Vietnamese Caramel Chicken and Mushrooms is unbelievably easy and oh-so delicious. I was sent a copy of The Slanted Door by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review, and all opinions are my own. Affiliate links have been used to link to items I am discussing.
Guys! This is a run don’t walk dish. You must make this! So, SO good. And SO easy–that was the most amazing part about it! But first I need to tell you about the awesome cookbook where I found it.
The Slanted Door: Modern Vietnamese Food is Charles Phan’s second cookbook. His first, Vietnamese Home Cooking, also highly recommended, is focused on exactly what it says. The Vietnamese food you cook at home. The Slanted Door is instead a restaurant cookbook–recipes from and inspired by the dishes at his San Francisco restaurant, The Slanted Door. As such, it has sections more suited to a restaurant cookbook, such as “Cocktails” and “Raw Bar.” It is big and gorgeously photographed, much like most restaurant cookbooks. And the personal anecdotes and headnotes are about building the restaurant.
The Slanted Door is a modern Vietnamese cuisine restaurant, and as such this is not really the book for teaching yourself the most authentic and most obscure Vietnamese dishes. But surprisingly (in the most delightful way) this is a great cookbook for the home cook. Truly. I worried that I would love the book in a coffee table kind of way but find nothing I wanted to spend my time and energy on making. Turned out to be a laughable concern because not only did I find multiple dishes I want to and would make (Ginger Beef Vermicelli; Braised Ginger Chicken; Seared Scallops in Vietnamese Beurre Blanc; Spicy Lemongrass Soup; Braised Oxtail Stew; Vietnamese Chicken Salad) but the dish I chose? Unbelievably easy!
I have tried to make Vietnamese caramel sauce once previously. Always in the past, it has been presented as a true caramel, made by boiling granulated sugar until it reaches bitter but has not approached burnt. Obviously this is tricky, albeit not horribly complicated. It should not be sweet, or rather it is a little sweet, but nothing you would mistake for dessert.
Charles Phan’s caramel sauce takes a radically different approach. If I have any criticism of his book it is that I wish he had addressed this difference. It is made with palm sugar–which made me wonder. Does the more well known method take the more complicated route because it assumes you do not have access to palm sugar (here in the West)? Or did Phan somehow discover that simply melting palm sugar would create a delightful and very dark reddish brown sauce, much as though you had spent long moments carefully caramelizing granulated sugar?
Whatever the case, you will not catch me ever bothering with a candy thermometer for Vietnamese caramel sauce again. Trust me–this process works, and is quick and easy and addictive. If I had used bite sized pieces of chicken (which Phan does list as an option) I would have had dinner on the table in about 35 minutes.
Because all things coconut have become trendy in the health conscious world, I do want to pause here and emphasize to use Asian palm sugar. This is not the same thing as coconut palm sugar.
So you guys know that I loved the method for making the sauce, but how about the dish? Phan describes how a more complex sauce is created with bone in chicken, but says that at the restaurant they make it with cut up chicken pieces because it sold better. Well me being me, that meant I had to try it with bone in chicken thighs and some whole breasts–if you want to make it with pieces, just skip the browning and extra water and simmer for a much shorter time. Second, once again me being me, I chose to add mushrooms. Just because. I have yet to find the dish that is not improved with mushrooms.
And how did it go over? Well we ate so much that there was not enough for a second night. And when Alex discovered this, she rather melodramatically announced (as only a pre-teen <holy wow I cannot believe I just wrote that> can) “WHAT??? I can’t believe you did not make enough for leftovers when that is only my SECOND FAVORITE DISH EVER!!!!”
Which she had never eaten previous to the night before!
Sammy expressed some outrage too. Which means we have a big time family-wide winner.
- approx. 3 lbs chicken pieces, preferably bone-in
- 2 T vegetable oil
- 2 med-large shallots, sliced into thin rings (I was out and used 2 small yellow onion
- 2 T water
- 1 inch piece of ginger, minced
- 1.5 lbs sliced mushrooms (I used maitake and crimini)
- 2 Thai chile peppers, halved, optional (I left out because of kids and served with sambal oelek on the side)
- 1 cup Vietnamese caramel sauce (see below)
- chopped cilantro for garnish
- jasmine rice for serving
- blanched green beans for serving optional
- Brown the chicken pieces all over in the oil on medium heat in a medium-large heavy pot, such as a Dutch oven (traditionally a clay pot would be used).
- When the chicken pieces are all browned, set them aside in a large bowl.
- Add the onions to the pot with the 2 tablespoons of water and turn the heat up to medium high. Scrape the bottom of the pot using the water to deglaze it. The water will cook off.
- When all browned bits are scraped up, add the ginger and stir, sautéing for 2-3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and stir to cook a bit. Do not worry about browning them. Cook for another 2 minutes.
- Add the chile peppers if using and stir.
- Add the chicken and then stir in the prepared caramel sauce.
- Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and cover, and let simmer for 10 minutes.
- Remove the lid and let continue to simmer, until the chicken is cooked through.
- Garnish with cilantro and serve with Jasmine rice and blanched green beans (if using--those are my addition and they were delicious).
- 2 lbs Asian palm sugar
- 2 1/2 cups good quality fish sauce
- Melt the sugar in a heavy bottomed medium sized saucepan over medium-low heat. Palm sugar is rock hard--as a result this process will go slowly. Keep an eye on it, stirring and flipping the chunks of sugar as needed. As the sugar melts, you will notice it also quickly starts browning. The whole process will take 10-15 minutes. Let it bubble for a minute or so past the melting point and then remove from the heat.
- Slowly and carefully--because it is going to bubble and steam at you--add the fish sauce. Stir it in.
- Let cool completely before storing in an airtight container in the fridge.