I first tasted this enlightened Thai standard some years ago at Vong, Jean-George Vongerichten’s beautiful restaurant in the Lipstick Building on the Upper East Side. It was in the midst of that winter’s biggest snowstorm, which meant that we were able to score a table, although they sat us in the bar. The waiter, who saw how cold I was, suggested the Chicken Soup with Coconut Milk and Lemongrass, and he was spot on. That soup warmed me all the way down to my bones, and I’ve loved the place ever since.
If you’ve never been to Vong, you really should go. The decor is absolutely gorgeous, and the French-Thai menu a delight. True, it’s no longer trendy enough for poor Frank Bruni…
It’s been around since 1992, when…the pairing of sautéed foie gras with mango was considered novel, and the galangal in a chicken and coconut milk soup seemed exotic. ..More than a decade later…(the) foie gras and that soup lack a sense of surprise that, it turns out, were integral to the intensity of their appeal. Like the majority of the dishes at Vong, they’re entirely pleasant but not remotely compelling.
Since when does food have to continually surprise us to be good? What’s wrong with being delighted again and again? (Maybe someone should whack Frank over the head with a big piece of lemongrass while he’s eating this soup – I’ll bet that would surprise him…)
Look, if you’re addicted to trendy, then you’re forever going to be disappointed, and should go eat at that $500 a meal place over at the new Time Warner Building. And when you’ve done that one too many times, they’ll be ready with a new hot $1000 a plate place for you and your supermodel friends.
But if, like me, you love to eat wonderful French-Asian fusion that never fails to please, then you will love Vong. And since the trend-addicts are eating elsewhere, you’ll be able to score a table in the main room.
Jean-Georges Chicken Lemongrass Soup
Jean-Georges lightens up the traditional Thai recipe by substituting chicken broth for some of the coconut milk. You could lighten it further by using the new low fat coconut milk. (Let me know how it tastes if you do.) There are various versions of this recipe on the web – everytime Jean-George gives it out, it’s a little different. This version is based on the one from his Cooking at Home cookbook, accessed via Leite’s Culinaria. I changed it to serve the rice in the bowl, rather than on the side as they do at Vong. If you can’t find Lemongrass or lime leaves in you area, you can order them online.
1 tbsp oil (canola, grapeseed or peanut)
1 medium onion, minced
1-2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 lemongrass stalk, trimmed of its outer sheath and hard ends, then cut into 2-inch sticks and smashed a few times like you would a garlic clove
2 teaspoons Thai red curry paste or curry powder
6-1/8 thick slices galangal or ginger (unpeeled)
3 lime leaves, dried or fresh
4 cups chicken broth
1 13-14 oz can of coconut milk
12 oz raw skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
12 Shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and discarded, and caps cut into strips
Juice of 2 limes
2 tbsp Fish sauce (nampla)
3 scallions, sliced on the diagonal
1/4 cup minced cilantro
Cooked Jasmine rice
Heat the oil in your soup pot over medium heat, then add onion and garlic. Cook a minute, stirring, then add the lemongrass, curry paste, ginger, and lime leaves. Cook, stirring, for 3 or 4 minutes, then add the stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium, and simmer for half hour. (Can be made ahead.)
While the stock is cooking, make enough Jasmine rice for 4 servings.
Just before serving, add the coconut milk to the broth base, then the chicken and the mushrooms. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the chicken is done. Stir in the lime juice and nam pla, taste and adjust seasonings.
To serve, place an ice cream scoop of jasmine rice into the bowl. Pour soup over it, garnish with the scallions and cilantro. If you leave the galangal and lemongrass in – they are fun to chew on – have a small bowl nearby where they can be discarded.
(This Post is being submitted to Weekend Herb Blogging, sponsored by Thyme for Cooking this week.)