Fried Chicken, Vietnamese StyleSeptember 19, 2012
Ambitious restaurateurs Larry McGuire and Thomas Moorman helm the kitchen at Elizabeth Street Café, a nine-month-old Vietnamese boulangerie and café in Austin's South Congress neighborhood that is putting a locally sourced, farm-fresh spin on the Asian cuisine. “You used to have to pilgrimage to north Austin for good Vietnamese food, which is one of our favorites, with so many tastes and textures and an overall feeling of freshness," Moorman says. So he and McGuire sought to “bring these flavors to central Austin and showcase them in an inviting, convivial space.” Although they decided to keep the menu relatively traditional, they were excited to “sneak in a few original dishes" (like the fried chicken bún below).
Both chefs grew up in the Lone Star State, so when they opened their first restaurant, Lamberts Downtown Barbecue, in 2006, it seemed natural that they’d begin by tackling barbecue. Even at the outset of their careers, the young chefs wanted to push the boundaries of culinary traditions.
“There are great by-the-pound, no-utensil barbecue joints in and around Austin," Moorman says. "We wanted to celebrate that tradition—serving natural meats and local produce—with a thoughtful cocktail, beer and wine list. The smoker is the heart of our restaurant, but we’ve drawn inspiration from Southern and Tex-Mex cuisines to round out our ‘fancy barbecue’ menu.”
Once they’d earned accolades and a steady fan base for their downtown outpost, McGuire and Moorman set their scopes on Austin’s South Congress neighborhood, or SoCo, as it’s often called. With Perla’s Seafood and Oyster Bar, they delved into new terrain, but it didn’t take long for them to hit their stride on the other side of Town Lake. They opened Elizabeth Street Cafe in December 2011, and after baking baguettes for banh mi, decided to add a full-scale bakery to their mini-empire.
What’s next for the rockstar chefs? Since launching Elizabeth Street Café, they’ve opened a fourth enterprise: Fresa’s Chicken al Carbon, a drive-thru serving organic, locally sourced poultry. They’re also preparing to reopen Jeffrey’s—historically considered Austin’s preeminent fine dining establishment—this winter. Their success, and the rocket speed at which they're accomplished it, bodes well for Austin's food scene.
Keffir Lime Fried Chicken Bún with Soft Boiled Farm Egg
1 package Bún Tháp Chùa Vermicelli
4 boneless skinless chicken thighs
4 organic eggs
1 English cucumber, peeled as much as you like and sliced thin
3 jalapenos, thinly sliced
1 large carrot, julienne-cut
4 radishes, thinly sliced
1 head iceberg lettuce, julienne-cut
1 bunch mint picked
1 bunch cilantro picked
1 bunch thai basil picked
½ cup roasted peanuts, chopped
2 cups coconut milk
3 kefir lime leaves
3 cups all purpose flour
2 quarts canola oil
extra virgin olive oil
Dry the lime leaves in a 200 degree oven for 30 minutes
Place in a spice grinder with 3 tablespoons salt
Cube the chicken into one inch pieces
Season with some kefir lime salt and refrigerate for 15 minutes
Bring one large pot & one small pot of water to a boil and season both with salt, the smaller one more aggressively
Cook the vermicelli at a rapid boil and gently move to separate
Once soft strain and rinse with cold water and let dry on parchment paper at room temperature
Place the eggs in the smaller pot and cook at a rapid boil for 5 min. 45 sec.
Shock in ice water and begin to gently peel, placing back in ice water until chilled.
Prep all the vegetable and herbs
Heat the canola oil in a heavy bottomed shallow pot to 350 degrees F
Cover the chicken in coconut milk
Place the flour in a shallow pan and season with some kefir lime salt
Dredge the chicken in the flour and shake of the excess
Fry the chicken until golden brown and place on paper towels to drain
Dunk the eggs back into hot water for 30 seconds to warm
Place the lettuce in the bottom of four shallow wide bowls
Place a large portion of noodles on the lettuce
Arrange the vegetables and herbs around the noodles however you please
Sprinkle the chicken with the rest of the salt and place on top of the noodles
Place the egg somewhere and season with salt and extra virgin olive oil
Serve with nuoc cham
½ cup fish sauce
½ cup rice vinegar
¼ cup sugar
½ tsp. minced garlic
4 birds eye chilies, thinly sliced
¼ cup lime juice
Combine the first three ingredients in a stainless steel pot and bring to a simmer
Add the garlic and chili and allow to cool
Wisk in the lime juice and reserve
Millie Kerr is a freelance writer, wildlife conservationist, and former attorney based in Manhattan.