Tuesday, May 29, 2007

a westernized bun

Sometimes you just want some Bun (Banh)

My father's favorite cuisine is Vietnamese and I admit to being less than a fan until the past recent years when I discovered how perfect it feels to eat a plate of cold vermicelli rice noodles on top of a bed of salad, and other crispy vegetables topped with a nice grilled piece of meat.

The construction from top to bottom (assembly is important!):
Grilled Meat
Cold Vermicelli Noodles
Salad and fresh herbs & chopped nuts

Now, as they say "God is in the details," and this dish exemplifies how having carefully prepared all these different components will make for the best dining experience.

Cold Vietnamese Noodle Salad (Bun) with Grilled Chicken

3 chicken breasts filets
Salt & Pepper to taste
Olive oil and 1 t salted butter

1/2 package vermicelli rice noodles

3 spring onions sliced diagonally into 1 inch pieces (keep in the fridge until serving)
3-4 fresh sprigs of coriander/cilantro roughly cut
3-4 fresh mint leaves roughly cut
3-4 fresh basil leaves (Asian or Italian)
half a head of lettuce chiffonade cut (keep in the fridge until serving)
4 slices of cucumber slice diagonally in 1/2 inch slices (keep in the fridge until serving)
2 carrots peeled and cut into slivers
1/4 c dry roasted and salted cashews or peanuts

3 T fish sauce
3 T sugar
6 T water
1 garlic clove minced (or pressed or microplaned)
juice of one lime
Sriracha hot sauce

I have cheated since I prepared this at home without a grill, I simply sauteed the chicken breasts. If you plan to use frozen chicken in any dish, it is vital the chicken is compeltely defrosted and each piece is individually dried. Dry meat is essential for good browning. Since I had sauteed many chicken breasts in one go, I personally did not season it for Vietnamese food, but a good splash of fish sauce, minced ginger, and dissolved palm sugar (brown sugar is a good substitute) wouldn't be wrong (this will lead to a more carmelized meat than simple browned chicken breast, delicious especially when paired with grilling and that nice smokey flavor). For all-purpose browned chicken breasts just sprinkle both sides with a generous amount of salt and pepper before frying. Using a good thick bottomed pan, heat oil and or a butter/oil combination suited to your preferences and when the pan is quite hot place the breasts in the pan. Chicken breasts are often overcooked and unpleasantly tough. This is avoidable with caution. The trick really is to take off the meat before it's done since the chicken cooks after you take it off the heat. Chicken breasts usually take about 20 minutes to cook entirely. Do not move the chicken breast once in the pan so that it will develop a nice crust, and then flip halfway through. In this case, overmaintenance is best until it becomes second nature to not overcook the meat. Take off the chicken breasts when whitish pink inside (still moist) and place on a plate. Wait five minutes and check if the meat is entirely white. We're looking for a tender moist result. If not, sautee for another two minutes.

While you are frying the chicken, boil enough water to cover the amount of vermicelli noodles you would like to eat in a large bowl. Half a package is usually more than enough for two people. Once the water has come to a boil remove it from heat and add the vermicelli noodles. The noodles should soak for about 15 minutes. Again, please check the noodles by eating one or two. I prefer them a little softer than al dente. When the noodle has satisfactory give, rinse them in cold water in a colander.

While the meat is frying and the noodles are soaking, attend to chopping the salad and vegetables as prettily as possible and sticking them back in the fridge to insure the more crispy salad possible. If your salad is looking wilted it might be possible to drench it in an ice water bath to bring life back into it (plug the sin, fill it with cold water, and then add ice).

Chop up the nuts roughly and reserve.

Lastly, mix the sugar and water together until the sugar is dissolved, add the lime juice and fish sauce and a squirt of Sriracha to give it an authentic color. This is called Nước chấm in Vietnamese.

When everything is ready for assembly, slice the chicken breasts nicely. Start with the salad, herbs, and vegetables at the bottom with a healthy sprinkling of nuts, then add the cold vermicelli noodles, and the chicken breast slices. Serve with the Nước chấm. Never one for subtlety, I usually drench the whole plate in the lime zingy Nước chấm and mix in extra Sriracha sauce since I like my food spicy.

Bun can also be served with chopped eggrolls (instead of Chicken) or grilled pork as well. Now I know how to make my own Nước chấm I think this will be regularly served on my summer menu.

Lastly, don't fret if you don't have all the herbs on hand, even being able to inclue one or two will still liven up this wonderful summer dish.