Hold Your Breath

Almost there. Almost there. Just another day of class, a few more finals and then it’s here – summer! The temperature is quickly rising here in Manhattan, and with that means fewer layers of clothing to wear, more protective sunscreen, new cute sandals, and the need for more Mr. Softee’s treats. So close. This entire winter has felt like I’ve had to hold my breath under water – all that pent up and unpleasant pressure is now relieved as I break the cold water’s surface and take my first breath of sunshine. And it feels amazing (well, minus the humidity and mugginess) after such a dreary winter. And to celebrate the first few days of warmth and sunshine, a light, refreshing recipe for you to enjoy.


Gỏi Vịt (or Gà) Việt Nam
Often served with rice porridge (cháo), Vietnamese duck/chicken salad is a fresh, bold contrast to the soft texture and muted taste of rice porridge. Like most Vietnamese dishes, gỏi , or pickled salad, is visually appealing with bright colors and fun textures. The salad packs a punch of flavors as the shredded veggies are quickly pickled before tossing in with seasoned and roasted (or boiled, but the latter lacks flavor) chicken or duck meat. The salad is dressed with a garlicky fish sauce and Sambal chili, then topped with fresh herbs like Thai basil (húng quế) and Vietnamese coriander leaves (rau răm), and still-warm toasted peanuts and crispy fried shallots (hành phi). In many variations of this salad, shredded banana flower (bắp chuối) is also included. My approach here is a simple, no-frills approach using ingredients found at most conventional supermarkets, though if you are able to find the more exciting ingredients, feel free to toss them in as well. This is also a great way to use up leftover poultry meat from a previous dinner or veggies in the fridge, especially because pickling prolongs the shelf life of many veggies. The recipe below makes 2-3 servings, though as always – adjust the measurements to fit your needs.

1.5 c white distilled vinegar
2 c sugar (or to taste, should be enough to mellow vinegar)
1/2 head cabbage, finely shredded
2-3 carrots, peeled & shredded (or cut matchstick)
1/2 vidalia onion, thinly sliced
2-3 shallots, thinly sliced
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 small cucumber, seeds removed, thinly sliced & squeezed of liquid
1 lb chicken or duck meat, cooked & shredded
3-4 sprigs Thai Basil, leaves removed & julienned
3-4 sprigs coriander, leaves removed & julienned
1/4 c toasted peanuts
1/4 c crispy fried shallots (store bought or homemade)
Vinegared Fish Sauce (recipe follows)

If you don’t have pre-cooked poultry meat, simply season the poultry with salt, pepper, and minced garlic about 1 hr prior to cooking. I prefer to quickly roast it in the oven until just cooked, though you can do this in a pan or even boil the meat (my least favorite way of cooking poultry – loses all the flavor!). Once cooled, use your hands or 2 forks and shred the poultry meat. Set aside.


In a large bowl, dissolve the sugar into the distilled vinegar. The mixture should still be sweet and tangy, but most of the acerbic taste should be mellowed. To the vinegar, add the cabbage, carrots, onion, shallots and garlic. Using your hands or pair of tongs, mix the vegetables so the vinegar has a chance to coat the surface of all veggies. Allow the veggie mixture to ‘marinate’ and wilt to about 2/3 of the original size, making sure to toss the veggies every so often to ensure even pickling of all the veggies. This process takes between 30 minutes to an hour. You can taste a piece of cabbage to test for doneness – the cabbage should still retain crunch, while having absorbed all the sweet and sour tang of the pickling juice.

Meanwhile, I like to squeeze all the liquid out of the sliced cucumber – cucumbers are full of water that’s likely to dilute my pickled flavor once tossed in with the other veggies, so I try to prevent some of that by removing the excess liquid.

To assemble the salad, I drain the veggies of the pickling juice and gently toss in the sliced cucumbers and chicken/duck meat. You can add the shredded coriander and basil at this point as well, though I like to use it as a topper for visual appeal. Garnish with extra crispy friend shallots as well as crushed or whole toasted peanuts. Keep a small dish of vinegared fish sauce (recipe follows) handy, as you’ll likely be dousing more of it over the salad much like a vinaigrette or salad dressing.


Nước Mắm Pha
To be honest, I have no real recipe for this. I eyeball everything and taste test as I go. Once you’ve made it enough times, you learn to recognize the right proportions by sight (amber color) and smell (not too acidic). Also, it’s so hard to keep track of how many extra spoons of sugar or splashes of lemon juice you add. But here is a basic (and approximated) recipe, and you can tweak it here and there as need be. You can replace the lemon juice with vinegar to give the sauce a longer shelf life. I usually use vinegar and keep a jar of sauce in my fridge for whenever I need a quick dipping sauce or braising liquid. Also, depending on the dish, you can use minced ginger instead of garlic.

1/4 c fish sauce
1/4 c sugar
1/4 c vinegar (or 1/3c lemon/lime juice)
1 c water
4 cloves garlic, minced
Sambal Oelek chili sauce or thinly sliced serrano chili peppers (or both)

In a large microwavable bowl, heat the water until lukewarm. Add fish sauce, sugar and vinegar, and mix until sugar has dissolved. Adjust seasoning as needed by adding more of any of the preceding ingredients. Add minced garlic. To serve, divide sauce into small sauce bowls or dishes, and garnish with Sambal Oelek chili sauce and/or thinly sliced serrano chili peppers. If you plan on saving some for future use, don’t add the garlic until you actually use the sauce, as it decreases the life span of your sauce.

Thanks for reading and enjoy!

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2 Responses to Hold Your Breath

  1. simone says:

    looks SO good! I am making this!

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