Gai Yang – Lao Barbecue Chicken

I hope you read through the spatchcocking instructions yesterday (my spellchecker doesn’t recognise ‘spatchcocking’, and suggests I use ‘knocking shop’ instead – honestly). If you didn’t, have a quick look, then come back here. This recipe will have you marinating a whole bird in some extravagantly delicious paste full of lemongrass, chilli and coriander, then grilling it over hot charcoal. It’s my version of a recipe that’s originally from Laos. When I lived in Paris, most weekends found me face-down in a plate of sticky rice, Ping Gai (the Laotian term for what the Thais and subsequently the Brits call Gai Yang) and Laotian wind-dried beef at Lao Lanxang (105, Avenue Ivry, 75013 Paris). This is a handsome treatment of a chicken, aromatic, sweet and smoky from the grill.

The recipe is also found in the Issan province of Thailand, and has now been subsumed into the melting pot of Thai food, so it’s in Thai restaurants that you’re most likely to find it in the UK – but if you’re intrigued by food from Laos (and you should be – it is fascinating and delicious), read Natacha du Pont de Bie’s Ant Egg Soup, a foodie backpacking travelogue with a handful of recipes at the end of each chapter that takes you all over the little country, sampling marvels like silkworm grubs, river algae and bottled chicken. The book seems to be out of print now, but there are plenty of copies available second-hand at Amazon.

To marinate a whole spatchcocked chicken (enough to serve four with rice), you’ll need:

1 stick lemongrass
5 green chillies
4 fat, juicy cloves garlic
1 large handful fresh coriander, with stems
1 in ginger, grated
1 tablespoon turmeric
4 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 ½ tablespoons soft brown sugar

Chop the lemongrass, chillies, garlic and coriander coarsely, and put them in a pestle and mortar. Bash and squash until you have a rough, emerald-coloured paste, as in this picture. (Don’t worry about squishing everything until it’s completely smooth – you are aiming to break the cell walls to make an aromatic paste, and this sort of texture will be fine.)

Transfer the green paste to a large bowl, big enough to fit your chicken in, and add the other ingredients. Stir well to combine all the ingredients, and slip the chicken into the bowl, turning and spooning so it’s well covered with the sauce. Refrigerate, covered, for 24 hours, turning occasionally in the marinade.

When you are ready to barbecue the chicken, bring your charcoal up to temperature and set the grill high above it. Ideally, the chicken should cook relatively slowly, to prevent the delicious skin from charring too much. The spatchcocked chicken will lie flat, which helps it cook evenly. Stand over your chicken as it grills, turning it every couple of minutes (again, this will help to avoid the skin from turning too black), and basting each time you flip the chicken over with the remaining marinade from the bowl. After 20 minutes, poke a skewer into the fattest part of the chicken at the thigh. If the juices run clear, you’re done – transfer the chicken to a plate to serve. If the juices are still pink, give the chicken another five minutes and repeat the test until you’re satisfied it’s cooked.

Serve with rice and some grilled corn cobs, drizzled with lime juice.

17 Replies to “Gai Yang – Lao Barbecue Chicken”

  1. Hi Cindy! To be honest, soy, sugar and pepper’s pretty darn delicious too (sugar is always surprisingly good in a chicken marinade) – but I do love all the aromatics in this recipe, which give the chicken a real depth of flavour if you leave it to bathe in the marinade for a good long time.

  2. I’m sure the chicken-gods wouldn’t frown on you if you just cooked this under the conventional grill, Tig. That said, I’m not sure how easy frowning is anyway with a beak and comb.

  3. Feh. Use the tools your landlord has given you, I say. (Alternatively, you could always try to get yourself invited to someone else’s barbecue party and turn up with a pre-marinaded chicken.)

  4. This is all far too Head Girl and complicated for me.

    Can’t you just provide the perfect recipe for braised steak ‘n’ onions (leave the dumplings)?

    Marguerite Paton (suspicious French name but earthy with it) will hug you.

    Probably vicariously because she’s as old as the pyramids, but it’s the thought that counts

  5. I never made it to Head Girl – far too much smoking and drinking in my Lower VI to be admitted for consideration. (And there are two ‘T’s in Patton.) I stopped smoking the minute I left school, but sadly the drinking has only got worse. I would probably still not make Head Girl now, at 33.

    I have grave misgivings about dumplings. They have always seemed to me to be not quite natural.

  6. I wonder how this would taste if you were to squeeze your chicken into one of those vacuum marinade fandangled devices and gave it a few hours to allow the chicken to suck it all up! Whatcha think? I wear Speedos, but not when charcoal grilling a marinaded chicken. I know about sparks and Lycra; the rest is history.

  7. Ooh – not half. Sadly, my biggest Sealsaver was full of coffee when I cooked this, but it’d be extremely useful here – and a spatchcocked chicken is lovely and bendy, so would fit in quite nicely.

  8. Morning Liz & fellow GD followers. I might try this chicken for dinner this evening.

    Re turning over every couple of mins – I have a suggestion. I have a barbie with a lid & often do whole joints & chickens. I achieve this by putting the charcoal in the back half only & placing the meat on the front coal-less section. The lid enables heat circulation & non – burned dinners. I often do fabulous things with a leg of lamb fillet or whole chicken this way. By the way I enjoyed the earl grey scones I made yesterday with home made strawberry jam. Marvellous

  9. Thanks for the tip, Kevin! I'm planning on buying a Weber barbecue next year (my current one is ancient and too small for a lot of what I want to do with it) – I shall follow your advice once it's installed on the patio!

  10. Lao cuisine is so delicious. It’s interesting that Thais have adopted many dishes from Laos just like the BBQ chicken mentioned in this article. I’ve been to both countries and though I thought the Thai-adapted versions of Lao dishes are okay, there’s nothing that replaces the original Lao recipes as used in Laos especially when the dishes are eaten with Lao sticky rice…that combination is absolutely to die for. Complement your meal with a nice tall glass of BeerLao and you’re in heaven.

  11. It really is a fascinating cuisine. If anyone’s looking for more Lao recipes, I heartily recommend Ant Egg Soup (there’s a link in the main article) and the relevant chapter in Rosemary Brissenden’s South East Asian Food, which is a really useful reference.

  12. In your Gai Yang – Lao BBQ Chicken you refer to green chilies. Are these CA – Anaheim chilies which are mild or more like serrano?

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