Cháo is “porridge” and gá means “chicken” in Vietnamese. It’s a savory and silky porridge that looks unassuming—it’s beige, sometimes white—but is incredibly delicious as is or when served with a crunchy chicken and cabbage salad, crispy fried shallots, and fresh herbs.
In Vietnam, cháo gà is usually eaten for breakfast, but you can serve it for any meal. This recipe shows you how to make the chicken broth for the cháo, a basic technique that’s useful to know, but feel free to use good quality store-bought chicken broth and leftover cooked chicken.
Cháo Gà is Comforting Nourishment
Because it is light and delicate, cháo is usually eaten when you are feeling poorly. In Vietnam, it’s served to patients in hospitals with minced chicken or pork and spring onions on top. At home, when you are feeling under the weather, mamma would bring you cháo.
Following Vietnamese tradition, I weaned my baby, who is now six years old, with cháo. I made it plain, with rice and water, and unseasoned fish, pork, or chicken broth. I left it simmering for a long period until silky along with tiny strands of chicken or flaked white fish. Over time, I added more and more ingredients, like carrots, potatoes, and beans, to introduce a new world of flavors and nutrition to my child.
I imagine the time spent cooking cháo to be therapeutic and harmonious. Nothing heals your mind and body more than a lovely bowl of steaming cháo ga.
The Best Rice for Cháo Gà
Cháo used to be a poor farmer’s meal because a handful of rice grains fed one person but when thinned out with water or broth in the form of cháo, it would feed four. The rice blooms as it cooks, expanding.
I like using jasmine rice for cháo. It’s also my preferred grain of choice at home. Short-grain rice has more starch and makes a thicker and creamier cháo, whereas long-grain like basmati isn’t as starchy and doesn’t bloom much—the porridge won’t be as thick or creamy.
Cook the porridge to the consistency you prefer. Use less liquid and cook it without a lid on for a shorter amount—about 15 minutes—for a thick and chunky porridge. Add more liquid and cook it for much longer—about 60 minutes—for a thinner and silkier porridge. It is up to you!
A Good Broth is the Secret
A good broth is the secret to an excellent cháo. If you can, make your own chicken broth as I do in this recipe, but any good quality store-bought chicken broth or chicken stock cubes work too. Then, a generous amount of ginger, good quality fish sauce, and freshly ground black pepper is all you need to boost the flavors.
Use What You’ve Got in the Fridge and Pantry
Raid the fridge to make this soothing and comforting porridge. When it comes to toppings, cháo is a blank canvas for many toppings, a great way to use up leftovers and eat up what’s going in your fridge or pantry. Here are some ideas:
- Use leftover rice. Any kind of leftover rice will work. Simmer the rice in the broth until they expand and melt into the porridge.
- Use any kind of leftover meat for topping the cháo, like roasted or poached chicken or cooked fish or pork. Specifically, cháo is great topped with traditional Vietnamese meats, like caramelized fish, pork, or chicken, if you ever end up with leftovers.
- Use any type of vegetables you have in the crisper for topping the cháo, like cilantro, scallions, carrots, daikon, or pickled vegetables.
How to Serve Cháo Gà
The chicken in this recipe is tossed in a salad with cabbage, carrots, and red onion. The crunchy salad is an incredibly delicious textural contrast to the silky porridge. Traditionally, the salad is set in the center of the table for sharing. Provide each guest with a small bowl of the sweet and spicy dipping sauce so that they can dip the salad into it.
As a contrast to the smooth cháo, I recommend serving it with crispy, crunchy toppings on the side for guests to sprinkle on top. A few ideas: crispy fried shallots, fresh herbs like cilantro and basil, a dollop of chili crispy, and coarsely ground black pepper.
Then, a squeeze of fresh lime and a drizzle of good quality fish sauce lifts the bowl to another level! Three Crabs or Red Boat are two brands of fish sauce I recommend.
Make it a Party
Not only is cháo gà an easy midweek meal, but you can also make it an occasion! Imagine a fantastic dinner party with the chicken, salad, and toppings laid out in beautiful platters for guests to share. Each topping can go into individual bowls for sharing too.
Chào gá is served during Têt, Vietnamese New Year, or celebrations as a light and easy, yet utterly delicious hot soup course.
Bring water to a boil:
Bring 2 1/2 quarts (10 cups) of water to a boil in a kettle or pot.
Meanwhile, char the onion:
Peel and cut the stem and root ends off the onion to create a flat top and bottom. Set a small frying pan over high heat, place the onion on its flat side to char until blackened, then flip to char the other flat side.
Cook the chicken:
Place the charred onion and chicken in a large pot. Pour the boiling water over it and season with salt, rock sugar, and chicken or mushroom bouillon, if using. Set the pot over low heat and simmer covered for 1 hour.
Chill the chicken:
Fill a large bowl with very cold water and set it next to the stovetop. Use a spider to carefully scoop the cooked chicken out of the pot into the cold water bath. Allow the chicken to chill for about 15 minutes in the water bath. Then, drain it into a colander set in the sink. This will stop the chicken from cooking and makes sure it stays very tender.
Do not discard the hot chicken stock in the pot. You will use it to cook the rice porridge. You can discard the onion.
Rinse and cook the rice:
While the chicken chills, rinse the rice well under cold running water (at least 3 times) and drain well. Add it to the chicken stock along with the ginger—set aside 1 teaspoon of the ginger for the dipping sauce.
Cover the pot with a lid and bring it to the boil over medium heat. Skim off any fat and foam that floats to the top with a large spoon. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes until the rice has blossomed and thickened the broth, stirring occasionally. Season the porridge with fish sauce and 1 teaspoon black pepper. If the porridge is too thick for your liking, you can thin it out by adding a little water.
Meanwhile, tear the chicken:
While the rice cooks, use your hands to tear the chicken meat along the grain into 1/3-inch-wide strips, removing and discarding the bones. Add the pulled chicken on a large plate and toss with the remaining 1 teaspoon black pepper.
Make the salad:
In a large bowl, add the cabbage, carrots, red onion, vinegar, sugar, and black pepper. Toss well to combine. Add the pulled chicken and cilantro, and toss to combine. Set it aside.
Make the dipping sauce:
In a small bowl, combine the reserved 1 teaspoon ginger, chilis, vinegar, sugar, and fish sauce. Set it aside.
Fry the shallots:
Set a small frying pan over medium-low heat. Add the oil and shallots, and fry until golden and crispy, stirring occasionally. Transfer the shallots and the flavorful oil into a small bowl.
Serve the porridge:
To serve, ladle the warm porridge into soup bowls. Invite your guests to top the porridge to their liking with the fried shallots, scallions, cilantro, and black pepper. I recommend providing each guest with a small bowl of the dipping sauce. The salad is typically dipped into the sauce, not served on top of the porridge.
Cháo is best served immediately, but some would argue that making it ahead of time is even better. Store it in the fridge for a couple of days. It’ll thicken up as it sits and the rice soaks up the broth. Loosen it by adding more broth or water when you reheat it either on the stovetop or microwave. If reheating in the microwave, stir it well halfway through.
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