This is a very straightforward northern Vietnamese preparation. I’ve read recipes from the central and southern Vietnamese regions that include garlic and chiles, and that saute the chicken with aromatics before simmering. While there’s bound to be more complex flavors in those versions, the beauty of this recipe lies in its simplicity. This preparation shows off the ease of making a kho dish and the delectability of the results.
The chicken exudes its juices during cooking, which adds extra savoriness to the sauce. The ginger softens and mellows, blending in with the other ingredients while still retaining its jolting quality. To crush the ginger, place the flat side of a knife blade on each slice and give the blade a firm whack with the palm of your hand. Crushing the ginger releases more of its juices during cooking, thereby mitigating its bite.
Traditionally, the chicken was left on the bone with the skin attached. You’d cut the chicken pieces up and simmer the ingredients into an unctuous kho. My mother used to simmer chicken wings and what I jokingly called “chicken knees” (the bony knob ends of the drumsticks that she’d cut off as she butchered chickens and save in the freezer). For the sake of ease and health considerations, I now use boneless skinless chicken thighs.