City Kitchen: The clean, bright flavors of Vietnam and Indonesia in a bowl of cool rice noodles with grilled chicken and peanut sauce. Recipe: Cold Rice Noodles with Grilled Chicken and Peanut Sauce

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Maybe cold pasta makes you think of some mediocre quasi-Italian grab-and-go deli choice in a plastic clamshell. Or perhaps that classic American picnic oddity, the macaroni salad.

Don’t go there.

To me, it conjures up images of delicious Southeast Asian street food and warm ocean breezes. There, cool rice noodles are topped with crisp vegetables, sweet herbs, pungent sauces and usually a little savory element, like sizzled fragrant beef or nuggets of fried spring rolls. A bowl of these saladlike noodles is always appealing, and they’re excellent for hot weather wherever you may find yourself, even if you don’t happen to be on a tropical holiday.

During these early East Coast hints of summer, I have been developing my own version for an easy and satisfying lunch or supper. It veers mostly in the Vietnamese direction, but with a slight nod to Indonesia, so I serve it with two sauces.

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One is a traditional dipping sauce made with fish sauce, lime juice and hot chilies. The other is a creamy peanut dressing spiked with ginger and sesame oil. Both are a snap to put together and can be made well ahead. Even the rice noodles can be cooked, cooled and left at room temperature. And if you also prepare the cucumber, carrot and herb garnishes ahead of time, grilling the chicken is the only last-minute task.

For the chicken, I prefer skinless, boneless thighs left in large pieces, then bathed in an assertive sweet and garlicky lemon-grass marinade (although you can skewer smaller cubes if you wish); 15 to 20 minutes will infuse it with flavor. Thigh meat stays juicy and succulent, is nearly impossible to overcook and browns beautifully whether grilled over coals, on the stove top or under the broiler.

While the chicken is cooking, put the rice noodles in individual bowls and add the vegetable toppings, basil, mint and cilantro. Roughly chop the chicken and add it, giving each salad a dab of both sauces and a sprinkling of crushed peanuts. Pass small bowls of the sauces at the table, too.

For a dish that’s not especially labor intensive, it ranks high on the flavor scale and tastes fresh, clean and bright: the kind of home-cooked fast food we can all appreciate.


Time: About 45 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

For the dipping sauce:

3 tablespoons Asian fish sauce

3 tablespoons brown sugar

6 tablespoons lime juice

1 garlic clove, finely grated

6 to 8 small Thai chilies, thinly sliced, or 1 or 2 serrano chilies

For the peanut dressing:

2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

6 tablespoons lime juice

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 1-inch chunk ginger, peeled and sliced

4 tablespoons natural unsalted peanut butter

2 teaspoons sesame oil

Pinch cayenne

For the chicken and rice noodles:

6 boneless skinless chicken thighs, about 1 ¼ pounds

4 large garlic cloves, halved

1 1-inch chunk ginger, peeled and sliced

1 4-inch length lemon grass, tender center only, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon sesame oil

3 tablespoons brown sugar

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

8 ounces dried rice vermicelli or other rice noodles

2 small cucumbers, cut in ¼-inch half moons

1 medium carrot, cut in thin julienne

¾ cup fresh mung bean sprouts or other sprouts

Small handful basil sprigs

Small handful mint sprigs

Small handful cilantro sprigs

4 tablespoons slivered scallions

¼ cup crushed or chopped roasted peanuts

Lime wedges

1. Make the dipping sauce: Combine ingredients in a small serving bowl, making sure to dissolve the sugar. Leave to ripen for 15 minutes. Refrigerate any extra and use within a few days.

2. Make the peanut dressing: In a blender or small food processor, purée all ingredients to a smooth sauce, about the thickness of heavy cream. Pour into a serving bowl.

3. Put the chicken thighs in a low-sided bowl. To make the marinade, purée the garlic, ginger, lemon grass, fish sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, brown sugar and cayenne in a blender or small food processor. Pour the marinade over the chicken and toss to coat. Let marinate at least 15 minutes.

4. Bring a large pot of water to the boil, then turn off the heat. Add the rice vermicelli and soak for 7 to 8 minutes. (Package directions may vary; check for doneness by tasting.) Drain when noodles are al dente and cool under running water. Fluff and leave in strainer to drain well.

5. Grill the chicken over coals on a stovetop grill pan, or under the broiler until nicely browned, about 3 to 4 minutes a side. Let cool slightly, then chop roughly into ¾-inch pieces.

6. In a small bowl, dress the cucumbers, carrots and mung bean sprouts with 1 tablespoon dipping sauce. Divide the cooked noodles among four bowls. Top each bowl equally with the cucumber mixture and chopped chicken. Spoon 2 teaspoons dipping sauce and 2 tablespoons peanut dressing over each portion. Add the basil, mint and cilantro sprigs, torn or roughly chopped (leave whole if leaves are small). Sprinkle with the scallions and crushed peanuts. Serve with lime wedges and pass small bowls of the two sauces.

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