A large pot of chicken cooked on heated raw salt. Gà ná»• muá»‘i há»™t tastes best if eaten as soon as the lid is removed as the steaming chicken meat is most tender and gives off a deliciously tempting aroma.
It's not baked, boiled or fried but cooked in an earthen pot using only raw salt and lemon grass.
Unlike the fertile land of the Mekong Delta where people can be prosperous in the friendly weather, the central region of Vietnam with its burning sun and hot wind alternating with storm and flood can be a hard place to inhabit.
The only gift that it can and does provide is the sea.
And it's in the salt pans along the shore that a special chicken dish was born thanks to the inventiveness of the salt farmers.
The dish is called Gà ná»• muá»‘i há»™t, which translates as "chicken steamed with unrefined salt."
In discovering the unique method of cooking it, the salt panners were creative in applying the process of refining raw salt using very high heat.
The chicken, which should be a pullet so that the meat is tender and fragrant, is not cooked in water or oil, nor is it baked over a fire; it is steamed on a layer of salt.
Only the meat is needed so the chicken must first be plucked, gutted and washed. Then it is placed in a large earthen pot with a layer of raw salt spread over the bottom.
To counteract the effect of the salt a little, a layer of lemon grass is placed on the salt. It also makes the meat more fragrant.
After the pot is covered firmly with a lid to make sure the heat stays inside, it is cooked over a strong flame.
The high heat makes the salt expand and pop audibly. Once the popping has ceased, the chicken is ready to be enjoyed.
Gà ná»• muá»‘i há»™t tastes best if eaten as soon as the lid is removed as the steaming chicken meat is most tender and gives off a deliciously tempting aroma.
As the chicken is cooked in its own juices, its natural sweetness is preserved.
Like so many local specialties in Vietnam, gà ná»• muá»‘i há»™t has traveled far from its place of origin and is available at some restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City, though not without one or two minor changes.
In order to make it easier for their patrons to enjoy the dish, these eateries chop the chicken into small pieces before placing it in the pot. They also throw in some chili, pepper and shallots to augment the flavor and appearance of their gà ná»• muá»‘i há»™t.
And they use the entrails of the chicken to make another dish for the patrons to eat while they wait for the pot to cook.
Two restaurants in HCMC that serve gà ná»• muá»‘i há»™t are Quan 33 at 33 Dang Dung Street, District 1 and Ga Vuon Cu Chi at 189 Dong Den Street, Tan Binh District. A pot costs between VND250,000 and VND310,000 and is definitely more than enough for two.
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