Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup (Mien Ga)

Main Dishes, Recipes

Baby it’s cold outside… and that means, it’s the season for soup! We’ve posted a chicken noodle soup on this blog before, but nothing quite hits the spot like Vietnamese miến gà, a glass noodle chicken soup just like my parents used to make for me when I was sick. Martin’s mom did the same for him and I’ll bet many Asian families have a similar recipe in their repertoire. It’s warm, comforting, and beautiful in its simplicity. You could even increase the noodle-to-soup ratio to create the traditional Hawaiian dish Chicken Long Rice. Since we’re starting with just the basics here, the possibilities are endless.

Vietnamese Chicken and Glass Noodle Soup (Miến Gà)

Vietnamese Chicken and Glass Noodle Soup (Miến Gà)

NomNomCat Tip #1: What I refer to as bean thread noodles (or bún tàu) are also translated as “cellophane noodles” or “glass noodles.” These are thin strands often dried and packaged in individual bundles about the size of a generous handful. I cook them directly in the chicken stock, but you can boil them separately in water instead. The latter technique will make it easier to store leftovers (if you can avoid it, do not store the noodles together with the soup or they will quickly soak up all the moisture and expand). Note that these bean thread noodles (made with mung bean starch) are not to be confused with hủ tiếu dai, another Vietnamese glass noodle that is chewier and thicker in diameter, nor with bún, a rice vermicelli that turns bright white when cooked.

Bean Thread Noodles (I know the package says "vermicelli" on it -- how confusing!)

Bun Tau / Bean Thread Noodles (I know the package says “vermicelli” on it — how confusing!)

NomNomCat Tip #2: Anyone who has been to a Vietnamese restaurant may have noticed that there is a vast difference between fish sauce straight from the bottle (nước mắm) and fish sauce that has been “prepared” so to speak (nước chấm, literally “dipping sauce”). I use nuoc mam for seasoning the soup, but for the shredded chicken, the more subtle and balanced nuoc cham is in order. It’s easy to prepare and keeps well in an airtight jar in the refrigerator. Here’s an approximation of my dad’s recipe: In a small sauce pan, bring 1 cup of water to a boil. Stir in a scant 1/4 cup of sugar. When completely dissolved, add 1 cup of cold water to cool the solution down. Add 1/4 teaspoon of salt, 2 teaspoons of nuoc mam (full strength fish sauce), and 1 teaspoon of white vinegar. Distilled will work fine but if you can get your hands on the Filipino cane vinegar (sukang maasim), Datu Puti is my dad’s brand of choice. Taste and adjust as needed. It should be a balance of sweet, salty, and tart. Pour into a jar and add a few thick slices of fresh garlic. The flavors develop better as it “ages” but you can also use right away if needed.

Okay, now that all that is squared away, let’s go back to basics with miến gà.

Ingredients:

4 chicken thighs, bone-in and skin-on

1 medium onion, charred

1.5 to 2 quarts water

2 tablespoons fish sauce (nước mắm)

Salt & pepper, to taste

3 50g bundles of bean thread noodles (bún tàu)

3 to 4 tablespoons prepared fish sauce (nước chấm, recipe above)

1 lime

* Optional: about 2 inches of fresh ginger, peeled and charred (I omitted it here since I did not have any on hand, but it would have added an extra oomph to the broth’s complexity)

Brown the Chicken

Brown the Chicken

In a large pot (I think mine is a 5 quart stock pot), brown the chicken thighs (sprinkled with salt and pepper) skin side down on high heat to render the fat.

Charred Onion on the Stovetop

Charred Onion on the Stovetop

Meanwhile, char the onion. To do this, you’ll need three things: a peeled onion, a burner on your (gas not electric) stove, and a pair of metal tongs. Oh and a bit of courage. Turn on the burner to high heat. Hold the peeled onion, gripping firmly with the tongs. Lower the onion as close to the burner as you can stand it, letting the flames envelope the outer layers. Rotate the angle to evenly toast up the onion. Some patches may bubble up and pop — that’s where the courage comes into play. After I browned the exposed areas, I lay the onion onto a cutting board and re-position the tongs to char the hard-to-reach portion.

Chicken Stock - The Beginning

Chicken Stock – The Beginning

Toss into the pot with the chicken. Pour in about 1.5 to 2 quarts of water. I’ve read that for a clear, proper stock, you are supposed to start with cold water. However, I am often short on time and so I will heat the water in a kettle first to expedite bringing the whole pot to a boil. I don’t mind cloudy chicken broth. ;)

Fish Sauce -- the "secret" ingredient

Fish Sauce — the “secret” ingredient

Season with a few good shakes of fish sauce, about 2 tablespoons. Let simmer for about 45 minutes to one hour or until the chicken has cooked through and the broth is fatty and flavorful.

