This Thai grilled chicken brings a delicious combination of citrus flavor, cilantro and spice to chicken. I suggest serving it with some green chiles, roasted on the grill, and with rice. Make sure to marinate the chicken for at least three hours, if not overnight. (Photo by Wheeler Cowperthwaite, Rio Grande Sun)
ESPANOLA — Summertime can only mean one thing: it’s time to fire up the grill. I’m a strong supporter of barbecuing for a couple of reasons. For one, I think it’s one of the easiest and tastiest ways to prepare any food. Second, I prefer not to cook in the house in the summer because it gets too hot.
Grilling doesn’t mean you have to make the same slightly salty, sweet or smoky chicken every week. To that end, I’ve decided it’s time to infuse a little bit of Asian, specifically, Thai, flavor into my normal grilling marinade rotation.
Gai Yang, or Thai grilled chicken, sounds like it might be a little exotic, but trust me, it’s worth trying. It brings together a couple of the flavors that are so prominent in the Southwest: cilantro, lime and chile. It’s also sometimes called kai yang or ping gai.
These fresh flavors, along with some garlic, mix, meld and transform your ho-hum grilled chicken into something that’s worth notice.
In Thailand, and much of Southeast Asia, street food is a part of life. Vendors line the side streets and crowd into open marketplaces, selling everything from coffee to phone batteries, to large, live fish and crustaceans. I was able visit Thailand in December 2015 and I soaked in many of the sights and sounds while tasting a variety of local dishes.
Food vendors are even more commonplace, each with a little bit of territory staked out. Some have multiple pots with stew and curry, while others have a small grill, heated by charcoal, with lots and lots of marinating chicken, fish, beef and pork ready to be cooked.
I was unable to try everything while I was there, but I did have Gai Yang and I can attest, it was delicious — and a bit spicy.
Many of the grilled street food comes back to the same flavors: lime and chile. I spent my last day in Bangkok, before flying back to the United States, wandering around the commercial district, enjoying the Thai-themed Christmas decorations, when I spotted a man with a small food cart and grill.
I chose the squid he was selling and found it had much of the same flavors as the chicken, with cilantro, lime and chile.
In Thailand, there is one very specific ingredient that has yet to catch on in the United States: fish sauce. I know, you’re probably taken aback in abject horror at the very idea. Don’t get me wrong: fish sauce smells pretty terrible, but it gives dishes the extra oomph that turns them from ho-hum to delicious.
It’s a little like a saltier version of soy sauce and is made with fish, rather than soy beans. Unfortunately, soy sauce is not a proper substitute.
Fish sauce can be purchased at Smith’s in Los Alamos, or Talin Market in Santa Fe. A big bottle shouldn’t cost more than $3 and will last through a year of sporadic Thai cooking.
With the exception of fish sauce, everything else in the grilled chicken marinade are things you probably have in your house. Cilantro, garlic, lemon, lime — the building blocks of a good dinner.
While I advocate for fish sauce, there are two ingredients that I think are a little too hard to find — and too perishable.
All of the original recipes call for chopped lemongrass, but considering that’s not something that’s usually stocked anywhere nearby, I’ve instead substituted lemon, which I throw in the food processor with everything else. The rind adds a little pep to the marinade.
The original recipe also calls for cilantro root. Instead, I’ve increased the amount of cilantro.
You will need a food processor and should marinate the chicken for at least three hours, although overnight is always preferable.
My recipe takes a variety of different notes from a selection of Gai Yang recipes, with a few little twists — especially for the New Mexican pallet.
While the original recipe for the marinade calls for Thai peppers, I’ve instead substituted jalapeños, although you can use serranos or any other type you want.
I serve this with rice and green chile I’ve roasted on the grill, along with the chicken.
I wanted to go a step further and include a red chile sauce that is normally served with the chicken and rice.
When I made it myself, it had to be a green chile sauce because I didn’t have any dried red chile in the house. The original recipes call for two red chiles, soaked and coarsely chopped. I made mine with fresh green chiles.
I suggest making the sauce because it adds a nice, vinegary addition to the dish, it tastes good over the chicken and it’s nice to have an additional sauce to put over the rice.
Wheeler’s Thai grilled chicken
Serves 2 to 6
• 1-4 pounds of chicken breasts, thighs, or drumsticks
• 2+ green chiles
• 1 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped
• 3 tablespoons chopped garlic
• 2 jalapeños, chopped
• 1 tablespoon brown sugar
• 3 tablespoons fish sauce
• 2+ tablespoons lime juice
• 2 tablespoons white or red wine (optional)
• 1 teaspoon sesame seed oil (optional)
• 2 teaspoons soy sauce
• 15+ sprigs of cilantro, coarsely chopped
• 1/2 a medium lemon, deseeded and coarsely chopped
• 2 dried red chiles, soaked and then coarsely chopped
• 2 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
• 1 tablespoon brown sugar
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 cup rice vinegar or white vinegar
At least three hours prior to grilling the chicken, prepare and marinate the chicken.
• In a blender or food processor, combine the marinade ingredients. Blend for 2-3 minutes, until everything is well combined. Everything should already be chopped.
• Combine the chicken and the marinade in a container, bowl or ziplock bag and refrigerate for at least three hours. Overnight is preferable.
• While the chicken is marinating, combine all of the sauce ingredients in the food processor or blender and mix until well combined. Remove to a separate container for serving and refrigerate until ready to serve.
• Grill the chicken over medium to medium-high heat until done. Chicken thighs taken longer than breasts and bone-in takes longer than boneless. If the chicken is bone-in, cook over medium heat. Add a little of the marinade to the chicken while it cooks.
• While the chicken is grilling add the green chiles, cut lengthwise, to the grill and cook until the skin is well blistered.
• Once the chicken is done, remove from the grill and allow to rest for 2-3 minutes.
• Serve with rice and the sauce you previously made in the blender/food processor and the roasted chiles.
• Garnish the plates with the chopped cilantro.
Barbecue chicken sauce recipe from Practical Thai Cooking by Puangkram Schmitz and Michael Worman
Author: Wheeler Cowperthwaite
Originally printed in Rio Grande Sun, Española, NM,
Reprinted here by permission of:
Gazette Media Services
Community News Exchange