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Dinner Tonight: Iron Pot Chicken

I almost didn't survive the second stage of this recipe, when fermented fish sauce hits the hot pan, and it suddenly seemed like the the scent of a thousand dead fish had washed upon my kitchen's shores. I almost turned back. The nutty, cheesy, anchovy smell was overwhelming—how could this eventually taste good? But a short writeup in last week's New York Times food section had promised me a "bright, palate-awakening blend of salty, sweet and spicy" that could be made in 12 minutes. I pressed on.

It's a good thing. This, my first foray into Vietnamese cooking, was utterly easy and delicious. That suspicious-smelling fish sauce gave the dish a rich, salty complexity that it had no business possessing after just ten minutes' cooking time. I couldn't find the fresh chilies the recipe called for, but using half as many dried ones and adding them earlier in the recipe worked fine (dried red chilies are better than a fresh green like serrano, which would give it a more astringent than mellow kick). I also couldn't find boneless, skinless chicken thighs, which turned out fine, except cutting away the meat from the bone was a bit of a hatchet job. Just for the ease of it, I might make this with skinless breasts next time, but the meat probably wouldn't have quite the richness that dark meat imparts.

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