The sun decided to make an appearance this past week in Santa Cruz for longer than just a couple of hours a day! I was unfortunately stuck in my office reviewing edits on a writing project. After finishing on Friday, it time for a real weekend.
To start things off, Rory opened up a liter bottle of a dry Riesling and I made Thai grilled chicken (gai yang). Mymenu choice was inspired by two things: (1) the jar of Thai sweet chile sauce I recently made and (2) memories of a fabulous rendition of gai yang at Sailors Thai, a renowned restaurant in Sydney, Australia.
I had basically given up on ordering cloyingly sweet grilled chicken at Thai restaurants, but my dining buddy that evening, Bangkok-based journalist Jarrett Wrisley, convinced me to order the signature Thai dish. He was prescient in saying, “If this is a good Thai restaurant, they should at least do this well.”
We were startled by how good the gai yang was at Sailors Thai. Jarrett and I politely fought each other over every last bit of flesh and tangy-spicy sauce.
Sailors Thai was started by David Thompson, the chef/owner of Michelin starred nahm at the Halkin hotel in London and the soon-to-open outpost at the Metropolitan in Bangkok. David is one of the foremost authorities on Thai cuisine. He is feisty in nature and uncompromising in his cooking. Over the years, he has elevated Thai food to a high level of craftsmanship and respect that it deserves.
Thompson’s cookbooks, Thai Food and Thai Street Food are phenomenal works. Thai Food is one of my reference books and I used it to work up this gai yang recipe, which is frankly super easy.
Hardline traditionalists would use a small chicken (think game hen size) but I opted for chicken-leg and-thigh quarters. They are juicy, cost less, and taste great.
Brush the sweet chile sauce on at the end or serve it on the side. Do both, if you like. You can’t lose.
Thai Grilled Chicken
Note that cilantro stems are a stand in for cilantro roots, which are readily available in Thailand but not abroad.
Serves 4 to 6 as a main dish
3 1/2 pounds chicken leg-and-thigh quarters
1/3 cup coarsely chopped cilantro stems
1/4 cup coarsely chopped garlic
1/4 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
2 teaspoons light palm sugar or light brown sugar
5 tablespoons fish sauce
1/2 to 3/4 cup Thai Sweet Chile Sauce
1. Trim excess fat and skin from the chicken. Put into a baking dish or bowl. Set aside.
2. Use a mini food processor to grind the cilantro stems, garlic, salt, pepper, and sugar to a coarse texture. Add the fish sauce and pulse to emulsify. Taste and season with salt, pepper, or sugar to create a marinade with a slightly intense savory-sweet bite.
3. Pour the marinade over the chicken. Use your hands to massage it into the chicken, making sure you get some between the skin and flesh too. Cover and set aside for 1 hour. Or, refrigerate for several hours, letting the chicken sit out for 45 minutes before grilling.
4. Preheat a gas grill to medium or prepare a charcoal fire to medium heat. Grill the chicken for 25 to 35 minutes, turning occasionally, until cooked through. Transfer to a platter. Brush on the sweet chile sauce or serve it on the side for guests to help themselves.