With a penchant toward bold flavors, this recipe from Milk Street appealed to us from the get-go. Typically, bone-in chicken thighs are also sold with the skin on. Simply remove it before cooking, and if you make homemade chicken stock, save it with your other body parts for the next time you throw some together.
In Vietnam, turmeric, garlic, chilies and fish sauce—staple ingredients in the Vietnamese kitchen—douse chicken with a riot of flavor and provide that gorgeous caramel coloring. The other main ingredient, lemongrass, is a grass of robust habit native to southern India and Ceylon that is grown in tropical regions for its lemon-scented foliage used as a seasoning and that is the source of an aromatic essential oil.
Luckily, instead of mincing fresh lemongrass, which requires a good amount of time and effort, simply bruise the stalks so they split open and release their essential oils into the braising liquid; then remove and discard the stalks when cooking is complete.
The soy sauce was an addition to the Milk Street recipe, a stand-in for the MSG and pork bouillon. The braising liquid is thickened with a little cornstarch to give the sauce just a little body. Serve the chicken with steamed jasmine rice.
Simply stated, 2 1⁄2 pounds of bone-in chicken is not enough for four adults. Plan on eight large thighs, no matter the weight. I went ahead and incorporated this change in the list of ingredients below.
Heads Up: Don’t leave the skin on the chicken. The bone adds flavor to the braise, but not the skin, which turns soggy with simmering and releases fat into the liquid. But bone-in thighs are almost always sold with skin, so simply pull it off before cooking.
In a large Dutch oven over medium, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the garlic, chilies and turmeric, then cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Add the lemongrass, broth, soy sauce, sugar and 1 cup water, then bring to a simmer. Add the chicken skinned side down in even layer and return to a simmer. Cover, reduce to medium-low and cook until a skewer inserted into the chicken meets no resistance, 30 to 40 minutes.
Using tongs, transfer the chicken skinned side up to a serving bowl. Cook the braising liquid over medium until reduced by about half, about 12 minutes. Remove and discard the lemon grass.In a small bowl, stir together the cornstarch and 1 tablespoon water. Whisk the mixture into the braising liquid, return to a simmer and cook, stirring constantly, until lightly thickened, about 1 minute.
Off heat, stir the lime juice and fish sauce into the braising liquid, then taste and season with pepper. Return the chicken and any accumulated juices to the pot, cover and let stand until heated through, about 5 minutes. Return the braise to the serving bowl and sprinkle with cilantro.
Originating in Thailand, this soup is a hot and sour bowlful of local ingredients like Thai chili peppers and lemongrass. These are available in Asian markets, but there are swaps that are easier to find in a pinch, if needed. We jokingly called it “Tom Oh-Yum” due to the fact it was St. Patty’s Day when we made it.
This soup usually begins with simmering shrimp shells to make the stock. For a shortcut, simmer lemongrass and galangal with boxed seafood stock; OR use your own homemade shellfish stock, like we did.
This recipe borders on being a sort of Vietnamese taco or lettuce wrap, if you will. We found it on Milk Street whose staff, while in Vietnam, learned to make grilled lemon grass pork, or thịt nướng, as part of the dish called bún thịt nướng. It’s a salad that combines slender rice noodles with grilled pork, pickled and fresh vegetables, tons of herbs and a savory-sweet sauce (nước chấm).
To simplify, Milk Street focused on the pork along with the pickles and sauce, and accompaniments that are perfect complements to the rich, smoky pork. If you must choose between making either the sauce or pickles, opt for the former. The pork for thịt nướng is not always skewered, but doing so makes it easier to manage the thinly sliced meat on the grill. Lettuce leaves are ideal for wrapping the pork and pickles (dip into the nước chấm before taking a bite) or serve the skewers, sauce and pickles with steamed jasmine rice.
Don’t be afraid to pack the pork tightly onto the skewers. This helps prevent overcooking. If using a gas grill, make sure to allow it to heat covered for about 15 minutes before cleaning and placing the skewers on the grate. The sweet, sour and crunchy condiments balance the charred meat nicely.
2 Lbs. boneless pork shoulder, trimmed of surface fat
5 Medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
2 Medium shallots, quartered
2 Stalks lemon grass, trimmed to the lower 5 or 6 inches, dry outer layers discarded, thinly sliced
1 Serrano chili, stemmed and roughly chopped
1 tsp. chinese five-spice powder
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. grapeseed or other neutral oil
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. fish sauce
1 Tbsp. honey
Nước chấm (recipe follows)
Pickled carrots and daikon (recipe follows)
Lettuce leaves, to serve (optional)
Place the pork on a large plate and freeze until the meat is firm and partially frozen, about 1 hour.
Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine the garlic, shallots, lemon grass, chili, five-spice and 1½ teaspoons each salt and pepper. Process until finely chopped, about 45 seconds, scraping the bowl as needed.
Add the oil, soy sauce, fish sauce and honey, then process until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes, scraping the bowl as needed. Transfer to a large bowl; set aside.
Using a chef’s knife, slice the partially frozen pork against the grain into pieces about ⅛ inch thick. The slices will be irregularly shaped; cut them into strips about 1-inch wide (it’s fine if the strips are not uniform). Add to the seasoning paste and toss, rubbing the paste into the meat.
Thread the pork onto as many 10- to 12-inch metal skewers as needed, evenly dividing the meat and scrunching it together, packing it quite tightly. If some pieces are too wide, too wispy or awkwardly shaped, fold the meat or tuck in the edges as you skewer.
Place on a rimmed baking sheet or in a large baking dish, cover and refrigerate while you prepare the grill.
Prepare a charcoal or gas grill. For a charcoal grill, ignite a large chimney of coals, let burn until lightly ashed over, then distribute evenly over one side of the grill bed; open the bottom grill vents. Heat the grill, covered, for 5 minutes, then clean and oil the grate. For a gas grill, turn all burners to high and heat, covered, for 15 minutes, then clean and oil the grate.
Place the skewers on the hot side of the grill (if using charcoal) and cook until lightly charred, about 3 minutes. Flip and continue to cook until the second sides are lightly charred, about another 3 minutes.
Flip the skewers again and continue to cook, turning every couple of minutes, until well charred on both sides, about another 3 to 5 minutes.
Transfer to a platter and drizzle with about ¼ cup of the nước chấm. Serve with the pickles and lettuce leaves for wrapping and with the remaining nước chấm for spooning on or dipping.
In the Vietnamese kitchen, nước chấm is a multipurpose sauce/dressing. If you wish to moderate the spiciness, seed the chilies before mincing them. The flavors are best the day the sauce is made, but it will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days.
⅓ cup fish sauce
3½ Tbsp. lime juice
¼ cup white sugar
3 med. garlic cloves, minced
1-2 serrano chiles, stemmed, seeded and minced
In a small bowl, combine the fish sauce, lime juice, sugar and 6 tablespoons water. Stir until the sugar dissolves, then stir in the garlic and chilies.
Cover and refrigerate up to 3 days; bring to room temperature before serving.