Shredding the Chicken (they just came out of boiling water so don't grab barehanded like I did)

Shredding the Chicken (they just came out of boiling water so don’t grab barehanded like I did)

Remove the chicken to a plate and shred. It’s quite hot so I used a fork and knife.

Seasoning the Chicken

Seasoning the Chicken

After all the chicken is shredded into bite-sized bits, I help it out a bit flavor-wise with a generous drizzle of prepared fish sauce (nuoc cham) and squeeze of fresh lime juice.

Cook the Glass Noodles

Cook the Glass Noodles

Meanwhile, turn off the heat and add the bean thread noodles to the broth (or to a separate pot of boiling water, if desired). The bundles will expand and soften within minutes.

For each portion, start with noodles and chicken

For each portion, start with noodles and chicken

To serve, grab a bowl. build a nest of noodles, pile on the shredded chicken, and ladle in the broth.

Ladle in the broth and serve!

Ladle in the broth and serve!

Serve with a wedge of lime and, if you like a spicy kick, add a dollop of sambal oelek (chili garlic paste). This will yield about 4 servings. Enjoy!

UPDATE: Exciting news!

I am going through and uploading PRINTABLE versions of our recipes for your viewing and printing convenience. We love to post step-by-step photos along with our recipes, but we know that this makes for cumbersome print jobs when it comes to bringing a copy of the recipe into the kitchen for reference. For this mien ga recipe, please click on this link or the BRAND NEW BUTTON below. For our recipe archive (a work in progress), click here. Scroll down to the very bottom of the site, click on “Print Page,” and when prompted, either save as a PDF to your computer or send the print job directly to your printer. Easy peasy!

nomnomcat print button

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Rutt’s Hawaiian Cafe – Culver City, CA

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

Anyone remember the scene in 50 First Dates when Lucy hangs out at the Hukilau Cafe building cabins out of waffles? That was the first thing that came to mind the very first time I walked through the yellow screen door of Rutt’s Hawaiian Cafe. We frequently stop by on lazy Sunday afternoons for one thing — the royales.

Kalua Pork Fried Royale

Kalua Pork Fried Royale

Royales are basically a Hawaiian style mixed rice — generous mountains of rice mixed with bean sprouts, strips of egg omelet, green onions, and your choice of meat ranging from kalua pork to Portuguese sausage to the Hawaiian staple SPAM. Even better – you can order them fried! They come in three sizes: the junior (one scoop of rice & two eggs), the regular (two scoops of rice & three eggs), and the king (three scoops of rice & four eggs). Don’t be fooled – each “scoop” is giant. The one pictured above is only a junior!

A closer look - kalua pork royale

A closer look – kalua pork royale

If I am ordering takeout or otherwise intending to have leftovers for the next day’s lunch, I would order a regular sized royale. Otherwise, the junior is more than enough especially when paired with the (free – just ask!) Hawaiian sweet roll that comes with it. The kalua pork is my favorite as it is always juicy, flavorful, and reminiscent of luaus (no matter how touristy).  An artistic drizzle of sriracha and I’m set!

The Original Royale - fried, no bean sprouts

The Original Royale – fried, no bean sprouts

Martin’s usual is the Original Royale fried with no bean sprouts. Though his plate is always sadly devoid of vegetables, I think the chef sometimes makes up for it with extra meat. That or the Original Royale is like the Meat Lover’s Pizza of mixed rice dishes. Chopped slivers of Chinese BBQ pork (char siu) and rounds of Portuguese sausage add savory flavor to this royale. (PS: Martin only asked for that Hawaiian roll so I could have it. Isn’t he the best?!)

Filet of Sole

Filet of Sole

Occasionally I’ll stray from the Royales section and try something different. The plate specials are good (especially the mixed plate special that features a combination of kalbi, kalua pork, and teriyaki chicken for only $8!) but my latest discovery was the filet of sole. A football sized, 1/2-inch thick filet of white fish breaded in panko (?) and grilled to perfection. The fish was flaky and moist, barely opaque. It comes with two scoops of rice and (of course) macaroni salad.

To round out my island adventure, I sometimes splurge on either a can of ice cold UCC Kona Coffee or, if I spot it on the specials menu, a manapua (BBQ pork bun or cha siu bao). On my first visit, I also ordered the haupia for dessert, but I don’t think I have seen it recently. A traditional Hawaiian dessert, haupia is essentially a coconut pudding, and the one at Rutt’s was topped with extra toasted coconut shavings. Yummy coconutty goodness.

As if the food weren’t enough reason to swing by, the prices can’t be beat! About $10 will usually get me enough food for two meals. The parking is rarely a hassle with plentiful metered street parking immediately in front, and the service is so friendly. Do yourself a favor and hula on over to Rutt’s! Alooooooooha~

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Check out Rutt’s Hawaiian Cafe: ruttshawaiiancafe.com (recently redesigned!)

12114 Washington Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90066

See their Yelp reviews here!