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Grilled Vietnamese Chicken

Fish sauce is a salty and pungent seasoning popular in Vietnam and Thailand. The amber liquid is the filtered extract of small fish (often anchovies), salt and water that has been left to ferment in the sun. It is essential to countless dishes, especially Asian dipping sauces.

Ingredients:

  • 4 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • 4 shallots, 2 chopped and 2 sliced
  • 1 Tbs. chopped fresh ginger
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 6 Tbs. rice vinegar
  • 3 Tbs. Asian fish sauce
  • 2 Tbs. soy sauce
  • 2 Tbs. firmly packed brown sugar
  • 2 lb. chicken breast halves and/or thighs
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 5 Tbs. corn or peanut oil
  • 1 large English cucumber, thinly sliced

Directions:

Marinate the chicken
In a blender, combine the garlic, the chopped shallots, the ginger, coconut milk, 3 Tbs. of the vinegar, the fish sauce, soy sauce and 1 Tbs. of the brown sugar and process until smooth. Place the chicken in a nonreactive bowl, add the marinade, stir to coat evenly and cover with plastic wrap. Let sit for at least 15 minutes at room temperature, or up to overnight in the refrigerator. (For the best flavor, marinate the chicken for at least 4 hours in the refrigerator.)

Make the cucumber salad
In a bowl, whisk together the remaining 3 Tbs. vinegar, the remaining 1 Tbs. brown sugar, the salt and 4 Tbs. of the oil. Add the cucumber and the sliced shallots, toss to mix, cover and refrigerate until serving. (The salad can be made a day in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.)

Grill the chicken
Prepare a gas or charcoal grill for direct grilling over medium heat and lightly brush the grill rack with the remaining 1 Tbs. oil.

Remove the chicken from the marinade, shaking off the excess, and discard the marinade. Place the chicken, skin side up, on the grill rack and grill until browned, 7 to 8 minutes. Using tongs, turn and grill on the skin side until browned, 5 to 7 minutes more. Move the chicken away from the direct heat, cover the grill and continue to cook until opaque or an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part away from bone registers 160°F, 7 to 10 minutes. Serve the chicken with the cucumber salad. Serves 4.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Food Made Fast Series, Asian, by Farina Wong Kingsley (Oxmoor House, 2007).