Vietnamese food is the perfect hot-weather cuisine - it's substantial enough that you feel satisfied, but the generous amount of vegetables and fresh herbs served with the food lightens the meal and refreshes the palate.
For this dish of bun ga nuong, chicken is marinated with fish sauce, garlic and lots of fresh lemongrass before being grilled then served on rice vermicelli with lettuce, carrot, cucumber and fresh herbs. I use chicken thighs for this dish, and remove the bones myself.
Cutting out the bone from the thigh takes about 30 seconds, but if you can find just boneless thighs (without the drumsticks) then use those, if you prefer. If you substitute boneless chicken breasts, take care to not overcook them – they will need about 10 minutes under the grill, depending on size.
Prepare the chicken. If using bone-in thighs, use a sharp paring knife to cut down to the bone on the meaty side of the thigh, slicing it along the entire length of the bone. Use the tip of the knife to detach the meat from one end by cutting it around the joint, then scrape the meat from the bone until you reach the other joint. Detach the meat from the second joint end. Put the boneless thighs in a medium-size bowl.
Mix the fish sauce with the sugar and stir to dissolve. Mix in the pepper.
Use the flat side of a meat mallet (or the side of a cleaver) to lightly crush the length of the lemongrass stalks. Mince the stalks as finely as possible and add the pieces to the bowl with the fish sauce and sugar.
Finely mince the garlic and spring onions, then add them to the bowl and stir well. Pour the mixture over the chicken thighs, then mix to coat the pieces with the marinade. Refrigerate for about three hours, mixing occasionally. Remove from the fridge about 30 minutes before you want to cook the chicken.
While the meat is marinating, prepare the other ingredients. Put the rice noodles in a large bowl, add tepid water to cover them by about 2cm (⅞ in) and leave to soak until pliable.
Make the nuoc cham. Pour the sugar into a bowl and add 50ml (3 tbsp and 1 tsp) of hot water. Stir to dissolve the sugar, then cool to room temperature.
Add the fish sauce and lime juice to the bowl with the sugar. Mince the garlic and thinly slice the chillies, squeezing out and discarding the seeds as you go. Add the garlic and chillies to the bowl, then set aside.
Drain the soaked noodles in a colander. Bring a large pot of water to the boil, add the noodles and cook for about 30 seconds, or until just tender. Drain in a colander, then put the noodles in a mixing bowl.
Finely mince the spring onions, then put them into a small pan. Add the cooking oil and place over a medium flame. Heat the oil until it sizzles, then turn off the flame and cool slightly. Pour the oil and spring onions over the noodles and mix with chopsticks or tongs until the noodles are lightly coated.
Roughly chop the peanuts, then put them into a small bowl. Shred or grate the carrot. Slice the cucumber in half lengthwise, then cut into thin slices.
Put the lettuce leaves, bean sprouts, herbs and cucumber on a plate. Add a small amount of the shredded carrot to the bowl holding the nuoc cham, then put the rest on the plate with the herbs and lettuce.
Heat the oven grill to high. Take the chicken pieces out of the marinade, and wipe off most of the solids. Place the chicken thighs, skin-side down, on a grill rack placed over a pan. Slide the pan into the oven so the meat is about 3cm (1¼ in) away from the heating element. Cook for about six minutes, or until the chicken is brown in spots. Flip the pieces over and slide the grill rack back into the oven. Grill for another nine minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and lightly charred in spots. If the chicken browns too much or too quickly, put the pan further away from the heat.
Leave the chicken pieces at room temperature for about five minutes, then slice about 1cm (7/16 in) thick.
Take a few strands of rice vermicelli and dip them into the nuoc cham, then taste. If the sauce is too strong, dilute it with a little water.
Divide the rice vermicelli between four individual serving bowls and place one chicken thigh over each portion. Let the guests add the peanuts, vegetables and herbs to their bowls as they wish, mixing them in along with some nuoc cham.