Saturday, January 26, 2013

Spicy Chicken Thighs with Cucumber Noodle Salad

I've been meaning to make this dish ever since the hubs gave me the Best of Bill cookbook last year for my birthday.  Bill Granger was Australia's first Masterchef winner, and he's built a big name for himself through his Aussie-fresh food with a southeast Asian flair.  This recipe looked like a pretty simple way to pack lots of flavor into a dinner dish-- I loved the idea of creating a vermicelli noodle salad full of vegetables as a base for marinated, grilled meat. I added some grated carrot and chopped Chinese cabbage, and substituted fresh basil for the mint (our mint plant met a wilted death during our time away for Christmas).
Southern Spoon blog: spicy chicken thighs with cucumber noodle salad
spicy marinated chicken thighs with noodle salad and fresh vegetables
We loved the noodle salad/grilled meat combination so much that we've been making variations of it ever since.  We'll prepare a batch of vermicelli noodles, cool them under cold running water, and toss in whatever chopped or shredded vegetables we have on hand. Then we top with grilled chicken thighs, sliced rotisserie chicken breasts, or sautéed shrimp.  Easy.
Southern Spoon Blog: chicken over noodle salad with basil
another version with purple cabbage, bell pepper, and carrot noodle salad,
topped with sliced rotisserie chicken and fresh basil
Fish sauce is a great way to add lots of flavor to a meat marinade, but use it sparingly as it's extremely salty.  I reduced the amount called for in the original recipe to cut down the sodium a bit in this dish.  Bill recommends topping the salad with chopped cashews, and chopped macadamia nuts or toasted sesame seeds also add a nice crunch.

Spicy Chicken Thighs with Cucumber Noodle Salad
adapted from Best of Bill: The Ultimate Collection of Bill Granger's Recipes
4 generous servings

2 tablespoons fish sauce
freshly ground black pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons dried chili flakes (to taste)
1 teaspoon sugar
8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (I use rice bran oil)

3 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon sugar
7 oz vermicelli noodles
1 cucumber, halved and thinly sliced
1 large carrot, peeled and grated
4 spring onions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 cup thinly sliced Chinese cabbage (Napa cabbage)
handful of fresh basil, coursely chopped
freshly ground black pepper
optional: 2 tablespoons chopped cashews, macadamia nuts, or toasted sesame seeds

In a small bowl, whisk the fish sauce, black pepper, garlic, chili flakes, and 1 teaspoon sugar.  Rinse the chicken thighs and trim any excess fat (kitchen shears make this an easy task), placing the chicken thighs in a shallow dish. Pour half of the fish sauce mixture over the chicken thighs.  Cover the chicken with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.

To the remaining fish sauce mixture add the 3 tablespoons lime juice and 1 tablespoon sugar to make the salad dressing.  Set aside.  

While the chicken is marinating, prepare your salad.  Bring a pot of water to boil, add the vermicelli noodles, and boil for 3 to 4 minutes.  Drain noodles in a colander and run under cold water to cool them down.  Using kitchen shears or a knife, chop the noodles up a bit so that they will be easier to mix into the salad.  

In a large serving dish or bowl, mix the cucumber, carrot, spring onions, chopped cabbage, and basil.  Add the cooked vermicelli noodles and a pinch of freshly ground black pepper.  Toss together so that the noodles are evenly distributed amongst the vegetables.  Drizzle the dressing evenly over the salad, and, if you'd like, toss it again to coat.  

Now cook the chicken thighs.  Heat the 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat.  Add the chicken thighs, in two batches, cooking for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, or until cooked through.  Use the back of a spatula or turner to press the chicken thighs down as they cook so that the outside develops a bit of a crisp coating.  

Transfer the cooked chicken to a cutting board and slice into thin strips. Arrange the strips on top of the prepared salad.  Sprinkle with chopped cashews, macadamia nuts, or toasted sesame seeds if desired.  Serve immediately.

The salad and chicken will keep for 2 days in the fridge in an airtight container. The leftovers make a delicious lunch.

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