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Grilled Garlic Chicken, Issahn Style Recipe

Course: Hors D'oeuvre, Main Course
Total Time: Under 2 Hours
Skill Level: Easy
Cost: Moderate
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 Grilled Garlic Chicken, Issahn Style

Photo by: Joseph De Leo

In Bangkok alleys and upcountry markets, at rural bus stations and outside boxing arenas, street-vendors do a brisk business in gai yahng, the classic northeastern Thai dish. In Thailand, it’s finger food, served with nahm jeem gratiem, Sweet-Hot Garlic Sauce , for dipping. Paired with som tum, Green Papaya Salad , and a generous serving ofkao niow, Sticky Rice , it anchors the quintessential Issahn meal. You can marinate the chicken for more than an hour, even overnight in the refrigerator if you wish. I like to use legs and thighs, or all wings when I want finger food for a party.

Yield: Serves 4 to 6


  • 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh cilantro roots, or stems and leaves
  • 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped garlic
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons water, or more as needed to grind the paste
  • 3 pounds chicken pieces
  • Sweet-Hot Garlic Sauce, for dipping (recipe follows)

Sweet-hot garlic sauce (makes about 1¼ cups):

  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup white vinegar
  • ½ cup water
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon chili-garlic sauce (sambal oelek), or Sri Rachaa sauce, or minced fresh hot red chili peppers, or 1 to 2 teaspoons dried red chili flakes


In a small food processor or a blender, combine the cilantro, garlic, pepper, soy sauce, fish sauce, salt, and water. Grind to a fine, fairly smooth paste. Add another tablespoon or two of water if needed to help grind evenly.

You can also mince the garlic and cilantro finely, mash them with the salt on your cutting board, and scrape the mixture into a bowl to mix with the pepper, fish sauce, and soy sauce.

Transfer the paste to a large, deep mixing bowl and add the chicken pieces, turning to coat everything well. Cover and refrigerate at least an hour or even overnight, turning occasionally to coat evenly with the marinade.

Prepare a very hot fire in a charcoal grill, or heat a gas grill or oven to 450 degrees F. When hot, place the chicken on the lightly oiled rack, or in a roasting pan in the oven, and cook, turning occasionally to brown and cook pieces evenly, until chicken is cooked through. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature, with small bowls of Sweet-Hot Garlic Sauce.

For the Sweet-Hot Garlic Sauce:

In a medium saucepan, bring the sugar, vinegar, water, garlic, and salt to a gentle boil over medium heat, stirring well to dissolve the sugar. 

Simmer 8 to 10 minutes, until you have a thin, smooth syrup. Remove from heat, stir in chili-garlic sauce, and set aside to cool. (If you use fresh hot red chili peppers or dried red chili flakes, use a fork to mash them up on your cutting board with the garlic and the salt, and then scoop the coarse paste into the warm sauce.) 

Serve at room temperature with Grilled Garlic Chicken, Issahn Style , or any other grilled or crisp-fried food. 

Sealed in a glass jar, it keeps in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

© 2004 Nancie McDermott

Nutrients per serving (% daily value)

Nutritional information is based on 6 servings.

633kcal (32%)
45mg (5%)
6mg (11%)
95mcg RAE (3%)
168mg (56%)
1540mg (64%)
10g (48%)
34g (52%)
2mg (14%)

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