Quick Vietnamese Chicken
with Crisp-Cooked Snow Peas
by Kate Heyhoe
This mildly spicy recipe is modeled after a traditional Vietnamese dish, but I've adapted it for ease and speed.
The original recipe includes lemongrass and caramelized sugar syrup, a common seasoning in Vietnamese food. In this recipe, I've substituted the more readily available lemon zest and molasses respectively. The molasses adds the same type of deep flavoring as caramelized sugar, yet without the extra step of making the syrup. But don't worry: the finished dish doesn't taste at all like molasses—instead, it has just the right balance of sweet and tart.
The spicy heat comes not from chile peppers, from finely ground black pepper, an ingredient used commonly in northern Vietnam and in Chinese cooking. This recipe is fairly tame, so add more pepper if you prefer more fire.
The longest step in stir-fry dishes is not the cooking time, but the chopping. Notice that this dish has very little chopping involved, and using whole, small snow peas makes for even less chopping. And here's a quick-cooking tip: if you stack two chicken pieces on top of other, you can easily slice them in half the time using the sharp chef's knife or cleaver.
For the snow peas in this dish, I prefer to cook them briefly in the microwave, then add them to the finished chicken dish. The microwave cooks vegetables beautifully, keeping them crisp and bright, and it's actually quicker, because the vegetables can be cooked at the same time as the stir-fry. You may substitute asparagus, carrots, celery, and other vegetables for the snow peas, but you'll need to cut them into pieces of even size.
Quick Vietnamese Chicken
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
2 tablespoons dry sherry
2 tablespoons unsulphured molasses
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 recipe Crisp-Cooked Snow Peas (optional)
In a nonreactive mixing bowl, combine the lemon zest, garlic, fish sauce, soy sauce, black pepper, and cayenne.
Cut the chicken breast halves into strips, slicing them across the short side of the breast. (Quick Tip: Stack two pieces of chicken on top of each other, so that they're resting lengthwise from left to right on the cutting board. Use a sharp chef's knife or Chinese cleaver and cut across the chicken into the thin strips. You'll be able to cut the chicken pieces in half the time.)
Toss the chicken slices well with the marinade and let rest 30 minutes or preferably 2 hours, covered and refrigerated. While the chicken marinates, mix together the sherry, molasses and lemon juice and set aside.
Using a wok or large skillet over a high flame, heat the oil until almost smoking. Carefully pour the chicken into the hot oil. Stir-fry until the chicken is almost cooked through. Add the sherry-molasses mixture. Stir-fry just until the juices thicken. Mix in the snow peas, if using, or serve them on the side. Serve hot with steamed rice or noodles.
Crisp-Cooked Snow Peas
1 teaspoon oil (preferably untoasted,
virgin sesame oil, or neutral oil like canola)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pound snow peas, trimmed
(preferably smaller sized peas)
Salt to taste
Combine oil and garlic in large microwavable bowl or serving dish. Cover and cook on high 1 to 2 minutes, stirring half-way through, until garlic is soft. Rinse snow peas and drain. Leave some water clinging to the snow peas, then add snow peas and salt to the bowl. Right before serving, cover and cook on high 1 minute. Stir and test for doneness. Snow peas should be crisply tender; if too raw, continue to cook in short bursts until done, being careful not to overcook. Serve as a side dish or mix into a stir-fry like Quick Vietnamese Chicken.
Kate's Global Kitchen Recipes:
Other Recipes and Cookbooks:Global Destinations: Vietnam
Authentic Vietnamese Cooking
The Food of Vietnam
Copyright © 2000, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.