"Chao Ga/Goi Ga" : Vietnamese Rice Porridge with Yellow Hen Salad

This is my all-time favorite breakfast food. When me and my sisters come back home, we always hope that mom would fix us some of this porridge and she hardly ever disappoints. My mom is a truly seasoned cook and she’s always giving me the most interesting cooking tips that I would never come across on my own. Hopefully you guys can benefit from them as well.

I can easily take the easy route and give you a bastardized American version of this dish, but it just doesn’t work well unless you have all the components, so I’m gonna have to break this down into several recipes. Be forewarned: it’s gonna be a looong post…

Chicken Stock

Asian chicken stock varies greatly from the European variant. In our house, we never roast the bones. Doing so destroys a lot of the gelatin resulting in a deeper chicken flavor, but you’ll also lose some of that velvety texture. Another main difference is in the aromatics. Instead of mirepoix and herbs, we opt for ginger, onions, a splash of rice wine, and kaffir lime leaves. This yields a very light and rich broth that is very strong in chicken flavor. This is the stock we’re going to be using to poach the hen and make our porridge.

2 gallons of water
3# of chicken backs/bones
3# of chicken feet
1 knob of ginger, cut in half
3 kaffir lime leaves
1/2 cup chinese rice wine

To clean the bones and feet, rub abrasively with iodized table salt (it’s gotta be good for something, right?) and rinse them thoroughly afterward. Place the bones in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and immediately drain the bones, discarding the water. Return the bones to the pot and fill with water until it just covers the bones. Return to a boil and then let the pot simmer for 6 hours. Intermittently, coagulated blood and random scum will surface that will need to be carefully spooned off. When the stock is done, strain, and discard spent bones.

Yellow-Feathered Chicken

This is essentially a free-range chicken. If you ever question the real difference between mass-produced chicken and free-range, you really need to try this chicken for yourself. Since the chicken is allowed more physical activity, it inherits a lower fat and higher muscle content. The skin is tougher, and the meat is almost rubbery, and though that may not sound appetizing, the flavor is so much better than your average chicken. It’s much more suited for Asian cuisines than Western so it wouldn’t necessarily be a good replacement for every poultry dish, but if you’re going to replicate this recipe then finding this chicken is a must.

First, be sure to let the chicken sit out to come to room temperature before cooking. Using a pot that would fit a whole 4 to 5 lb yellow-feathered chicken, heat up the chicken stock so that it is around 160 degrees. Slowly descend the chicken into the broth and cover for 15 minutes. Remove the chicken, place into a bowl, and immediately wrap tightly with plastic wrap. What you’re doing is letting the chicken cook off it’s own heat, gently and slowly. After an hour, unwrap the chicken and let it cool completely in the fridge.

When the chicken is cool, filet the entire bird and remove the meat from the bone. Try your best to keep all the parts with skin attached. Chop chicken into strips and set aside for the salad.

"Goi Ga" : Vietnamese Chicken Salad

I’m more confident asking you to eyeball this one than giving you a recipe…so, really, that’s what you should do with the following list of ingredients:

(in order of weight)
green cabbage
red cabbage
shredded yellow feathered chicken
red onions
laska leaves
grapeseed oil
freshly squeezed lemon juice

The cabbage and onions should be shaved very thinly on a mandolin and soaked in an ice water bath for 15 minutes before draining. This takes the sulfuric edge off of the onions and gives the cabbage a crispier texture. As for all of the other ingredients…I think you can figure it out yourselves. Just toss everything in a bowl and season generously with salt and pepper.

"Yao Tiew" : Chinese Doughnuts

I just buy them. They’re available at your local Asian bakery or deli. If you don’t have one and you’re feeling hardcore, here’s a good recipe :

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/20311/doughnuts-and-油条chinese-doughnuts-twist-yes-there039s-always-twist (see under “the Asian Twist”)

The trick is to cook them twice. After you fry them and let them cool. Cut the doughnuts into 1 inch medallions and toast for about 5 minutes at 350 or until the doughnut is almost completely dry with little browning.

"Nuoc Cham" : Vietnamese Dipping Sauce

The nuoc cham we use for this dish is slightly different from the standard sauce that you’ve likely seen. The main difference is the inclusion of ginger and kaffir lime leaves. Exclude the ginger and kaffir lime leaves and you have a perfect nuoc cham recipe that my mom and I have tweaked to perfection.

3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 Thai bird chiles, finely chopped
1 fresno chilie, finely chopped
2/3 cup Coco Rico soda (7up works as well)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup fish sauce (Three Crabs brand preferred)
1 tbs ginger, minced
1 tsp kaffir lime leaves, stemmed and minced
2 tbs fresh key lime juice
1 tbs Datu Puti sugarcane vinegar

Whisk ingredients together until sugar is fully dissolved.

And finally…

The Porridge

Porridge is a dish that is prominent in Asia in poor households. Plain white rice porridge consists of 1 part rice and about 6 parts water, creating a thick glutenous paste that goes great with pickles, and salted fish & meats—also common dishes of the poor. The idea is to eat a tiny bit of something that’s extremely salty, and then stuff your face with a crapload of porridge. This way you get full off of the rice (which is mostly water anyway) without having to eat very much meat (which is expensive). It’s amazing how tasty dishes like this are bore from the mere necessity of survival.

This particular porridge stretches the rice/water ratio to the extreme—about 1 cup per gallon of liquid, in this case chicken stock.

Set the pot of chicken stock on high so that it can boil. Take two cups of raw jasmine rice and toast it on low heat in a dry sautee pan. Keep it moving to avoid hot spots. When it’s ready, the rice should have expanded slightly and its edges toasty. Drop the rice into the boiling pot of stock and stir occasionally until the rice is fully cooked. You can tell when it’s done when the rice breaks up and puffs. The soup should be very thin. Season with rock sugar, salt, and fish sauce to taste. Garnish with chopped cilantro and scallions. Bean sprouts are optional.

And there you have it. This is the ultimate soup and salad combo. So how do you eat it? Drop a couple chinese doughnuts into your soup at a time and let the outside get soft and eat it while it’s still crispy. Grab a chopstick full of the goi and dip it in the nuoc cham. Slurp some of the porridge to wash it all down. Repeat until bowl is empty.

You will not find a more authentic recipe anywhere on the internet. If you’re willing to go through all the steps, you’ll be rewarded with a true Vietnamese household dining experience.