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A few years ago we took a two week trip to southeast Asia – spending a good portion of our time in Vietnam. I fell in love with Hanoi – the people, the food, the Old Quarter. I can’t wait to return. Since a return trip to Hanoi isn’t on the short list (so many places to see and so few vacation days), I like to bring the flavors of Vietnam into our home as frequently as possible.
Since I’m in control of the kitchen this weekend, I pulled out a couple Vietnamese cookbooks and decided to do a simple roasted chicken with Vietnamese flavorings. When I was single I use to roast a whole chicken and make several meals out of the meat throughout the week. I haven’t roasted a chicken in a while.
I decided to make a flavored oil to put under the skin and use as a basting liquid during the roasting process.
Here are the ingredients for my tweaked recipe:
- One 3.5 pound chicken (for two people, which is enough for two entrees and leftovers for a small soup the following day)
- 1 tablespoon dried diced garlic
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce (the most quintessential Vietnamese ingredient)
- 2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons of honey (I used orange honey)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 cups of water
Preheat your oven to 180C/350F. Rinse your chicken in cold water in the sink. I like to start with a nice, cold, fresh, clean bird. Some cooks recommend against this, but I’ve been doing this for years and can’t see stopping anytime soon.
In a medium bowl, whisk the garlic, lemon juice, fish sauce, pepper, honey and olive oil until combined. Divide this mixture in half – one portion is used right now and the rest is the glaze, used throughout the cooking process.
GENTLY slide your fingers under the chicken skin on the breast – being ever so careful not to tear the skin. Once a nice deep pocket has been made around the breast, spoon in a few tablespoons of the seasoning and rub it all over the breast meat (again, under the skin). Flip the chicken over and make an ever so slight slit through the skin on the chicken thigh. Slide your finger through the little slit and make another pocket of space on the thigh and the drum stick. Spoon in a couple tablespoons of the flavorings and ensure the entire thigh/drumstick is covered. Repeat on the other thigh/drumstick.
If your chicken was like mine – and I’m sure it is – you’ll need to truss the legs together so they don’t flop to the side. If they do, they’ll end up cooking faster and being very dried out. Just Google the best way to truss a chicken. I will admit that chicken and I danced a bit in the kitchen sink. He just didn’t want to be bound. I eventually figured it out and the only thing that was bruised was my ego.
Place the chicken, breast side up, on a rack in a roasting pan. Fill the bottom of the pan with water – make sure the chicken itself isn’t touching the water. You aren’t cooking the chicken in the water, mind you, the water will slowly evaporate while the chicken roasts, keeping it more moist.
Before you throw the birdie in the oven, use the marinade to glaze the chicken breasts, thighs and drumsticks (the skin this time, since you’ve already flavored the area between the meat and the skin). Place the chicken on the center rack of your preheated oven.
I set my timer for 60 minutes (our oven is a bit temperamental). I also set another timer for 10 minutes – at which time I’d reglaze the chicken. Until the bird was done, every 10 minutes I reapplied the glaze. Popping the oven door open every 10 minutes definitely delayed the cooking time, but it made the skin so flavorful – it was totally worth it to me.
About 50 minutes into the cooking process, the breast and thighs were getting a bit dark, so I covered them with aluminium foil – this allows the bird to continue to cook, but keeps the direct heat off the skin so it doesn’t char.
I mentioned a few days ago the importance of using a instant read thermometer when checking the temperature of your steak – you must do the same thing with your chicken, moreso actually. After 60 minutes check your check in the thigh and the meaty part of the breast – though don’t touch the bone or the empty cavity with the thermometer as it will give a false reading. The temperature the first time I checked came in at 130F. I cook chicken to 160F then remove from the oven, and let the carryover heat finish the cooking process. I reglazed (this was the sixth and final reglazing time) and closed the door. I waited another 15 minutes and checked the bird again – he had reached 163F. I removed him from the oven and let him cool for a bit. The water in the roasting pan had all evaporated at this point too.
I moved the bird from the roasting pan to a cutting board and after about 10 minutes of him just hanging out, I carved both breasts and both thighs/drumsticks and plated them. I was concerned that my goal of using the leftover chicken for a Phở the next day wouldn’t happen, but luckily after the bird cooled more (and after we ate our lovely dinner) I was able to pick off another 3/4 cups of meat (breast, thigh, the oysters and whatever other little bits I could find). This should work perfectly for our quick Phở lunch on Sunday.
Back to the roasted bird. The meat was so moist and tender, even I was shocked. The flavors of the bird were there, but still quite subtle. I think I was expecting a bit more of an intense flavor. Don’t get me wrong, it was amazing. I will definitely make this again – and when I do, I may try to accompany it with a spicy Vietnamese inspired dipping sauce.
As I said before, I fell in love with Hanoi, much more so than Saigon. The flavors in Northern Vietnam (to me) seem much more blended. Fewer spices and peppers are used and there is a much greater depth of flavor. This dish reminded me of a quick appetizer we had one evening while biking outside of Hanoi.
I paired this with some asparagus and broccolini. I threw some butter, olive oil and some shallots in a frying pan on medium high heat until the shallots were soft and fragrant. I removed the butter/shallots and tossed in the veggies, covering tightly with a lid. The hot pan on direct heat added a little crunchiness to the asparagus and broccolini, while the lid kept in their moisture allowing them to cook quicker. After about 6 minutes they were tender – but still with a nice crunch. I plated them, drizzled the butter/shallots over top and sprinkled some sesame seeds and crushed peanuts as a condiment. We use the sesame seed/peanut mixture quite a bit with veggies – and as a separate condiment when we make homemade curries – the crunch and saltiness is quite nice.
Do you have a Vietnamese go-to recipe you’d like to share? Do you prefer the food of Northern or Southern Vietnam more?
Our trip to Southeast Asia including Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand took a long time to come to fruition — we were delayed a year because of my broken arm. Thanks to this delay we were able to try out a brand new plane and experience really top notch service. I really enjoy our now habit of taking 1-2 week vacations in March – it helps me survive the long Chicago winters and this trip fit that bill perfectly.
This trip allowed me to fly in premium cabins on airlines I had never flown before, put me way outside of my comfort zone with language and food and afforded me the ability to see a part of the world (with good friends) that only one other member of my family had seen before – and he (my dad) wasn’t in the area for pleasure (he served in the US Army from 1970-1971 in Vietnam). That being said, my 5 favorite parts of this trip would have to be:
- Flying Thai’s A380 in First Class
- Enjoying copious amounts of Mango Juice, Sugar Cane Juice and Foot Massages
- Exploring the amazing temples of Angkor Wat and the surrounding area
- Riding on the back of a motor bike in Saigon for hours as we hit various restaurants
- Morning Tai Chi as we cruise Halong Bay
I had a great time. It was sad to see this trip come to an end. Was it perfect? No. We were hot, we were sweaty, we got a bit on each others nerves from time to time. We each had stomach issues briefly. While I can’t speak for the rest of the small group, I can tell you’d I’d get back on a plane tomorrow and revisit this area – I would definitely make some changes to the itinerary, but Vietnam, Cambodia nor Thailand have moved to my “Been-There-Done-That” list of travel locations.
What was your favorite part as you read about my trip? Anything you’d like to know more about? If you’ve been to this area of the world, what was your favorite / least favorite thing you did?