I have been craving this Vietnamese rice noodle salad with grilled chicken and nuoc cham for quite some time. It’s a dish with an explosion of flavours and crunchy texture. A wholesome and nutritious salad that is gluten-free, low in carbs, and features a variety of fresh vegetables and herbs. The grilled chicken gets marinated overnight in lemongrass, lime, and garlic. This fresh salad is a delectable combination that I can’t seem to get enough of.
This is a great option to serve guests for a casual get-together and to DIY their own bowls. It’s also the perfect weeknight supper that involves little hands-on cooking and everything can be made in advance. The chicken can be served at room temperature.
The marinated chicken can be cooked on a BBQ grill, on a stovetop grill or in the air fryer. If you are in a pinch you can make this salad using store-bought rotisserie chicken but the flavour of the lemongrass marinade with the chicken is so delicious.
On my healthy eating regime, I have been craving food that packs a flavour punch without adding too much richness and thought of Vietnam, and my delicious food adventure in 2016. I just adore the textural part of the cuisine where raw and cooked elements are always combined.
Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Salad or Bun Ga Nuong, is everything I love about Vietnamese cuisine which is known for its bold flavours, fresh ingredients, and crunchy textures. I love the use of fresh herbs as a huge component of many dishes. The mint and coriander (cilantro) really bring this salad to life.
This dish celebrates the harmonious blend of savoury, sweet, sour, and spicy flavours typical of South East Asia.
The origins of Bun Ga Nuong can be traced back to Vietnam’s southern region, where it is a popular street food and casual meal option. It is said that the dish was inspired by the traditional noodle salads of neighbouring countries like Thailand and Cambodia, but has evolved to have its own unique flavour profile and preparation methods.
Typically Bun Ga Nuong uses chicken which is marinated in a mixture of lemongrass, fish sauce, sugar (or honey), garlic, and other seasonings before being grilled to perfection. This gives the meat a rich, smoky flavour that pairs perfectly with the fresh and zesty ingredients in the salad.
Chicken thigh is the best meat to use here but I opted for chicken breast as this is all I had on hand. I simply slice each breast into 2 pieces horizontally to make 8 smaller slices which take minutes to grill. Pork tenderloin can also be used.
Rice vermicelli noodles are used, and they are thin and delicate in texture. These noodles are cooked just before serving to ensure that they remain fresh and don’t become too soft or mushy.
The gluten-free noodles provide a neutral base for the other ingredients in the dish, and they literally suck up all the flavours and allow the textures to shine through.
I love cabbage so have used it here in place of bean sprouts, and they add crunch to this chicken and noodle salad. I also love to add the thinly sliced pepper and finish it off with salted roasted peanuts for even more crunch. This is not traditional but so delicious.
To tie everything together, Bun Ga Nuong is served with a nuoc cham sauce that balances out the other flavours in the dish. Nuoc cham typically includes a combination of fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, rice vinegar, and chilli, although different recipes may vary. This dressing provides a burst of sour and sweet flavours that complement the savoury chicken and fresh vegetables.
I’m planning on keeping a jar of this on hand at all times. This fat-free dressing just contains some sugar so is healthy overall and you can adjust any of the elements to your own preference. You will want to be quite generous with the dressing so double my quantities to have enough.
How to cook Vermicelli rice noodles?
Vermicelli noodles are a type of thin, translucent gluten-free noodle that is commonly used in Asian cuisine, particularly in Vietnamese and Thai dishes. These noodles are made from rice flour and water and have a delicate texture that pairs well with a variety of ingredients.
Here’s how to cook vermicelli noodles:
1. Start by boiling a pot or kettle of water. You’ll need enough water to fully submerge the noodles.
2. While waiting for the water to boil, prepare the noodles. Vermicelli noodles come in a bundle, so remove the desired amount and place them in a large bowl.
3. Once the water is boiling, carefully pour it over the noodles, making sure to fully submerge them. Use a fork or tongs to gently separate the noodles if they stick together.
4. Let the noodles sit in the hot water for 3-5 minutes, or until they become soft and tender. The exact cooking time may vary depending on the brand and thickness of the noodles, so it’s best to check them regularly to avoid overcooking.
