For my second Vietnamese dish, I decided to take on a challenge, utilizing the classic Vietnamese technique of claypot cooking. But claypots are largely out of fashion with metal pans all the rage for the past 50-60 years, except at restaurants and among home cooks who know what they are doing, an illustrious lot to which I am not a member. So I joined the convenience brigade and opted for a metal pot to make Gà Kho Gừng, or Braised Chicken with Ginger.
Again, I lifted the recipe again from Andrea Nguyen’s Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, choosing this dish because it looked simple with the ingredients consisting of only chicken, salt, fish sauce, sugar, water, and green onions. First make nước màu, or a caramel sauce, then cook the chicken in it. Two steps. How can this possibly go wrong?
Yet, after an hour of cooking, with my wife complaining of hunger and I’m still making the caramel sauce. Thirty minutes earlier, my caramel sauce was supposed to be the color of a dark red wine but at best, it still looks like a tepid tea and the sugar is crystallizing at an alarming pace, to the point that it appears that I am making a batch of rock candy.
I now need to improvise, something really best done under professional supervision. But I have nothing to lose, with the shame of ordering delivery looming. Using whatever kitchen instincts I have, I decide to turn up the heat. I add a touch extra of water, and a dash more of sugar. Again, more heat, more water. And finally, Ông Táo, the Kitchen God, smiles upon me. The extra heat is working, the color darkens, and I stand proudly over my caramel sauce. I toss the ginger and chicken in the pot and the heat does the rest, the dish now fortunately safe from my hand. When the chicken is cooked, I add chopped green onions and I serve.
My wife exclaims, “I would be happy if I ordered this in a restaurant.” To which, I think, “No, you would have already got up and left because it took two hours to get to the table.”