‘Oh!” The faces of my family fell as I brought a gleaming roast chicken with all the trimmings to the Sunday lunch table last week. There was a collective whine of disappointment. “We thought you were making Vietnamese roast chicken.”
I first went to Vietnam ten years ago, and brought back several recipes that have become much-loved in my repertoire. This chicken one involves pounding lemon grass, shallots, garlic, sugar and fish sauce into a paste which I stuff under the skin and rub all over the bird before roasting. I serve it quartered on a bed of rice with little dishes of tangy nuoc cham sauce. There are never any leftovers. This Sunday I’m cooking two.
4 stalks of lemon grass, finely chopped
6 large garlic cloves, crushed and chopped
4 large shallots, sliced finely
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
1 tablespoon sunflower/vegetable oil
1.5 kilo chicken
½ teaspoon coursely ground black pepper
In a pestle and mortar, pound the lemon grass, garlic and shallots to a paste
Add the sugar, salt and fish sauce, stir into the paste. Add a little oil to the mix.
Rinse and dry chicken, loosen the skin with your fingers (I include a sub recipe below if you wish to look at a method for doing this) Take half the paste and push it under the skin over the breast and down the sides over the thighs.
Take the rest of the paste and rub it all over the chicken, and the inside cavity. Drizzle a little vegetable oil on top to moisten. Wash your hands. Grind the black pepper over the bird to finish.
Place chicken on a rack in a roasting pan and add 1/2 cup of water to the bottom of the pan. PLACE FOIL OVER THE CHICKEN SKIN then REMOVE foil 15 minutes before end of cooking to crisp the skin.
Roast at (220degrees) for 15 minutes then lower oven to 190 degrees for approximately an hour and fifteen minutes depending on your oven and the size of the chicken. Check the chicken half way through, the sugar in the paste may start to burn. Also add a little more water to the pan if it dries out. The chicken should be cooked well enough to break apart easily.
When ready let the chicken rest under foil for 15 minutes then break it into pieces. Place chicken pieces on a serving dish and pour over the juices that have collected in the roasting pan. Serve with rice, nuoc cham, greens and a chilli sauce.
Serve with Nouc Cham Sauce
This is a dipping sauce that has many variations. Some are sweeter or more sour than others. You have to find your own balance, but for this recipe the sharpness of the sauce is an important element to compliment the savoury chicken.
2 small garlic cloves, crushed
1 chilli split and seeded
1 teaspoon of fine white sugar or more to taste, dissolve in hot water if necessary.
2 limes juice of or juice of one big lemon (30ml)
60ml rice vinegar or mild low acid vinegar like cider vinegar
60ml fish sauce
Place all in a jar and shake about to blend the flavours.
STUFFING CHICKEN UNDER THE SKIN
Stuffing chicken under the skin is the very best way to get moist meat and the skin becomes particularly crispy when you separate it from the flesh as it cooks.
First place the bird on the chopping board with the legs pointing towards you.
Starting at back, insert your four fingers of one hand, palm side down into the cavity between the skin and the chicken breast meat GENTLY PULL THE SKIN TOWARDS YOU WITH THE OTHER HAND, trying not to tear the skin. Loosen the skin from breast and legs by gently pushing your hand under the skin and against the meat. Use your index finger to loosed the skin around the drumsticks. Remove your hand and turn the chicken around and repeat the process from the neck end also.
Take the stuffing paste and using your fingers, gently push it into the pockets under the skin. Remove your hands from the bird and massage the paste down. Take some more and repeat making sure you get some onto the tops of the drumsticks too. When you have used half the paste remove your hand, rub the rest all over the bird. Place the chicken on the roasting rack, in the roasting tin and tuck any loose neck skin under the bird. Wash your hands and the board.