Grilled Isaan Chicken with Aromatic Lemongrass and Cilantro Roots

Kai Yaang

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Makes

    4 to 6

    servings as part of a multi-dish meal

Appears in

Southeast Asian Flavors: Adventures in Cooking the Foods of Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia & Singapore

Southeast Asian Flavors

By Robert Danhi

Published 2008

  • About

All over Thailand, roadsides grills roast this simple chicken dish over an open fire. It’s served with steamed sticky rice and Thai sweet chili sauce (nahm jim gai). The classic Thai triad, cilantro roots, garlic, and peppercorns, creates the flavor profile of the dish. For authentic appearance and flavor, use a charcoal- or wood-fired rotisserie to cook chicken. In Thailand, chicken is usually “grilled” by roasting over open flames but not actually placed on grill grates. The same marinade can be used on a whole chicken that can be roasted in the oven.


  • 1 tsp. White peppercorns
  • 1 stalk Lemongrass, trimmed and sliced very thin, about 1/16 inch (.1 cm.)
  • Tbsp. Minced cilantro roots or 3 Tbsp. minced stems
  • 5 cloves Garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. Light brown palm sugar
  • ¼ cup Fish sauce (nahmpla)
  • 1 medium Whole Chicken, 3 to 4 lbs. (1.4 to 1.8 kg.), or 2 lbs (1.9 kg) bone-in thighs and/or drumsticks
  • 2 lg. Cucumber, Kirby preferred, cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm.) chunks
  • 1 recipe Thai sweet chili sauce (nahm jim gai)


  1. Make the marinade: if using a mortar, pound the peppercorns and lemongrass into a coarse paste. Add cilantro roots and garlic; pound into a semi-smooth paste. Add palm sugar and fish sauce; stir with pestle until well combined. If not using a mortar, crack peppercorns in a spice grinder, mince lemongrass, cilantro roots, and garlic; combine with palm sugar and fish sauce and whisk until smooth.
  2. Marinate chicken: Combine marinade with chicken; massage well. Marinate at least 2 hours or overnight in the refrigerator.
  3. Grill or roast the chicken: Cook chicken slowly on rotisserie or grill until cooked through (165°F or 74°C), turning occasionally to prevent burning and create and even brown color. Serve with cucumber chunks and Thai sweet chili sauce on the side.