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Summer is in full swing, and here in New York City at least, that means swampy weather, sweaty commutes to and from work, and very little desire on the part of this food blogger to stand over the stove for an extended period of time. Enter: This Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad with Chicken.
A Summery Meal with Minimal Stove Time!
It’s easy to understand why one would look for this refreshing, tasty Vietnamese rice noodle salad on a hot swampy day, whether you’re on the streets of Vietnam or in your stuffy city apartment.
The rice noodles cook in no time at all, and the only other stove task you need to do is searing a few chicken thighs, which can be done in less than 10 minutes.
The rest of the ingredients are served raw–crunchy bean sprouts, carrots, cucumber, lettuce, and herbs, all smothered in that ubiquitous and delicious Vietnamese condiment, nuoc cham.
If you’re unfamiliar with nuoc cham, it’s a rather thin sauce with salty, sweet, sour, and spicy flavors. Fish sauce, lime juice/vinegar, garlic, sugar, and chili are combined with a bit of water, and It. Is. Delicious.
It’s used as a dipping sauce or condiment, but in this situation, you can think of it as your dressing for this Vietnamese noodle salad.
So if the summer heat is getting you down, this Vietnamese rice noodle salad recipe is guaranteed to perk you back up. Here’s how to make it!
In a medium bowl, combine 4 chicken thighs with all the marinade ingredients (garlic, lime juice, fish sauce, soy sauce, brown sugar, and vegetable oil), and set aside for 30 mins to an hour while you prepare the other salad ingredients.
For the chicken & marinade:
For the nuoc cham sauce:
To assemble the bowls:
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In a medium bowl, combine the chicken thighs with your marinade ingredients, and set aside for 30 mins to an hour while you prepare the other salad ingredients.
Combine all the nuoc cham ingredients and stir until the sugar has completely dissolved into the sauce. Taste and adjust any of the ingredients if desired.
Boil the rice vermicelli noodles according to the package instructions. Drain and rinse under cold running water. Set aside in a colander.
Heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a cast iron skillet or frying pan over medium high heat. You could also heat a grill pan or grill for this. Sear the chicken for about 4 minutes per side, or until cooked through. Set aside on a plate.
To assemble the salad, combine the rice noodles with bean sprouts, julienned carrots and cucumber, romaine lettuce, mint, and cilantro. Slice the chicken thighs and add to the salad. Serve with your nuoc cham sauce.
Vietnamese Curry Chicken And Rice Noodle Salad Bowl
This Vietnamese noodle salad is one of those recipes that has been hanging around as a favorite staple in our kitchen for years. Literally years. I can’t even tell you how many times we’ve made it. Correction: How many times my husband has made it.
That’s probably why it took me 4 trips (FOUR TRIPS!) to the store in one afternoon – and back, and back, and back – to get just the right noodles.
My man. He’s particular about his noodles. And his curry chicken. Yet one more reason of the many that make me love him.
This year I’m partnering with Almond Breeze to create and share recipes using almond milk. I’ve shared several new recipes using almond milk that lean toward the savory side here and here, and these dreamy creamy popsicles that Smudge can’t get enough of.
Today we’re creating another creamy almond milk accent for our low-carb, noodle salad with curry and chicken.
The protein in this recipe is skinless chicken breast. The chicken is chopped into chunks then dusted with curry powder. The chicken is then cooked in Almond Breeze Almondmilk Coconutmilk Original that I keep in my pantry for use whenever I need it thanks to its shelf-stable package. Lighter in calories than coconut milk or cream (only 60 calories per cup), almond milk is a great alternative to create the creamy sauce (with more curry powder added in) that coats the chicken and sautéed onions.
This salad is simple in flavors, but do be prepared for some chopping or shredding of the vegetables. I recently picked up this set of three vegetable peelers (so cool that they stick together with a magnet) to create the thin strips and shreds of the fresh carrots, bell pepper and cucumbers. And it’s perfectly fine to prep the shredded veggies the day before. Add shredded lettuce, bean sprouts or other veggies to your noodle bowl if you’d like.
The next layer of freshness is in the herbs. Cilantro, basil and fresh mint leaves are all equally delicious additions on their own or in combination.
The dressing is what pulls this noodle salad all together. Nuoc cham is a rice vinegar and lime-based dressing made with fish sauce and sweetened with sugar. Don’t get all freaked out about fish sauce. A good quality, light fish sauce hardly tastes fishy at all, just avoid the brands that have a bunch of added fructose. And don’t skip the fish sauce or you’ll lose the essence of the salad.
