Summertime, and the living is hot, which means cooking indoors is a pain. There is a solution. The grill.

I love grills for a multitudes of reasons. They can be quick, they are outdoors, they are tasty and easy and, in the summer, cooking inside is far too miserable.

That’s where a new take on grilled chicken comes in. Specifically, it is a Thai take on the humble hunk of chicken meat.

Gai yang, also called kai yang or ping gai, or simply Thai grilled chicken, brings together some of the most prominent flavors in the west: lime, cilantro, garlic and chiles.

Thai grilled chicken, or Gai Yang, with steamed rice and a grilled green chile.

The flavors mix, meld and create something worth adding to the regular stable of meat marinades.

I was lucky enough to, most recently, take a return trip to Thailand just on the cusp of the current pandemic. That meant tourism was down and the streets were not nearly as packed as I have seen them in travels past. Although there were fewer people, there were still plenty of street food vendors with small grills and bags of marinating meat.

Many of the grilled foods had two common ingredients: lime and chiles. There is a third ingredient, which smells awful, but really adds a savory, or unami taste: fish sauce. I swear by it in most marinades, where it adds a saltiness and depth of flavor not offered by soy sauce.

It’s an ingredient that is in lots of Thai cuisine but its influence melds into the background, becoming indistinguishable on the palate, except for a sparkle.

Really, gai yang is not that different from a regular citrus marinade, with the exception of fish sauce: cilantro, garlic, lemon and lime.

The original marinade recipe I used as a base calls for chopped lemongrass and cilantro roots. I know finding cilantro with the root still on his hit or miss, and lemongrass is hard to find, so I’ve substituted lemon rind.

Making the marinade requires a good processor or blender and the chicken should sit for at least three hours, if not overnight.

I serve this chicken with some green chiles roasted on the grill and rice.

 

Wheeler’s Thai grilled chicken

Serves 2 to 6

Ingredients

  • 1-4 pounds of chicken breasts, thighs, or drumsticks
  • 2+ green chiles
  • 1 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped

Marinade

  • 3 tablespoons chopped garlic
  • 2 jalapeños, chopped
  • 1 table spoon 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

Sauce

  • 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

Directions

At least three hours prior to grilling the chicken, prepare and marinade 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

In New Mexico, Chile is king. No questions. No debate. Red, or green? Christmas? (Christmas is both red and green.)

(If you want just the recipe, see it here.)

Zhug, after the cilantro and jalapenos and citrus and salt have been blended together. Ready for some fiery consumption.

Cilantro certainly plays a second fiddle, in salsa, as do tomatoes, but still: chile, cilantro, these are the building blocks of many New Mexican meals. So, what does that have to do with zhug? Well, combine those two things into one dish. Blew your mind, didn’t it?

Chile and cilantro are not the sole property of New Mexican cuisine and lots of other cultures do complimentary things with them that I think we should all copy, or at least, pay attention to.

That New Mexico can learn a lot from other parts of the world, including from the middle-east, where zhug originated.

What is zhug, anyway?

It can either be described as a cilantro-based hot sauce (and, depending on how you make it, I mean Hot) or as chile and cilantro pesto. Take your pick. I prefer the former, partially because I make mine scalding.

It’s a very simple sauce. Put cilantro, lemon juice, lime juice and, important here, peppers, into a blender. Blend. Blend, blend, blend.

That’s it. Maybe add some salt, to taste. And you’re done. It’s a pesto-like hot sauce or a hot pesto. Either way, zhug goes well with pita bread and tabbouleh, with some hummus. Maybe you’re going to make zucchini fritters. Add some on the side, along with tzatziki.

I should add, this sauce is very dear to my heart. Being such a fan of cilantro, even naming my blog after a proclivity for it, I gotta say. We all should love zhug.

 

Zhug

Ingredients
• Between 10-20 hot peppers, rinsed and chopped (de-seed if heat is an issue)
• 1-3 bunches of cilantro, washed and chopped
• 3-6 garlic cloves, chopped
• ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom or seeds from 6 cardamom pods, crushed
• ¼ teaspoon ground coriander (cilantro seeds)
• ½ teaspoon ground cumin
• 1 lime juice, more to taste
• ¼ to ½ cup lemon juice, more or less to taste
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• Salt to taste
• Optional: 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint

Directions

1. Chop the cilantro, peppers and garlic.
2. Put all the ingredients, sans salt, in a food processor or blender.
3. Blend until it reaches desired consistency.
4. Add a small amount of salt, to taste.

 

If you want the full gallery of full-quality photos, they are licensed under a Creative Commons 2.0 Attribution-only license. See them here.

Jalapenos in a blender, before being blended, to make Zhug. Add liquid (lemon/lime juice) to aid in the blending process.

Cilantro, being being chopped up and put in a blender to make Zhug.