cold rice noodles with peanut-lime chicken

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Cold Rice Noodles with Peanut-Lime Chicken
Adapted from David Tanis, via The New York Times

To detail my changes, the original recipe had three sauces/dressings/marinades, a pungent-sweet sauces called a dipping sauce with chiles, lime, garlic, brown sugar and fish sauce, a nuttier dressing with peanut butter, soy, lime juice, rice vinegar and ginger and a marinade for the chicken with garlic, ginger, fish sauce, soy and brown sugar. Because there was so much ingredient overlap and in the interest of trimming down your prep time, I nixed the chicken marinade as a separate sauce in favor of using a combination of the other two (each increased in volume) for a similar effect. I confess that although they are widely available in the great Metropolis of NYC, I made this without the suggested lemongrass and mung bean sprouts because I wanted to see if this could be a totally delicious dish with just ingredients you can find at major grocery stores (it could!). For the chiles, 6 to 8 Thai or 1 to 2 serrano were suggested; I used far less to decrease toddler intimidation. Use what you like according to your heat preferance. We wouldn’t have minded if there were more vegetables than recommended. Next time I might add more of each (cucumbers, carrots and scallions) plus juliennes of sweet red pepper and a handful of lightly cooked green beans, thinly cut on the bias. Finally, although the original recipe suggests three different herbs to finish — mint, basil and cilantro — unless you already have all three around, I think you can get away with just picking your favorite. We used mint fresh from the market that almost melted into the noodles with piercing deliciousness. To see the recipe before I hacked it to pieces, go to the NYT link above.

Serves 4 generously, 6 moderately

Dipping sauce
6 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
6 tablespoons brown sugar
12 tablespoons lime juice
2 garlic cloves, finely grated or minced
Small Thai or Serrano chiles, thinly sliced, to taste

Peanut dressing
3 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
9 tablespoons lime juice
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 one-and-a-half inch chunk ginger, peeled and sliced
6 tablespoons natural unsalted peanut butter
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
Pinch of cayenne

Chicken and noodle salad
1 1/4 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs (about 6)
8 ounces dried rice vermicelli or other rice noodles
2 small cucumbers, cut in 1/4-inch half moons
2 medium carrots, cut in thin julienne
Additional vegetables, as suggested above
Small handful basil or mint or cilantro sprigs, or your favorite of the three (torn or roughly chopped)
4 or more scallions, slivered
1/4 cup crushed or chopped roasted peanuts
Lime wedges (to serve)

Make the dipping sauce: Whisk 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.

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

Marinate the chicken: Stir together 1/2 the dipping sauce and 1/3 the peanut dressing (you can eyeball this) in the bottom of a low-sided bowl or dish. Add the chicken to the mixture and toss to coat. Let marinate at least 15 minutes.

Cook the noodles: 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.

Cook the chicken: Grill the chicken on an outdoor grill, a stove-top grill pan, or run under the broiler until nicely browned, about 3 to 4 minutes a side. Let cool slightly, then chop roughly into 3/4-inch pieces.

To serve: At this point, you can place everything on a large serving platter, with piles or small bowls for noodles, vegetables, chicken, the dressing and marinade and toppings (peanuts, herbs) and let your family and friends put it together in their own bowls as they wish. Or, you can assemble it for everyone as suggested:

Toss vegetables with 1 tablespoon dipping sauce in a small bowl. Divide the cooked noodles among 4 to 6 bowls. Top each bowl equally with vegetable mixture and chopped chicken. Toss each bowl with 2 teaspoons of each the dipping sauce and dressing, or more to taste (we wanted more). Add the herbs, peanuts and scallions to each bowl and serve with additional dressing and dipping sauce on the side.

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