Gỏi gà bắp cải is a deliciously perfumed Vietnamese salad with chicken and cabbage
Eating in Vietnam
In Vietnam, a proverb says that “people should learn to eat before they even learn to speak”. That shows how much cooking is a fundamental element of Vietnamese culture.
Eating is not only a physiological need. Lunches and dinners in Vietnam are a time of essential sharing, which enjoys a certain sacredness and is governed by a very precise etiquette, passed down from generation to generation.
The number 5 in Vietnamese cuisine
All the tastes and smells in Vietnamese cuisine are traditionally conferred by the combination of at least two of the five elements that are part of Yin or Yang.
The 5 basic elements of taste are: spicy (metal), acid (wood), bitter (fire), salty (water) and sweet (earth).
Indeed, the number 5 is a recurring number in the composition of Vietnamese dishes. Moreover, Vietnamese chefs always try to put 5 colors on their plates: white, green, yellow, red and black. The way the flavors and colors alternate as well as the properties of “hot” and “cold” are crucial for providing temperature contrasts and sharpness in food. It is fundamental to know how to associate them in a dish.
In Vietnamese cuisine, it is also very important to involve the 5 senses. Indeed, the composition of the dish attracts “the sight”, the sounds coming from crunchy ingredients stimulate “the hearing”, the spices tickle “the taste”, the herbs and the condiments stimulate “the smell” and some street foods are also appreciated via the “touch”.
Each dish therefore respects the ancient wisdom of Yin and Yang to provide a beneficial balance to the body. The use of complementary colors, the mixture of hot and cold, soft and crisp are all combinations that meet these rules.
What are the Yin and Yang?
The Yin and Yang, negative and positive, cold and hot, are the basis of Vietnamese cuisine, which seeks a balance between ingredients, flavors, but also between the body and the mind. It is with this philosophy that all Vietnamese dishes are created.
In Chinese philosophy, Yin and Yang create a balance between two forces that are both complementary and antagonistic in all phenomena and aspects of life.
Yin is a feminine element, which represents everything that is fluid, cold, humid, passive, dark, interior, like the sky, the moon, the night, the water, the winter.
Yang is a masculine element, which is all that is solid, warm, luminous, active, external, like the earth, the sun, the fire, the summer.
During the coldest seasons, the Vietnamese increase all cooking times and add an extra pinch of salt. They say that it helps the body to have more energy, thus strengthening the Yang. On the other hand, during the warmer months, it is important to use lighter cooking methods with less salt, in order to feed the Yin and cool the body.
All raw and cold foods are always yin, just like vegetables and fruits, while yang foods are whole grains, root vegetables, white and red meats and aged cheeses.
All that has a spicy flavor will be associated with the metal, the dishes with the acidulous taste will be rather related to the wood. Water is associated with a salty taste, while bitter with fire. Finally, the sweet taste is associated with the earth.
Thus, these 5 elements mentioned above, metal, wood, water, fire and earth play a fundamental role in the preparation of Vietnamese dishes and it is also why this cuisine is so unique.
What does gỏi gà bắp cải mean?
In Vietnamese cuisine, gỏi (also called nộm in northern Vietnam) defines a salad, a combination of ingredients. Gà means chicken, and bảp cải means cabbage. Gỏi gà bắp cải therefore means chicken salad with cabbage.
Gỏi is a combination of fresh vegetables, for example, to name a few, turnips, cabbage, green papaya or cucumber slices. These vegetables are often accompanied by meat (pork beef, shrimp or small fish fry).
For all these gỏi or nộm salads, the base is firstly the seasoning with nuoc mam (fish sauce), freshly squeezed lime juice, roasted peanuts, fried onions, red pepper rings and polygonum odoratum leaves (also called persicaria odorata, Vietnamese cilantro, or Vietnamese mint) that the Vietnamese call rau răm.
What is rau răm?
Scented herbs are of vital importance in Vietnamese cuisine. They add flavor and aroma to all 5 senses. Simple and bland dishes become succulent thanks to them.
To learn how to cook Vietnamese, it is essential to learn how to use Vietnamese herbs. It’s as important as mastering cooking rice, or using fish sauce.
Rau răm, pronounced “jao jam” or “zao zam”, is one of those essential herbs.
It tastes like standard cilantro, citrus, and green peppercorn.
Common to South East Asian countries, this plant is sometimes called Vietnamese mint, Vietnamese cilantro, Cambodian mint, Chinese basil or Vietnamese peppermint. The Vietnamese name is rau răm, while in Malaysia and Singapore, it is called daun kesom or daun laksa (laksa leaf). In Thailand, it is called phak phai and the Hmong word, used in south of China and north of Vietnam, is luam. In Laos, it’s called phak phaew.
In northeastern India, in the state of Manipur, this plant is used as an herb in various dishes of Eromba and Singju crops. The Manipuris call it phak-pai.
Extremely fragrant, its flavor is pleasantly powerful. It evokes fresh cilantro, lemongrass, citrus zest and pepper. A few leaves are enough to flavor a salad, spring rolls, vegetables or meat (pork and chicken, in particular) sautéed in a wok or simmered. The rau răm complements fish very well, but also seafood such as shrimp, squid, and various shells.
The gỏi gà, the traditional Vietnamese chicken salad, comes in several versions:
– gỏi gà rau càng cua: chicken salad with leaves of peperomia pellucida, which is nothing more than watercress,
– gỏi gà và cù cải: chicken salad with turnip,
– gỏi gà xé phay hành tay: chicken salad with raw onions,
– gỏi gà và du dù xahh: chicken salad with green papaya.
Gỏi gà bả cải, the cabbage version I chose to prepare today was absolutely delicious!
- 2 chicken breasts (about ½ lb each)
- ¼ cabbage head , finely grated (white cabbage, Chinese cabbage or Savoy cabbage)
- 4 oz. soybean sprouts
- 2 carrots , peeled and grated
- 10 leaves rau răm (Vietnamese cilantro), thinly sliced
- ½ bunch cilantro , chopped
- ⅓ cup unsalted roasted peanuts , crushed or not
- 3 tablespoons dried fried onions
- ¼ cup lime juice , freshly squeezed
- 2 tablespoons palm sugar , very finely grated
- 2 tablespoons nuoc mâm (fish sauce)
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 5 Chinese chives , chopped
- 1 red hot pepper , seeded, thinly sliced
- 2 cloves garlic , finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon ginger (or galangal), finely grated
Mix lime juice, palm sugar, nuoc mâm, rice vinegar, ginger (or galangal), Chinese chives, hot pepper and garlic in a shaker (or a jar with a lid). Close the shaker and shake for 2 minutes until everything is combined. Set aside.
Place the chicken in a Dutch oven on high heat and cover with cold water.
Season with salt and pepper. As soon as the boiling starts, cover and cook on high for 1 minute.
Reduce heat, cover, and simmer over low heat for 10 to 15 minutes or until the chicken is cooked (without being dry).
Remove from heat and let the chicken cool in its cooking juices for 30 minutes.
Drain the chicken, place it in a dish and cover the dish with a plastic wrap.
Refrigerate for 2 hours.
Assembly of the salad
In a large salad bowl, add the cabbage, soybean sprouts, carrots, cilantro, rau răm, and half of the peanuts. Mix well.
Shred the chicken and add it on top of the salad.
Pour the reserved sauce over the salad, without mixing.
Sprinkle the rest of the peanuts and fried onions over the salad.
Mix immediately before serving.