We had our first taste of warm weather in Ireland a few weeks ago, so predictably our thoughts turned to the barbeque. One of the things we enjoyed was chicken with Vietnamese flavors.
I was particularly taken by the wings. They were very good with the spices but just a little dry. Hence the idea to cook a batch of wings sous vide and finish them on the barbie. They turned out great and definitely will be served to friends at our next BBQ.
One of the things we especially liked was the lighter, fresher flavor of these wings, both on their own and also coupled with Nuoc Cham dipping sauce. Nuoc Cham is used in Vietnam at almost every meal, similar to the way salt and pepper are used on the Western table. Every cook or family has their own take on it, but all include fish sauce, chili, garlic, sugar, and lime juice. Many versions also include some type of vinegar. The one we use is from Nicole Routhier’s Foods of Vietnam. You’ll find her Nuoc Cham recipe here, as well as one for her fabulous spring rolls.
One of the main ingredients in our wings and the dipping sauce is Asian fish sauce. Fish sauce comes from Thailand (nam pla), Vietnam (nuoc mam), Cambodia (tuk traey), and Laos (nam pa). The Thai and Vietnamese brands seem to be more common outside of Southeast Asia. It was not that long ago that you had to visit an Asian market to find fish sauce, but it is now readily available in both supermarkets and gourmet shops. There is a big difference in the taste and quality of the many brands. One important thing to look for is nhi, ngon, or thuong hang on the label. This means it is made from the first extraction of liquid from the fermented fish, similar to the extra virgin grade in olive oil. We have tried many brands over the years, but our favorite is Three Crabs.
Another ingredient in the recipe is palm sugar (duong thot not). You can substitute white sugar and the recipe will still be great, but palm sugar has a wonderful taste, almost like caramel or butterscotch. It is also available at Asian markets. Look for one that is 100 percent palm sugar, without additives. We have also read that palm sugar has a lower glycemic index, or GI, than white sugar — similar to agave syrup.
Serves 4, or up to 8 as an appetizer or part of a larger meal
- Preheat the water bath to 152°F (67°C).
- Remove the tips from the wings and save for stock. Place the chicken wings in a large bowl and set aside.
- Combine the lemongrass, garlic, chiles, shallot, and sugar in a mortar or blender. Pound or blend until the mixture is a thick paste. Add the fish sauce, lime juice, lime zest, and salt; whisk to combine.
- Transfer the paste to the bowl with the chicken and mix until the wings are evenly coated.
- Place half the chicken wings in a single layer in each of 2 large, zip-lock food bags. Seal using the water displacement method.
- Cook for 2 hours.
- If you plan to finish the chicken on a barbeque or outdoor grill, light the coals or preheat the grill 15 to 20 minutes before removing the chicken from the water bath. We like to heat only half of the grill so we can move the wings around as they cook to prevent burning.
- Remove the bags from the water oven and allow to cool for a few minutes, then transfer the chicken to a platter or cookie sheet, discarding the bag juices.
- Place the wings skin-side down on the hot grill and sear until the skin is browned and crisp, about 3 to 4 minutes. Turn and cook on the other side for 2 to 4 minutes. To finish the wings under a broiler, preheat the broiler for 5 to 10 minutes; broil until the skin is brown and crisp, a few minutes per side.
- Serve hot, with Nuoc Cham for dipping if desired.
- If you don’t plan to finish and serve the chicken right away, remove the bags from the water oven and quick-chill them in an ice-and-water bath, adding more ice as necessary, then refrigerate the bags until ready to use.