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Feb01

Gà hấp muối (salt-steamed chicken)

This is definitely one of the few chicken dishes that I love: it’s very simple to make and the method preserves the flavor and juiciness of the chicken. I don’t ever want to boil a chicken again after knowing this recipe.

 

Fragrant, juicy and flavorful chicken

Before I go further into the step-by-step recipe, though, a warning: this is NOT the chicken that you get at Chinese BBQ shops (Chinese salt-steamed chicken where you cook the chicken in a salt shell) nor is it Hainanese chicken.

Without much further ado, here is the recipe with photos for the major steps:

1. Line a thick, large pot with aluminum foil. Be generous with the foil as you can use the remaining foil at the top to make a closed packet to keep the moisture in

 

aluminum foil-lined pot

2. Next, line the foil with coarse salt. The amount of salt used depends on the size of the pot. I used about ~1.5 bowl of salt this time, to completely cover the bottom of the pot

Add coarse salt

3. Then crush 6-8 lemongrass stalks, cut them into shorter length to fit in the pot. Lay the lemongrass stalks on the salt to form a lattice of sort.

Lattice of crushed lemongrass stalks

4. Then lay lime leaves on top and in between the lemongrass stalks

Next come the lime leaves

5. Next add rau răm (Vietnamese coriander) and ginger (optional). All the herbs should be laid down in such a way that the chicken will not come into contact with the coarse salt at the bottom

Rau răm (Vietnamese coriander) and ginger round out the bedding

6. Then, stuff a few lá chanh (lime leaves) and a bunch of rau răm (Vietnamese coriander) inside the chicken, rub the skin with generous amount of salt and pepper, then lay the chicken on top of all the herbs

Main feature: free-range chicken

7. Cover the chicken with more herbs: lá chanh (lime leaves), rau răm (Vietnamese coriander) & ginger

Chicken is covered with lime leaves, rau răm and ginger

8. Fold the aluminum foil sheet down to make a closed packet

completed foil packet, ready to go on the stove

9. Cover the pot and cook on medium high heat for ~35-40 minutes (depending on how hot your stove is, you might want to turn the heat down a bit after having it on medium high for 10-15′ to avoid burning the salt too much). Turn off the heat and leave it on the stove for another 10 minutes. Take it off the stove & open up the packet:

Careful with the steam

Remember to take the herb stuffing out of the chicken before serving.

The chicken can be cut into manageable pieces with a cleaver, or you can just dig in with your hands. The first time I made this chicken, I definitely couldn’t resist the urge to immediately tear off a thigh. It’s more fun to eat with your hands anyway :) . If there’s still a lá chanh (lime leaf) left, it can be sliced into very thin strips and sprinkle on top of the chicken. This last step is not necessary because the chicken is already very fragrant with lá chanh (lime leaves) and rau răm (Vietnamese coriander) flavors.

Forgot to add a note about the chicken: it’s best if you use free-range chicken for this. Normal chicken from a supermarket might be ok. The thing you should avoid is frozen chickens that have been injected with saline. That type of chicken will mess up this dish because the saline fluid will ooze out and dissolve the salt, which will turn your dry-steamed chicken dish into salt-water boiled chicken. Definitely not appetizing.

Comments

  1. Thanks for posting the recipe, Oanh! The chicken looks deliciously inviting. I ‘m going to try this recipe on Saturday (and goi bap cai ga xe…saving goi ngo sen for another occasion).

    Happy New Year! Bonne Année!!

  2. This is a thumb up! Thanks for the recipe chi Oanh, very well instructed :) .

    I find that the heating should be high at first to heat up the salt, but afterward can be lower, so not to burn the salt -> the aluminum foil -> the pot. The foil is definitely necessary if you don’t want to accidentally ruin a pot :D .

    • Yep, foil is absolutely necessary. We kept the heat at medium high because we liked to get some smoky flavor into the chicken. It depends on your stove, too. When we made it in Boston, we had to lower the heat because it was just too hot.

  3. Oanh oi,
    Xuân đang lăm le làm món này cuối tuần đây. Làm thế nào để nấu món này O? Stove là sao? Bếp ga? Bếp điện? hay hấp cách thủy? Không cần đổ nước chỗ nào hả O?

    • Xuân ơi,

      Bếp ga hay bếp điện gì cũng được. Xuân để nồi lên thẳng trên bếp luôn, không hấp cách thủy gì cả, cũng không dùng nước.

      Any kitchen stove will do. The pot should go directly on the stove. You don’t need a double boiler. And you definitely don’t need water!

  4. Brief note:

    Salt is a rock and therefor cannot be burned.

    • You know you’re right. Thanks for commenting!
      We wanted to avoid excessive heat to minimize burning the organic material in contact with or dripped onto the salt. The hint of smokiness we were getting complimented the herbs nicely, but we wanted steamed not smoked chicken.

  5. I saw a recipe on the web that adds putting some ‘bot nghe’ all over the chicken, and thus the skin has a nice even yellow color: http://ngoisao.net/news/an-dau/2010/11/155357-ga-hap-muoi/ga.jpg

    • Thanks, Linh. Yeah, I heard about that, too. The chickens we have made so far are golden enough by themselves and I like that color. The one with tumeric powder is a bit too yellow for me :)

  6. Oanh oi:

    Still can recall how tasty this was … one question – does the pot need to be thick or is it okay to use a thinner one?

    Thanks for making the blog happen and let us follow/share your and Dang’s amazing food adventures and discoveries!

