There is a food cart that I really enjoy and try to get to once a week. In fact, it is so tasty and addicting that at work it we dubbed it “chicken-crack.” The cart is Nong’s Khao Man Gai, in the cart pod on 10th. It serves one thing and one thing only, but they have absolutely mastered it: a traditional Thai chicken and rice dish (khao man gai) that actually originated as a traditional Chinese dish (Hainanese chicken). You start with a whole chicken, poach it, then use the broth to make rice, sauce, and soup. There is a ton of garlic and ginger throughout the process. When served, is simply wrapped in a sheet of butcher paper, saving packaging waste.
I really like this chicken and thought I would give it a try at home. Brian pointed me at a recipe (that I think he got from Natalie), so that is exactly what I did last Sunday with Grace and Micha as culinary guinea pigs.
While I expected a lot of garlic, the amount of ginger in this chicken surprised me. It gets stuffed with big fat potato-slices of ginger and plenty of green onion before boiling. There is also a good amount of salt involved — it gets rubbed with salt for cleaning, washed, re-rubbed with salt, then sesame oil. The chicken was spot-on. The rice was pretty darn close, though I think Nong uses a bit more ginger and a pinch of some other more exotic spice that I can’t quite identify. Her soup has a bit more veggies in it. There is some kind of celery-type thing — I do not think it is actual celery, but maybe Chinese celery or possibly bok-choy. She also has some kind of squash-like vegetable (cucumber or zucchini?) that’s boiled down to translucent tastelessness, but adds a good texture.
The recipe’s sauce, though, was totally different. The recipe builds up a sauce that is about 1 part broth to 2 parts sriracha (a.k.a. “rooster sauce”) with some sugar and spices thrown in. It ended up red and spicy and, while good, was not the brown sauce with a touch of spicy and a touch of tangy that Nong serves up. At the time, I suspected that maybe hers was more soy-sauce based, but did not have the time to experiment. Upon returning later in the week, I paid closer attention to the menu and saw that it is a “fermented soybean sauce” base — though if I’m not mistaken, isn’t that the very definition of soy sauce, or is it maybe based on fermented soybean paste (like used in miso soup)?