably can't be helped when using ingredients like fish sauce and oyster sauce. In any case, I will definitely try this again with real chicken, and I look forward to cooking other dishes in the book and developing my taste for Vietnamese food.

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