5. Once the noodles are cooked to your liking, drain them using a colander or sieve. Rinse the noodles under cold water to stop the cooking process and cool them down.
6. If you are cooking a large quantity I recommend dropping them into a large pot of boiling water to rapidly boil for 3 minutes vs soaking them as the water cools down too quickly.
1. Vermicelli noodles are delicate and can easily become mushy if overcooked, so be sure to keep an eye on them while they’re boiling/or soaking.
2. If you’re not planning on using the noodles right away, you can toss them with a bit of oil or vinegar to prevent them from sticking together.
3. Vermicelli noodles can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. To reheat them, place them in a bowl and pour hot water over them, then drain and rinse as usual.
Ingredients for Vietnamese chicken salad
Chicken: Thighs are best for this recipe but chicken breast or pork tenderloin can work well. Cit to get even and smaller size.
Vegetables: Use any vegetables that you like but try to include a few to create an interesting and texturally diverse salad. I used shredded cabbage and carrots, cucumber, slice spring onion, sliced red pepper, and sliced romaine lettuce. Beans sprouts are a traditional ingredient. Other crunchy veggies to use are snow peas,
Herbs: fresh herbs are an important component of this salad and I have used fresh coriander and mint. You could use basil or Thai basil. For me, the mint is the most important part as it gives this salad such freshness. Be generous with it.
Nuoc Cham dressing: this vibrant fat-free dressing brings this salad together and the fish sauce is such an important component. If you do not like fish sauce and choose to leave it out, replace it with light soy sauce but note that the flavour profile will not be the same.
The recipe serves 4 but adjust the quantities as you need: adapted from Recipe Tin Eats
Vietnamese rice noodle salad with grilled chicken
- 4 chicken breasts or 8 deboned skinless chicken thighs
- 1 medium piece of lemongrass stripe the hard outer leaves and cut the white part into thick pieces *
- 2 – 3 garlic cloves sliced
- 2 Tbsp fish sauce
- 1 Tbs soy
- 1 Tbs honey or brown sugar or palm sugar
- 2 Tbsp lime juice
- 2 tsp freshly ground ginger optional
- 5 Tbsp fish sauce
- 4 Tbs rice wine vinegar
- ½ cup water 120 ml
- 3 Tbs freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1 red chilli finely chopped or omit to keep it mild
- 1-2 cloves of garlic finely chopped
- 1 Tbs grated palm sugar or light brown or white sugar
- 2 Tbs good quality sweet chilli sauce optional
Salad noodle bowls:
- 250 gm vermicelli rice noodles – cooked according to the pack instructions or see above
- 1 – 1.5 cups shredded or julienned carrot
- 4-5 cups of finely shredded cabbage
- 1 small head of Romaine lettuce cut into ribbons
- Small bunch of fresh mint roughly chopped
- A small bunch of fresh coriander roughly chopped
- 6 spring onions finely chopped
- 6 Mediterranean cucumbers sliced
- 1 red bell pepper finely sliced
- 6-8 Tbsp roughly chopped roasted salted peanuts optional
- Additional sliced chilli to garnish optional
- Make the marinade in advance. Place all the marinade ingredients into a zip-seal bag with the chicken and mix to ensure all the chicken is coated. Store in the fridge for 4 hours or overnight.
- Make the nuoc cham dressing by placing all the dressing ingredients into a jar, sealing and shaking until well combined (this can be made in advance). Adjust any element of the dressing to your own taste preference.
- Soak the vermicelli noodles as per the above instructions. Rinse, drain and set aside to cool.
- Prepare all the vegetables by peeling and cutting them into thin strips (shred etc) and set them aside in different bowls if you are doing a DIY. Alternatively, and once the chicken is cooked add them to a large bowl and toss to combine. If necessary cut the rice noodles so they incorporate more easily into the salad and with the dressing.
- Heat a griddle pan or BBQ grill. Shake any lemongrass and garlic off the chicken pieces and lightly brush with oil. Grill until charred on the outside and juicy in the middle. Set aside to cool slightly and then slice.
- Serve the sliced grilled chicken with the noodle salad. Dress generously with the nuoc cham dressing and sprinkle peanuts, additional slices of chilly and herbs if you are using these.