Bún Thịt Nướng Recipe (Vietnamese Grilled Pork &Amp; Rice Noodles)
This is love in a bowl. If you’ve had bún thịt nướng you know what I’m talking about.
You have your sweet bits, sour bits, caramelization, some crunch, and aromatic herbs in a single, colorful arrangement. This was one of the more popular dishes at my mom’s restaurant back in the day!
Depending in which restaurant you order your grilled pork with noodles (bún thịt nướng), you’ll find that it’s presented in different ways.
For the most part, ingredients are the same, and they’re both eaten with prepared fish sauce (nước chấm).
Thịt nướng litererally means baked or barbecued meat and in this case it’s traditionally barbecued, and the meat is always pork. You could probably do this with beef or chicken if you prefer and it would work too.
Bún (pronounced like boon) means noodles, and for this dish it’s a rice vermicelli noodle which is sold in small packages as dried rice sticks.
The presentation of bún thịt nướng in the pictorial above follows the Southern Vietnamese style. You usually eat it by mixing everything including the fish sauce. I like to keep the dipping sauce separate, so there isn’t a pool of the sauce at the bottom.
The bowl is finally garnished with chopped peanuts and then scallions onions in oil ( mở hành which is tempting to just dump a ton of it on). I like mine with egg rolls ( chả giò) on top too if you have the time to make em! I also like adding cucumbers, which is a Southern ingredient.
In the North, the presentation is slightly different. The rice noodles and vegetables each arrive on their own plate. The meat is put in a small bowl, swimming in prepared fish sauce.
The meat is additionally paired with a pork sausage, called cha (the dish is called bun cha instead). Đồ chua (pickled carrots and daikon) is added on top of the bowl of meat. Northerners eat this by building each bite in their personal bowl, which I guess is more in line with my eating philosophy..
Thịt nướng in Huế, the central region, is a whole other beast for a whole otha post.
However you decide to serve yours, you’re in for a treat!
Some differences in the marinade also really affect the flavor of the meat. Only Southerners use lemon grass in the marinade.
Some recipes for this dish also call for sesame oil, or sesame seeds, but those do not follow Northern or Southern tradition (it’s possibly influenced from the central region).
Chop and prep all of your ingredients and combine in a bowl before adding the meat. This makes sure it mixes more evenly.
Add the pork to the mixture and mix. Pork shoulder has a nice balance of fat for this, but may vary by piece so the ratio of fat is up to you! Marinate for at least 1 hour, but for better results marinate overnight.
Cooking the Pork
Thịt nướng is usually barbecued, with a wire grilling basket like this one. If you want to make it traditionally, grill it over charcoals. I made this in the oven because it’s a lot easier and it is still delicious. If you have time, barbecuing it is worth the extra effort.
The noodles come in small, medium, and large noodle thickness for about $1.50 per pack. I prefer small and medium thickness for this dish-these thinner ones also cook much faster.
You can find these noodles at many Asian supermarkets, but I don’t think I’ve seen these at any American ones. American ones will have pho noodles, which aren’t what we’re looking for here. Simply boil the dried rice vermicelli (bún) according to the package instructions.
The large thickness ones will work if you have no other option, but isn’t ideal for this dish.
Don’t forget to prepare some super simple fish sauce for this bowl too. The meat is marinaded but the veggies and noodles still need seasoning-the dish is simply incomplete and underseasoned unless you add this!
Lots of people will drizzle this over the bowl before eating, but I like to have control over each bite and dip the meat in befor each bite. I eat slower than most folks and I don’t want the noodles to get all sogged up :).
Now that you’ve had an earful of information, time to eat!
Rice Noodles With Crispy Tofu And Nuoc Cham
Those noodles were so. damn. good. This is partly because Thien always used fresh rice noodles, which he purchased from a shop called Ding Ho near Reading Terminal Market, where they were made daily and sold in large sheets, folded and wrapped in oily cellophane to prevent them from drying out. If Thien ever disappeared midmorning, chances were he had snuck out on his bike to pick up the noodles, which he stashed in the plastic take-out bag on the shelf beneath his work station.
