Cooking with Lemongrass

Returning from a long weekend spent visiting a friend in Michigan, I opened the emptier-than-usual refrigerator, its meager (think fresh) contents limited to a carton of milk, cheese, and the three stalks of lemongrass I bought at Whole Foods sometime in the relatively recent past. The stalks were beginning to show their age, so if I was ever going to use them, the time was now.

Lemongrass, green onions, fresh garlic

Lemongrass is widely used in Southeast Asian cooking. A long, grass like herb, its shape is reminiscent of a scallion. The woody outer layers are removed, while the inner layers are sliced or chopped. Like star anise and cinnamon sticks, lemongrass is discarded once a dish is cooked. Dried lemongrass is a poor substitute for fresh, although lemon zest can be used in a pinch.
So where is all this leading? To no one’s surprise (least of all mine), it’s leading straight to a favorite recipe, in this case to the Lemon Grass Chicken in Ruth Law’s “The Southeast Asia Cookbook” (Donald I. Fine, Inc., 1990)
Law’s recipes are written for a home cook with somewhat limited culinary resources. As a result, her recipes are often flexible. So for example, I regularly substitute shrimp for the chicken. I use the same seasoning, and the results are excellent. You can also use fewer chilies if you prefer a moderate heat level and more if you like your food hot.

Three Crabs brand fish sauce

Lemon Grass Chicken
6 chicken legs or thighs, boned and skinned (about 1 ½ pounds trimmed chicken
2 stalks lemon grass, (bottom 6 inches only, minced)
3 tablespoons fish sauce (preferably Vietnamese, as opposed to Thai)
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon oil
2 fresh red chilies, seeded, shredded into 1 ½ -inch lengths
3 green onions (scallions), shredded into11/2-inch lengths
1 ½ teaspoons sugar
3 tablespoons fresh mint or basil leaves, or a combination (optional)
1/3 cup unsalted peanuts (optional)
Cut chicken into 1-inch cubes. Combine the lemon grass, 2 tablespoons fish sauce, pepper, and garlic. Add to the chicken and mix thoroughly. Set aside and let marinate for ½ to 1 hour.
In a wok or skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add chicken and stir-fry until chicken is no longer pink, approximately 3 to 4 minutes. Add a little water to the mixture, if necessary, to prevent scorching. When chicken is done, add remaining fish sauce, chiles, green onions, and sugar. Stir for 30 seconds. Toss with mint or basil. Garnish with peanuts. Serve with rice.

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