I cannot tell you in words how delicious and full of flavour this dish is! I originally followed Diana Henry’s recipe with Nuoc Gung but second time around tweaked the sauce, quantities and method a little. Her dish is fantastic and comes her Food From Plenty book, in the roast leftover section which is inspired, but I just cannot leave things alone, and also felt the sauce needed a little something extra, ginger. And there to be more of it! But I am very greedy about sauce. This dish is ideal Monday night fare, when you have a few hundred grams of chicken left over from the roast of the day before. I am currently rather upset that there are no leftovers from the chicken we had yesterday, but I will have to appease myself with lentils and bacon today instead. I am not much of a clock watcher, although I always tend to give a little more time than you think you will need for anything, but this dish only takes about half an hour from start to finish.
So, by adding ginger to the sauce, which in Vietnam they use as a table dipping sauce and accompaniment to many dishes, I made it into Nuoc Cham Gung according to my research. Both sauces vary from region to region, family to family, according to preference. Diana’s sauce is quite heavy on the garlic which suits me, but you can decrease the amount of garlic, chilli and ginger if you like. The key ingredients that don’t change are lime juice, fish sauce, and sugar, in their varying amounts. Some recipes state to mince or pound the solid ingredients, some to finely slice, again, this is preference, I find pounding in a pestle and mortar releases maximum taste, and I love to bring things together in mine. I had run out of fresh chilli, so used some ground scotch bonnet, which stained the sauce reddish, so the sauce from this recipe will be much lighter in colour than the one in my picture, as fresh chilli will not bleed colour in the same way. I think what I’m saying by all this is that tweak away yourselves, use what you have, taste as you go and add a sprinkle more sugar, or a squeeze more lime, a dash more fish sauce, according to YOUR preferences.
For the Nuoc Cham Gung sauce
4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 red chilli, deseeded and roughly chopped (Diana uses 2, go with your preference)
one inch piece of ginger, roughly chopped
pinch of salt
Juice of one to one and half limes
2 – 3 tablespoons fish sauce
4 teaspoons caster sugar
For the chicken and rice
400g long grain rice
800ml chicken stock
one inch piece of ginger
approx 400g leftover cooked chicken in small pieces (250g will still work,use what you have)
3-6 spring onions, finely chopped on the diagonal
handful of mint leaves, and handful of coriander leaves, torn or chopped
NB. You can add vegetables to this, think peppers, mushrooms, green beans etc. (I used some frozen green beans I sprinkled on top of the rice whilst it was cooking for the last ten minutes, some sweet pointed green pepper which I fried off first and added with the chicken, and some mooli, which they put in all the stew packs here-it’s an Asian giant radish, finely chopped into matchsticks and added raw at the end with the herbs)
*Diana’s recipe says to use a few shallots, I used the whites of spring onion instead to fry, and the greens to stir in at the last minute with the fresh herbs*
- For the sauce, place the garlic, ginger and chilli that you have roughly chopped into a pestle and mortar with a little salt and pound away until you have a paste. It’s perfectly OK to see a few little lumps. Smush the sugar into the paste, then add the juice of one lime, and two tablespoons of fish sauce, stir well, have a taste, and if you think it needs it, add more lime and fish sauce(hence the extra in the ingredients list). Some recipes add a little water to this sauce, but I like the punchiness!
- Now, start the rice. Diana slices the ginger, adds it to the stock and rice, and removes it at the end before serving. I cut mine thinly into matchsticks and keep it in. Your call. Place the rice in a saucepan, followed by the stock,and the ginger, season and bring to the boil. DO NOT STIR! If you do you will release starch and the rice will become cloggy and sticky. Boil, but not furiously, for about four minutes until you can see the rice starting to look “pitted”, then reduce the heat to the very lowest it will go, and place a lid on the pan. Cook really, really slowly for about fifteen minutes, until the stock has been fully absorbed, and your rice looks light and fluffy.Check this with a fork, just pull some to the side so you can see the bottom of the pan is dry. Take it off the heat whilst you bring the remaining parts together.
- Heat a tablespoon of oil (groundnut/sunflower preferably) and fry the whites of the spring onions until they are pale gold, then add the chicken and heat through. If you are adding any green or red pepper, thinly slice and fry with the onion.
- With a fork, combine the fried ingredients into the rice, followed by the greens of the spring onions and fresh herbs. Serve with liberal drizzles of the Nuoc Gung Cham. Yummy!