Vietnamese Chicken Ragu - Ra Gu Ga
Easy - You got this
Ra gu ga (Vietnamese chicken ragout) is a classic Vietnamese dish that’s a reminder of the French influence on Vietnam’s food-scape. Along with pho ga, banh mi and Vietnamese iced coffee, it’s a lasting example of the collateral beauty of Vietnamese culture colliding with French gastronomy.
Compared to other Vietnamese dishes, ra gu ga is actually lighter in flavour due to the omission of fish sauce. Instead, its flavours are built by acidity from a tomato base, the natural sweetness of carrots and peas, and umami from mushrooms. These are all braised together in a slow simmer with the dish’s star ingredients: chicken and potatoes. As a result, both the chicken and potatoes also take on all of this flavour.
A fun fact—before potatoes were introduced by the French, sweet potato (khoai) was the main root vegetable in Vietnamese cuisine; often served steamed, grilled, braised, and fried. For this reason, ‘potato’ in Vietnamese literally translates to ‘khoai tay’, meaning ‘Western potato’. It’s now used in many Vietnamese dishes such as this one.
In our household, this dish was my dad’s favourite Vietnamese recipe. When Mum made ra gu ga, it was routine for him to head to the local bakery and grab some fresh crusty rolls to dip into the braising liquid. Dad loved bread and between that and the flavours of this braised stew, a bowl of ra gu ga didn’t stand a chance. He’d repeatedly dip crusty bread into his bowl until every trace disappeared.
In my opinion, this recipe is made best with a whole free range chicken cut into pieces and braised with its bones to intensify the braising liquid. This demands longer cooking times (45-60 mins low simmer) but will deliver a healthy pot of nourishment, like chicken soup but with more flavour.
If slow braises and long simmers tickle your fancy, give this recipe a whirl to experience that traditional Vietnamese-French flavour
1kg chicken thighs, cut into 2-3cm pieces
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
4 tablespoons neutral cooking oil
1 brown onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 carrots, cut into 3cm pieces
140g tomato paste (small tub)
4 potatoes, cut into 3-4cm pieces
200g mushrooms, halved
1 bunch coriander, roots separated and leaves chopped (optional)
1 ½ teaspoons sea salt
1 ½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 can (300-400g) baked beans in tomato sauce
1 tray fresh peas or 200g frozen peas
Baguettes or 300-400g rice vermicelli noodles
Marinate chicken with 1 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon sugar, ½ teaspoon black pepper then allow to sit while you prepare the vegetables.
In a large casserole pot/saucepan, add 2 tablespoons cooking oil and brown chicken on medium-high for 3-4 minutes or until lightly brown. Remove chicken and set aside.
Add remaining oil and sauté onions, garlic and carrot until onions are fragrant and translucent. Return chicken and add tomato paste, sauté for one more minute.
Add potato, mushrooms, coriander roots, salt, sugar, black pepper and water to cover and bring to the boil then simmer on low for 25 minutes covered.
Add baked beans and peas, then simmer for a further 10 minutes uncovered.
To serve, garnish with coriander and serve with crusty bread rolls, steamed rice or thin rice vermicelli noodles.