    • Hi My Anh,

      Thanks for visiting and for your encouraging words. We are really just stumbling along.

      The salt gets really hot, so you will risk ruining your pot if it’s too thin. Lining the pot with thick aluminum foil helps.

      Wait, you are in Ha Noi….why don’t you look for a clay pot (nồi đất) and do it the very traditional way? :D Let us know how it turns out.

  7. Oanh oi,
    I cooked this dish last weekend and enjoyed it so much. Was wondering if there should be any dipping sauce to go with this? What about muoi ot? or lemon grass based black bean sauce (like nuoc cham goi cuon + lemon grass).
    What do you think?

    • Xuan oi,

      Nice! Thanks for letting us know you liked the dish :)

      As for dipping sauce, we usually use muối tiêu chanh (salt pepper with lime juice). Haven’t tried it with black bean sauce yet. Do let us know if/when you try other sauces :)

  8. Oanh oi,
    Actually, I did have the leftover nuoc cham tuong for fresh summer rolls from the weekend before. It was not a good match with gà hấp muối.
    Hey, why don’t we make gingered fish sauce to go with it? (nước mắm gừng)
    Will let you know how it goes when I next make this one.

    Still waiting for vịt nấu chao from you :D

  9. Ava Lily's mama says:

    Oanh oi thanks for this recipe, I cannot wait to try it this week. We’ve just relocated here and I cannot figure out where in the Bay Area to buy all the wonderful Vietnamese ingredients like la chanh, gac, la lot. Can you please gimme some addresses? Much appreesh. Also we are going to order some nem chua this week, cannot wait!

    • Thanks, Anne, for stopping by. Will email you a bunch of addresses once I get back to the States on Wed. Also, don’t order anything before I get back :)

  10. Tin foil causes Alzheimer’s. Don’t cook with it

    • Hi Al,
      Thanks for visiting and commenting. I went to PubMed immediately after your comment to see what is currently known about the relationship between aluminum foil and Alzheimer’s. What I found showed that there is very little cause for concern. Still, if you remain unconvinced, a much more effective way to avoid aluminum intake would be to avoid processed food containing aluminum.
      What I found from PubMed:
      - The main basis for a link between aluminum and Alzheimer’s is due to the ability of aluminum, among several other metals, to cross link amyloid fibers. Entangled amyloid fibers (a protein bundle, essentially) being neurotoxic is a leading (but not entirely proven guilty) suspect in the progression of Alzheimer’s.
      - However, there is always at least trace amounts of aluminum and other metals in the body and there are little data to suggest that higher than normal levels of aluminum or other ions will increase the risk of diseases and even less suggesting that avoidance of dietary aluminum exposure would be sufficient to prevent amyloid fiber formation.
      - The link between aluminum accumulation and Alzheimer’s is correlative only. Even this is still subject to dispute from other sets of data showing no difference in aluminum levels in the brain of Alzheimer’s patients and healthy patients.
      - Even if there were definitive correlation, that would not imply causation, and several decades of intense research into the causes of neurodegenerative diseases have so far failed to show a causative link between aluminum and Alzheimer’s.
      - Aluminum contamination from foil or cookin utensils contribute a tiny percentage to one’s intake of this metal.
      - A much bigger source of aluminum are artificial colors and certain anti-caking agents, antacids, or infant formulas (!).
      - Even with a hypothetical diet high in artificial colors and anti-caking agents, only a small percentage of aluminum is normally retained in the body and it is unclear how and why aluminum accumulate in certain people and not others. In other words, aluminum exposure is only one factor determining how much aluminum is allowed to accumulate in the brain and the high levels of aluminum observed in some patients could very well be another symptom of the disease rather than the cause of it.

      Some papers discussing aluminum and Alzheimer’s:
      HUMAN HEALTH RISK ASSESSMENT FOR ALUMINIUM, ALUMINIUM OXIDE, AND ALUMINIUM HYDROXIDE. J Toxicol Environ Health B Crit Rev. 2007; 10(Suppl 1): 1–269.
      Aluminum, copper, iron and zinc differentially alter amyloid-Aβ(1-42) aggregation and toxicity. Int J Biochem Cell Biol. 2011 Jun;43(6):877-85. Epub 2011 Mar 3
      Link between Aluminum and the Pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s Disease: The Integration of the Aluminum and Amyloid Cascade Hypotheses. Int J Alzheimers Dis. 2011 Mar 8;2011:276393
      Recognition Memory and β-amyloid Plaques in Adult Tg2576 Mice are not Modified After Oral Exposure to Aluminum. Alzheimer Dis Assoc Disord. 2011 Jun 2.
      Safety evaluation of dietary aluminum. Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. 2001 Feb;33(1):66-79.
      Dietary aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease. J Nutr Elder. 1992;12(2):55-61.

      Thanks again for commenting and sparking a discussion.

  11. Hi, I was wondering if waxed paper could replace the aluminum foil…thanks.

    • Hi Anna, thanks for visiting and commenting. We’ve never used waxed paper so I don’t know. I wouldn’t try it because if the waxed paper turn out to be not up to the job, you’d have a huge mess and possibly a ruined pot.

  12. What a beautiful entry! When visiting Vietnam a few years ago in our thi xa there is a vendor that makes ga hap ruou that was SO GOOD! I haven’t been able to duplicate it yet but I think this process of steaming the chicken may take me close. Thanks for posting!

  13. I used banana leaf and work fine

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