The butcher shop had some remarkably nice looking chicken leg quarters yesterday. They were on the small side and reminded me of legs on scrappy, tasty chickens in Asia. I bought four of them with the intention of making Thai grilled chicken – a payoff from cleaning the grill last week.
There’s a nice gai yang recipe on VWK but I wanted to see what Leela Punyaratabandhu suggested in her new book, Simple Thai Food: Classic Recipes from the Thai Home Kitchen. You may know Leela from her popular blog, SheSimmers.com. Her debut cookbook dropped several weeks ago and I was eager to cook from it. There’s English and Thai (presented in traditional and Latin/Romanized script). Leela is a linguist so I welcomed the Thai language lesson.
Leela’s approach to Thai food is heartfelt but not simplistic as one would assumes from the cookbook title. The simplicity lies in her flexible instructions (use a mortar and pestle or a small food processor; have no shame in buying curry paste) and gentle phrasing. She’s not a hardass, pardon my language, and she wants to open your mind to new flavors.
Perusing the Simple Thai Food, I came across this one for an earthy grilled chicken with lots of zip from white pepper, coriander, garlic and cilantro. Leela’s recipe called for a sub-recipe of a basic aromatic paste of white peppercorns, garlic and cilantro – something I’d made since the 1990s from Nancie McDermott’s Real Thai. It’s fabulous stuff but I didn’t have any on hand. So I scaled down Leela’s paste recipe and incorporated it into the recipe below.
This isn’t your typical Thai restaurant-style grilled chicken. There’s no sweet chile sauce. As Leela notes, this is chicken that’s sold at major railway stations between Bangkok and the southern part of Thailand. It’s simple with big flavor. Tasty traveler’s food.
The original recipe yielded 4 servings from cooking 3 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, but my husband and I are not big meat eaters so I halved the recipe and found that we had leftovers for another meal. Yes, you can stay true to many (but not all!) recipes by doing half batches. Use whole spices for deep flavor; measure a brimming spoonful of peppercorns and coriander seed if you like extra oomph. To brighten things up, we opted for squirts of lime at the table.
This was last night’s dinner along with rice and sauteed kale. I imagine that it would be great friends with potato salad or slaw – yes, that Sri Lankan red cabbage one from last week would be lovely. Dive in.
Turmeric Grilled Chicken
Kai Yang Khamin
Yields: 4 servings
- 1 teaspoon white peppercorns or ground white pepper
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds or ground coriander
- 1 packed tablespoon light or dark brown sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric
- 5 large cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- 3 tablespoons roughly chopped cilantro stems
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
- 1 1/3 to 1 1/2 pounds (600 to 675g) boneless chicken thighs (with or without skin)
- 1 lime, quartered (optional)
- Grind the peppercorns and coriander seeds in a small food processor to a coarse texture. Add the sugar to grind it a little finer. Visible bits remaining are okay. Add the turmeric, garlic, cilantro, fish sauce, and oyster sauce. Process into a relatively smooth marinade.
- Transfer to a bowl. Add the chicken and use your fingers to rub the marinade into the chicken, getting some under the skin if you kept it on the chicken. Cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours.
- About 30 minutes before heating, remove the chicken from the fridge and let sit at room temperature to remove the chill.
- Heat a gas grill to medium-high or light a charcoal fire, leaving one side free of coals. The grill is ready when you can hold your hand 6 inches (15 cm) over the grill for 4 to 5 seconds.
- Cook the chicken for 12 to 15 minutes, turning frequently, until cooked through. Check for doneness by nicking with the tip of a knife. Transfer to a plate and serve with lime wedges.
Adapted from Simple Thai Food by Leela Punyaratabandhu.