Grilled Vietnamese Chicken


Grilled chicken thighs or any parts really – and a medley of vegetables – marinated in this lime, fish sauce, and black pepper-centric marinade make for a grilling treat outside the normal barbecue box.


It’s that time of year again when any meal sounds so much more appealing coming off of the grill.  Mingling with the scent of a fresh-mown lawn and newly turned mulch, nothing goes better with a post-yard work beer than something off the grill.  I say this almost selfishly gleefully since I am generally not she who mans the grill.   That being said, I do sometimes like to play with fire – a family trait so I hear – and this chicken recipe is my go-to favorite.

Years ago I would look forward to reading Kim O’Donnel’s column in the food section of The Washington Post.  She was (and still is though no longer at the Post) a solid cook whose recipes usually had a little twist and always produced good results.  This marinade sounded just too wacky to pass up without giving it a whirl.  Sugar and lime (think margarita) veer far East with fish sauce and tons of ground pepper.  On the hunt for a non-barbecue chicken recipe and going on blind faith that Kim wouldn’t steer me wrong, I tried what has become a huge family favorite. A fling turned committed relationship. Who says that only happens in romance novels.  Pfft.

Feeling the need to eschew animal flesh or just want to add something from the garden to the mix?  This is fabulous as a marinade for firm veggies – eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, I bet even mushroom would be terrific though I haven’t tried yet.  Thinking here as I type that a drive-by the Piggly Wiggly for some portabello caps may be in order.

This recipe doubles and even triples nicely and can be used on any chicken parts though if you’re going boneless skinless, I’d make sure the marination time doesn’t exceed four hours.

Have fun grilling and don’t forget to have your fire extinguisher handy.  Don’t ask.


Step one:  Collect this motley cast of characters.


Step 2: Everyone into the pool (except the chicken)!  Two caveats: First, lime juice only comes out of limes.  It does not come out of plastic containers, glass bottles, or, the gods forbid, packets of powder.  Second, this quantity of black pepper does not lend itself to showcasing old, tired questionable dust from a can.  Fresh peppercorns from the grinder only, if you please.


Add the chicken and thoroughly smoosh it around.  Cover in plastic wrap, toss it in the fridge and go find the bottle opener!  Of course, if you’re thinking ahead, you can get the marinated chicken into the fridge the night before and you’ll be that far ahead.  Vegetables, however, need no more than an hour or so or you’ll have mush.


When you’re ready to grill, get the fire steady at 350-375 F.  An aside, a PSA really, from our resident grill master: DO NOT EVER use lighter fluid or charcoal that’s got it built in.  Use a chimney starter with charcoal or a gas grill.  You never get rid of that fuel taste.  So, there you go.


Grill the vegetables first (if you’ve got them), turning every few minutes until you’ve got your preferred char (I let ’em rip).


Grill the chicken starting with skin-side down, turning every 10-15 minutes until done.  Depending on grill temp, this is 35-45 minutes.  Because there is oil in the marinade, you can keep a spritz bottle of water nearby to tame flare ups.  Beer does the same thing but, um, that’s sort of wasteful.


Grilled Vietnamese Chicken (Ga Nuong)

Adapted from Kim O’Donnel

½ tsp granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
3 tsp fresh coarsely ground black pepper
2 tbs fish sauce
2 tbs fresh-squeezed lime juice
¼ c canola oil
4 lb chicken thighs or parts of your choice (skin on/bone in preferably) though if careful with the grilling, boneless, skinless thighs work well in a pinch

In a nonreactive container (bowl or Pyrex casserole) large enough to hold the chicken, combine all ingredients except the chicken and combine thoroughly.  Add the chicken and use your hands to thoroughly coat each piece.  Cover with plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator to marinate for at least 4 hours and up to 12 (though I’ve gone 24 hours in the fridge with no noticeable loss of texture to the chicken).

Prepare a medium hot grill (350-375).  Remove chicken from the marinade and discard the marinade.  Place the chicken skin-side down on the grill and cook 10 minutes.  Check for hot spots (darker color) and turn skin-side up, rotating chicken from hot to cool spots and vice versa.  After 15 minutes, turn skin-side down, once again moving from hot to cooler spots.  After 10 minutes, flip again, also moving hot to cooler spots.  At this point you can check for doneness; internal temperature should be at least 165 though I like dark meat a bit higher, about 175 (so sue me).

If you want to grill vegetables, prepare marinade as above and marinate cleaned cut vegetables for about an hour.  Grill at 350-375 until desired doneness; could be from 10-25 minutes depending on your char preference.  If grilling chicken also, grill vegetables first and set aside; they are quite terrific at room temperature.

Please let me know what you think

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