An entire meal in one bowl is a brilliant system. That’s one reason the bowl trend has taken off and shows no signs of declining.
Another is the ease. You can put a bowl together without any heavy lifting, and at the end of your assembly line you have happy eaters.
Here is a riff that I like to do on Vietnamese "bún" – one of the original meals in a bowl! This is a cold salad of vermicelli rice noodles, chicken, fresh herbs and vegetables, and a tangy rice vinegar dressing.
Vermicelli noodles are now widely available at most grocery stores, or you can find them online. When shopping, make sure to get vermicelli noodles made with rice, not mung beans.
The two noodles look similar, but mung bean noodles tend to be sticky once cooked and are better suited to other dishes. Rice vermicelli separates into fine threads after cooking, which are easier to pick up with chopsticks or a fork.
The meat for making bún is often grilled, but for an easy weeknight meal, I like to just cook it in the oven. First I coat the chicken with a mix of oyster sauce and hoisin (a combination that I like), then I bake it covered with foil. This helps keep the chicken moist as it cooks.
When it’s done, I sear the breasts quickly in a skillet to caramelize the outside and add some charred flavor.
By the way, if you do want to grill your chicken, I recommend using bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts. Cook it without sauce over high heat, then transfer to low heat, baste with the sauce, and finish cooking.
The chicken noodle bowls are finished with a simple rice vinegar dressing seasoned with ginger, and garnished with fresh mint, cilantro, scallions, and chopped peanuts. (Many bún recipes use lime in the dressing, but I like squeezing fresh lime over the top instead.)
You get crunch and sweetness, a hit of vinegar, a soft pillow of noodles, and bites of caramelized chicken – all in one bowl. This is a "meal in a bowl" at its best!
Vietnamese-Style Noodle Bowls with Chicken
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, or more to taste
- 1/2 cup seasoned rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 piece (1-inch) fresh ginger, cut into 2 thick slices
- 1 clove garlic, halved
- 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
- 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 2 large skinless, boneless chicken breasts (about 1 pound or 1/2 kilo)
- 8 ounces rice vermicelli noodles
- 2 carrots, grated
- 2 cups fresh bean sprouts (6 ounces or 170 grams)
- 1 jalapeno or other chili pepper, cored and thinly sliced
- 2 scallions, thinly sliced
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
- 1/4 cup peanuts, coarsely chopped
- 1 lime, quartered, for garnish
Make the dressing:
In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar, rice vinegar, fish sauce, ginger, and garlic. Cook, stirring often, just until bubbles appear at the edges and the sugar has dissolved. (Alternatively, microwave in 30-second bursts until the sugar has dissolved and the dressing is hot.)
Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. With a slotted spoon, remove and discard the ginger and garlic.
Taste the dressing for seasoning and add more sugar, 1/2 teaspoon at a time, if you like. The dressing should be a nice balance of vinegary and sweet.
This can be prepared several days in advance; keep refrigerated.
Bake the chicken:
Warm the oven to 400F. In a bowl, combine the hoisin and oyster sauces with the canola oil. Add the chicken and turn well to coat all over.
Arrange the chicken in an 8x8 baking dish in one layer. Cover with foil and cook for 35 minutes, or until a meat thermometer inserted into the middle of the breasts registers 165F.
While the chicken bakes, cook the noodles:
Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Remove from heat, add the noodles, and let stand for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the noodles are tender when you taste one.
Drain into a colander, rinse with cold water, and shake the colander to remove excess water. (If the chicken isn't quite ready yet, cover the noodles with cool water to keep them from drying out. Drain before serving.)
Sear the chicken:
Heat a large nonstick or well-seasoned cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Arrange the cooked chicken breasts in one layer and cook 2 minutes. Turn and cook 2 minutes more. Watch carefully so they do not burn.
Remove from the pan, and allow to cool briefly. Slice the chicken thinly, keeping the slices together if possible.
Assemble the salad:
Divide the noodles among 4 large bowls. Top with sliced chicken, carrots, bean sprouts, jalapeno, and scallions. Sprinkle with a few spoonfuls of dressing, then garnish with cilantro, mint, and peanuts. Serve with lime and remaining dressing on the side.