Wednesday, 16 March 2011


Gai (chicken) is the most common of meats in Thailand alongside pork. It appears in curry and stir fry, ground in salads and it's most commonplace food on the run version - gai yang, or grilled chicken. This is another Isaan regional dish, but available all over Thailand, sold at hawker markets and by mobile sellers at train and bus stations. While the practice of travelling with unrefrigerated, cooked meat in the hot and humid Thai climate can make gai yang a bit of a bacteria risk, eaten fresh from the grill of a hawker stand this makes an excellent meal. It is most commonly served with sweet chili sauce, sticky rice and som tum (green papaya salad).

Gai yang really is just grilled marinated chicken - so it's nowhere close to being hard to make, and is universally liked. It's not spicy, and left overs are easy to use in sandwiches and salads. My friend Maria once diced up some left overs from this dish and tossed it up with the cabbage and cucumber that had been the garnish from the previous night's dinner, added fish sauce, sweet chili sauce and lime and it was a stunningly good salad. I seem to recall scoffing rather a lot of it.

In Thailand a whole quarter of a chicken is used, skinned, flattened out and wedged between split bamboo. This provides both the tongs and a 'handle' with which to eat it all in one. Brilliant. The bones in these pieces definitely add flavour and moisture to the meat while grilling, but boneless thigh fillets can also be used if you intend to chop it up to serve or if kids are involved and bones make it all too hard.

The marinade varies a lot from maker to maker and when I asked my Thai cooking teacher Yui about a recipe she said that everyone makes it their own way - it's not a dish with a recipe! Instead she gave me a list of ingredients people might use, but warned me to be careful of the sugar content because it makes it harder to cook the meat all the way through before the marinade burns. In that spirit I don't tend to measure the ingredients or get too worried if I am missing an ingredient or two, or if I toss in something new now and again.

Gai yang is ideally cooked over charcoal or wood fires to impart the characteristic flavour that brings South East Asia instantly to mind. In reality, I generally use the barbecue, or at a pinch the griller part of the oven.

Gai Yang (grilled or barbecued chicken*)

Skinless chicken pieces - drumsticks, chicken 'chops', maryland, thigh fillets etc. I usually do about a kilo at a time, but you can easily do more or less.
Coriander roots - this is quite literally the root bits at the bottom of the stems on a bunch of coriander (it is very annoying how often supermarket ones come already de-rooted!). I'd use the roots from the whole bunch.
Garlic - about 4 cloves, give or take.
Soy - I like the dark kind for this dish, a couple of tablespoons.
Pepper - ground black or white, about half a teaspoon.
Lemongrass - 2 stalks, white part only, roughly chopped.
Oyster sauce - 3 or 4 tablespoons.
Fish sauce - 1 or 2 tablespoons.
Tumeric - a small fresh grated knob or a few pinches of dried ground.
Ginger - a small fresh grated knob.
Palm sugar/white sugar/plum sauce - not too much or it burns.
(and remember don't worry if you don't use all these things!)

The marinade can be made in a mortar and pestle, but I usually smash it all up with the stab blender. Increase the amount of soy, fish or oyster sauce if there isn't enough liquid to make a runny paste.

Toss the raw chicken pieces through the marinade and let sit for at least a few hours, though overnight to 24 hours is way better.

Cook on a hot grill or barbecue and serve with sticky rice, sweet chili sauce and a garnish of shredded cabbage and sliced cucumber.

*this dish is also excellent made with pork, and quite possibly fish as well.


anji said...

Yum! I've got to try that out!

caroline said...

Yum - thanks.