Lemongrass and Curry Grilled Chicken Breasts


Travel the world’s barbecue trail and you’ll find lots of grilled chicken. What you won’t find outside of North America is a lot of grilled skinless, boneless chicken breasts. The reason is simple: The breast contains less fat and flavor than dark meat. It’s also more expensive and more likely to dry out on the grill. So when I found these chicken breasts, fragrant with curry and lemongrass, sizzling hot off the grill, at the night market in the French-Colonial town of Luang Prabang in northern Laos, I knew I had tasted a rarity—a chicken dish that would play equally well to health-conscious, convenience-loving North America and flavor-addicted Southeast Asia. In Laos, the chicken would be grilled on a split stick over a charcoal-filled clay brazier. Here’s how to do it on a grill with a conventional grate. The lemongrass, curry, and cilantro speak loudly enough for themselves.

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  • 2 stalks lemongrass, trimmed and thinly sliced crosswise, or 3 strips lemon zest
  • 2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro or dill
  • teaspoons curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon Coarse salt (kosher or sea)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus 1 tablespoon for basting
  • 4 skinless, boneless half chicken breasts (each about 6 ounces, pounds in all)
  • Lime wedges, for serving


Advance Preparation

to 4 hours for marinating the chicken

  1. Place the lemongrass, garlic, cilantro, curry powder, salt, sugar, and pepper in a heavy mortar and pound to a paste with a pestle. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, finely chop these ingredients in a food processor. Gradually work in the 2 tablespoons of oil.
  2. Rinse the chicken breasts under cold running water, then blot them dry with paper towels. Arrange the chicken breasts in a baking dish just large enough to hold them in a single layer. Spread the lemongrass marinade over the chicken breasts, turning to coat both sides. Let the chicken marinate in the refrigerator, covered, for at least 1 hour or as long as 4 hours; the longer it marinates, the richer the flavor will be.
  3. Set up the grill for direct grilling and preheat it to high.
  4. When ready to cook, brush and oil the grill grate. Drain the chicken breasts and arrange them on the hot grate at a diagonal to the bars. Grill the chicken breasts until golden brown and cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes per side, giving each breast a quarter turn on each side after 1½ minutes to create a handsome crosshatch of grill marks. After 3 minutes, start basting the chicken breasts with the 1 tablespoon of oil as they grill to keep them moist, taking care not to touch raw chicken with the basting brush.
  5. Transfer the grilled chicken breasts to a platter or plates and serve them with the lime wedges.