I always marveled at how efficiently Thien worked. Before chopping an herb or slicing a vegetable, he would throw a sauté pan over a burner set over low heat to warm up, ready for anything he might need to crisp or cook. And in no time, all of the other elements would materialize: the dressing, nuoc cham, the spicy, sweet, sharp condiment ubiquitous at nearly every Vietnamese meal; the chopped herbs, a mix of cilantro and Thai basil; the julienned vegetables, often cucumbers and carrots; and some sort of meat, often shrimp, which he would throw into his warm pan, heat now cranked to high, with oil, garlic and chilies.
When everything was ready, he unwrapped the noodles, sliced them into wide strips, and piled them into bowls. He then topped each heap of noodles with the various herbs, vegetables and meat, before pouring the dressing over top. He never tossed everything together all at once-we tossed with chopsticks as we ate, which kept the vegetables crisp and the herbs fresh. These noodles made me sweat-Thien made the nuoc cham very spicy-but somehow I always finished feeling refreshed.
With every heatwave we get, I think of these noodles, and Thien, too, who sadly is no where to be found. Thien was often difficult to work for, and he had issues, the extent of which I never learned, but there was so much good, too-good stories, good food, good drink, and really, really good noodles. Here’s to that.
Here’s a visual how-to guide:
Rice Noodles with Nuoc Cham, Herbs, & Crispy Tofu
These noodles are inspired a dish a chef I worked for in Philadelphia often made for lunch during the summer.
If you like video, you can watch a how-to in Instagram stories.
Nuoc cham is a spicy, sweet, sharp condiment ubiquitous at nearly every Vietnamese meal. When using it as a dipping sauce, , you can omit the water.
In place of shrimp or other meat (see story above), I made Sarah Jampel’s crispy sesame tofu on Food52 ages ago and absolutely loved it. I adjusted the recipe here slightly for simplicity: instead of using 2 teaspoons soy sauce, I use 2 teaspoons of the nuoc cham dressing, and I omit the sesame oil. If you wish to follow her original recipe, . For some visual guidance on pressing tofu, see this post.
If tofu isn’t your thing, grilled or sautéed shrimp would be delicious as would really any protein you like: I’d serve them with grilled chicken thighs, skirt steak, or pork tenderloin, to name a few.
I like to slice cucumbers on a , but if that scares you, simply slice them thinly using your knife. Carrots or radish or daikon would all be nice here, too. A sprializer is a good tool for this as well and also less scary than using a mandoline.
for the nuoc cham dressing:
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup fish sauce
1/3 cup fresh lime juice, plus more to taste
2 to 3 garlic cloves, sliced or minced
2 red Thai chilies or serrano or jalapeño peppers, thinly sliced
squirt Sriracha, optional
for the tofu:
14-oz block extra-firm tofu, pressed if you have time
2 tablespoons oil such as peanut, vegetable or olive
2 teaspoons nuoc cham dressing, see notes
1 tablespoon corn starch
1 tablespoon panko
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
for the noodle dish:
8 oz dried rice noodles
6 scallions, thinly sliced, white and green parts
1 cucumber or carrot or other vegetable, thinly sliced, see notes
herbs: cilantro, mint, Thai basil (if you can find it), thinly sliced
nuoc cham dressing to taste
crispy tofu or other protein of choice, see notes
Make the nuoc cham dressing: In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, fish sauce, and lime juice until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the garlic, chilies, and 1/4 cup of the water. Add Sriracha, if using. Taste and adjust flavors if necessary with more lime, hot chilies, and the remaining 1/4 cup water if desired. Set aside.
To make the tofu: Heat the oven to 400° F and line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Cut the tofu into 1/2-inch cubes and place in a bowl. Add the oil, nuoc cham, corn starch, panko, and sesame seeds, and stir to coat. Spread the tofu onto the baking sheet, leaving excess dressing behind. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, flipping halfway through, until golden and crisp on top and bottom.
To assemble the noodles: Fill a large pot of water and bring it to a boil. Boil according to package instructions, typically 4-6 minutes. Drain and rinse until cold water. (Notes: To prevent sticking, you could toss the noddles in a few drops of sesame (or other) oil). Transfer noodles to a large bowl. Add the scallions, cucumbers or other vegetables, herbs, and dressing to taste. Toss. Add more dressing if necessary. Add tofu or other protein and toss again.
Keywords: rice, noodles, nuoc, cham, crispy, tofu, herbs, cucumber, scallions
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