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Up in my grill

You might ordinarily toss the roots and bottom stems of cilantro (aka coriander) in the compost heap, but they can add a piquant touch to recipes like this Thai grilled chicken.
TRR photos by Laura Silverman

July 22, 2015

Nothing says summer like firing up the barbeque, though all this rain is threatening to put a crimp in our grilling. But inclement weather could never stop me from making my favorite Thai-style grilled chicken. (Full disclosure: My husband is usually the one standing over the coals.) The inspiration comes from a much splattered copy of “Hot Sour Salty Sweet: A Culinary Journey Through Southeast Asia,” by Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford. It’s a seminal work filled with highly authentic regional dishes carefully collected mainly from home cooks.

This chicken is a prime example—something you might buy from a street vendor working a smoky grill in a Bangkok alley. The deliciously funky marinade makes use of the roots and stems of cilantro (coriander) stems, an ingredient you might normally toss on the compost heap. On the side is a sweet but fiery sauce, heavy on the sugar and red chile flakes. In Thailand, they would give this to you in a plastic baggie. At home, it’s not a bad idea to set out a small bowl of it for every diner. The combination of crisp, juicy chicken and sticky hot sauce is just that irresistible. With a little cucumber-cilantro salad and a big pot of sticky rice, you’ve got dinner. Drink a crisp rosé or a frosty Belgian lager. It’s a special occasion—round out the meal with a scoop of coconut ice cream. (Yes, summer qualifies.)

To this excellent recipe, I’ve added just a few steps of my own. With all due respect to the grill-master, I find that chicken turns out best when it’s gently poached on the stove and then finished on the fire. Otherwise, the skin often burns black by the time the meat is done. Do it my way and you’re guaranteed perfection. The weather, however, I can’t control.

Thai Grilled Chicken

Serves 4

1 tablespoon +1 teaspoon black peppercorns, divided

3 tablespoons coarsely chopped garlic

1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro (coriander) roots and stems, plus another handful

1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt

4 tablespoons fish sauce

1 four-pound chicken, separated into 10 pieces

2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

Using a food processor or mortar and pestle, grind the tablespoon of peppercorns, garlic, coriander roots and salt to a paste. Stir in the fish sauce. 

Place the cut-up chicken in a large stockpot, add the handful of coriander roots, remaining teaspoon of peppercorns and smashed garlic cloves and cover with cold water. Bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat and cook, uncovered, for about 10 minutes. Turn off heat, cover, and allow to cool.