Northern Thai Honey-Spiced Chicken and Dipping Sauce: for Rose

Northern Thai Honey-Spiced Chicken and Dipping Sauce: for Rose

My granddaughter, Christina Rose (“Rose”), visited Thailand with most of the family several years ago. In Chiang Mai, in the north where we have relatives, she had honey-barbecued chicken that she declared was her favorite dish of the trip. I sought out recipes to reproduce this variety of barbecue, but none were to be had. For many years we have made the more typical Thai barbecued chicken, Gai Yang, but that’s from the northeast, and originated with the Isaan – or Lao – ethnic group rather than Northern Thai people.

Plate: Maria Dondero, Marmalade Pottery, Athens GA
Based on what descriptions I could get from those who also tasted Rose’s favorite chicken, I sketched out a method and a dipping sauce to go with it. While I can’t vouch for my dish’s authenticity, it tastes Thai and “pretty damn good,” as we say in the restaurant kitchen. More important, it pleased Rose. I’ve made it for family gatherings and even included it on the menu of our restaurant’s Tapas evening when the theme was Thai, where it was well received.

Chicken thigh, boneless and skinless, is a lot easier to work with than a whole chicken skinned and disjointed. I think is the best way to make and grill this, and I developed the recipe for that form of chicken. The meat needs to marinate for at least a few hours before grilling, and even better is overnight marinating.

Steamed sticky rice goes with the chicken (as it would with the usual Gai Yang), but conventional white, unsalted rice, Thai jasmine rice in particular, is fine also. Offer lettuce and fresh herbs to wrap the chicken pieces in, and accompany with a dipping sauce (see recipe below).

Here’s a recipe for fixing three pounds of chicken. This is a crowd or entertainment dish, after all, not particularly something to make just for a couple.

The chicken:
3 pounds boneless skinless chicken thigh, tough parts removed and part (not all) of fat trimmed off 

Puree thoroughly in food processor:
1 small garlic clove
2 lemon grass stalks, using the lower 6 inches, thinly sliced
1 bunch cilantro, stem parts only (use leaves in sauce and other dishes)
4 tablespoons honey
4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons Asian fish sauce

Transfer to a bowl and add:
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon (or more) cayenne
1 teaspoon cornstarch
6 double lime leaves, well bruised to release flavors
4 tablespoons sunflower or canola oil

Marinate chicken at least a few hours, or ideally overnight, in zip-lock plastic bag, turning and squeezing the bag occasionally to season evenly.

Grill chicken (discard marinade) over charcoal or gas grill or under broiler, turning frequently, until thoroughly done. Cut into 1/2-inch strips with the grain. Accompany with rice, lettuce leaves and cilantro (plus optional mint) sprigs to roll the chicken pieces in, and small bowls of dipping sauce.

Dipping sauce for Northern Thai grilled chicken:

2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons white vinegar
4 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons Asian fish sauce
Salt to taste, start with 1/4 teaspoon
Chili-garlic sauce, or hot pepper sauce, to taste
2 tablespoons minced cilantro leaves
1 bruised clove garlic

Mix all ingredients well together to dissolve. Taste for salt and hotness and adjust to taste. Let sit for 20 minutes or more. Remove garlic before serving.

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