“Made in Vietnam: Homestyle Recipes from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh.” By Tracey Lister and Andreas Pohl. Hardie Grant Books. $29.99.

I had a late introduction to pho, the iconic Vietnamese noodle soup. But ever since I ate that first steaming bowl a decade ago, pho has become my ultimate comfort food – warm, calming (unless you add a little too much chili sauce) and filling. When I have a cold, stayed up too late the night before or just have a touch of ennui, I immediately turn to pho and within a few slurps, life becomes a little more bearable.

But there is more – much, much more – to Vietnamese cuisine than noodle soup, and “Made in Vietnam,” by Tracey Lister and Andreas Pohl brings the incredible variety of techniques, ingredients and flavors to life. The book offers straightforward recipes that give a tour of the country, from rural farming hamlets to snacks served from sidewalk stands.

Considering the tropical climate in much of southeast Asian, it’s no surprise “Made in Vietnam” is full of summer-appropriate recipes. Cool or room-temperature preparations like spicy eggplant and jackfruit salad; and choko (another name for chayote) and barbecued pork salad caught my eye immediately. Fish and seafood recipes take up a hefty portion of the book, but there is a good mix of meat, poultry and vegetarian – or at least vegetable-based – recipes, as well as a small section on traditional desserts and sweets. Bookending the volume are sections I find invaluable – a half-dozen different ways to prepare rice (boiled, sticky, crispy, broken) and roughly 30 pages of short recipes for dipping sauces and condiments. I see myself mining both sections in the future for recipes and ideas.

Like many cookbooks that focus on a particular region, it helps to have a pantry set up with a few staples before you begin cooking – in this case, rice, soy sauce, fish sauce, limes, rice vinegar and red chillies. Also, cooking some of these recipes in your Maine kitchen may require a little hunting; it could take a couple phone calls to find a market that sells jackfruit, betel leaves or caul fat, which is the organ lining of a cow or a pig.

By and large, however, most of the recipes are approachable. None more so than soy-poached chicken, a dish as delicious as it was simple to make.

Basically, soy-poaching a whole chicken consists of boiling a mix of soy sauce, fish sauce, vinegar, chilies, sugar, garlic and ginger in a big pot, submerging a whole chicken in the sauce, then waiting for it to cook. The resulting meat is flavorful and moist. Served with rice, some condiments and a nice side, this could make an easy but impressive dinner for the family or guests or half a week’s worth of lunches.

The real value from the recipe, however, is the amazing stock it makes. For hours after poaching the chicken, its sweet-savory aroma lingered in my kitchen, and I imagined the possibilities of a fridge full of broth. The stock is flavorful enough to be used on its own to drizzle on a meal that needs a salty-sweet boost, but I’ve also now used it as a base to braise or steam vegetables.

If you’re into Vietnamese food, curious to try something new and undaunted by hunting down some obscure ingredients, give “Made in Vietnam” a try.

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

SOY-POACHED CHICKEN

31/2 lb chicken

Boiled rice

STOCK:

4 cups soy sauce

1/4 cup rice vinegar

1/2 cup fish sauce

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons sesame oil

1 teaspoon five-spice powder

3 star anise

1 cinnamon stick

11/2-inch knob fresh ginger, sliced

4 garlic cloves, peeled

6 spring onions, cut in half

2 long red chillies, cut in half length ways

Combine all the stock ingredients with 10 cups water in a saucepan large enough to hold the chicken. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

Gently lower the chicken into the stock. Place a small plate on top to ensure the bird is completely covered by the liquid. Slowly bring back to simmering point and cook for 25 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat. Allow chicken to remain in stock for further two hours for maximum flavor.

Remove the chicken from the stock and cut into serving pieces.

Strain the stock into a clean saucepan. Bring back to a boil, then reduce the heat and leave to simmer to 10 minutes. Transfer the stock into a storage container, leave to cool, then refrigerate for later use.

Serve the chicken at room temperature, with boiled rice and favorite vegetable.

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