Thai grill

Add gai yang, a popular street food in Thailand, to your grilling repertoire.

By Adam Ried
May 22, 2011

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Many experienced globe-trotters consider Thailand to be a paradise for street food. One of the most popular (and best known here in the States) street dishes is an herb- and garlic-marinated grilled chicken called gai yang. As with beloved recipes everywhere, cooks customize their own versions. Garlic, cilantro (Thais use the root, which can be difficult to find here, so I stick with leaves), and generous amounts of pepper are constants, and beyond that I like ginger, coriander, lime, and shallots. Gai yang is always served with a sweet chili dipping sauce, and together the two are a smoky, spicy, sweet, tart, hot, herbal, garlicky, sloppy, sticky symphony. Serve white rice alongside, to sop up all the drippings and the sauce.

Thai-Style Grilled Chicken

(Gai Yang)

Serves 4

1 cup packed cilantro leaves and slender stems

2 large shallots, peeled and roughly chopped

10 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped

2 tablespoons peeled and chopped fresh ginger

1½ tablespoons ground coriander

2½ teaspoons grated zest and 3 tablespoons juice from 1 lime

2 tablespoons safflower or canola oil, plus more for grill

Salt and pepper

3 pounds bone-in chicken thighs and/or drumsticks, trimmed, rinsed, and dried

In a food processor or blender, puree the cilantro, shallots, garlic, ginger, coriander, lime zest and juice, 2 tablespoons oil, 1½ teaspoons salt, and 1½ tablespoons pepper until smooth, scraping down sides as necessary. Using your fingers, loosen, but do not detach, the skin on the chicken pieces and then rub some seasoning paste under the skin and all over each piece (use all of the paste). Transfer chicken to a large zipper-lock bag or a bowl, seal or cover, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours.

Prepare a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill or preheat a gas grill on high for 15 minutes. (If using gas, adjust burners to medium-high, or as needed to maintain the grill temperature around 425 degrees.) Using tongs and a wad of paper towel, oil the grill grates. Grill the chicken pieces, skin-side down and covered, without moving them (except in the case of large flare-ups), until browned and grill-marked, about 12 minutes. Turn chicken pieces over, cover, and continue grilling until other side is browned, about 12 minutes longer.

Uncover and continue grilling, flipping as necessary, until chicken is dark brown, skin is crisp, and meat registers 170 to 175 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 6 minutes longer. Transfer the chicken to a serving platter, tent loosely with foil, rest for at least 10 minutes, and serve with the dipping sauce (recipe follows).

Sweet Chili Dipping Sauce

Makes about 1 cup

Many authentic Thai recipes produce an incendiary sauce. I scale way back on the heat, and for me it still packs a wallop. But if you’re a thrill seeker, add more red pepper flakes.

1 cup distilled white vinegar

½ cup sugar


1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes

6 cloves garlic, peeled and grated, pressed, or minced to a paste

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

In a medium saucepan over high heat, bring 1 cup of water, the vinegar, sugar, and ¼ teaspoon salt to a boil, swirling pan to dissolve sugar. Add the crushed red pepper flakes and garlic and continue to boil, swirling the pan occasionally, until syrupy and reduced to about ¾ cup, about 15 minutes. Pour the mixture into a small bowl and cool to room temperature. Add the lime juice and stir to mix.

Grilled Eggplant and Shallot Relish with Tamarind

Makes about 3 cups

Adapted from Cracking the Coconut, by Su-Mei Yu.

¼ cup tamarind pulp (about 2½ ounces; sold at Asian markets)

10 medium shallots, unpeeled

1 head garlic, unpeeled

2 medium serrano chilies

2 medium globe or 4 medium Japanese eggplants, about 2 pounds, poked with a fork in several spots

2 tablespoons fish sauce (nam pla or nuoc mam)

1 tablespoon lime juice


In a small nonreactive saucepan over medium heat, bring the tamarind pulp and ½ cup water to a simmer, stirring and mashing the tamarind to break it down, about 4 minutes. Off heat, steep tamarind pulp in water until completely softened, about 20 minutes. Strain the mixture into a small nonreactive bowl, pressing on the solids to release as much puree as possible (you should have about 5 tablespoons). Cover and set aside.

Meanwhile, prepare a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill or preheat a gas grill on high for 15 minutes. (If using gas, adjust burners to medium-high.) Grill the shallots, garlic, chilies, and eggplants, turning occasionally, until vegetables are softened and skins are charred, 10 to 12 minutes for the shallots, garlic, and serranos, and about 25 minutes for the eggplants (eggplant should be very soft). When cool enough to handle, squeeze the shallots and garlic from the charred skins and set aside, scrape the charred skin from the chilies and remove seeds, if desired. Halve the eggplants lengthwise and scoop the flesh into a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl or in a sink to drain; you should have about 2 cups (discard the skins). With a large spoon or flexible spatula, gently fold the eggplant in the strainer until liquid has nearly stopped dripping from the strainer, about 3 minutes.

In a food processor or blender, pulse shallots to chop finely, scraping down sides as necessary. Add the garlic, chilies, eggplants, tamarind pulp, fish sauce, and lime juice, and pulse to combine, scraping down sides as necessary. Scrape the mixture into a bowl, add pepper to taste, adjust seasoning with fish sauce and lime juice, if necessary, and serve.

Thai-Inspired Cucumber salad

Serves 6

8 large cucumbers, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded, and thinly sliced


2/3 cup distilled white vinegar

3 tablespoons sugar

1 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and smashed

2 medium shallots, peeled and very thinly sliced (about 2/3 cup)

1 medium serrano chili, seeded if desired, minced (about 1 tablespoon)

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves

Toss the cucumbers with 1 tablespoon salt in a strainer or colander set over a bowl, then drain for at least 1 hour under a weight (I fill a large zipper bag about halfway with water and use that). Rinse the cucumbers and dry well with paper towels, transfer to a medium bowl, cover, and refrigerate until ready to use.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring 2/3 cup water, the vinegar, sugar, ginger, and a pinch of salt to a boil, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Adjust heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, to reduce slightly, about 15 minutes. Set the dressing aside off heat to cool to room temperature; when cool, remove and discard ginger.

In a medium bowl, combine the cucumbers, shallots, chili, cilantro, and dressing, and toss to combine. Taste the salad, adjust the seasoning with salt, if necessary, and serve at once.

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FINGER-LICKING GOOD Dip grilled marinated chicken into a sauce flavored with red pepper, garlic, and lime. (Photograph by Jim Scherer; Styling by Catrine Kelty) FINGER-LICKING GOOD Dip grilled marinated chicken into a sauce flavored with red pepper, garlic, and lime.