Well, it’s actually just a Gai Yang or Thai grilled chicken. But it does look mildly obscene, don’t you agree? The poor innocent chicken is stripped bare and spread out in a rather immodest position for all the world to see. It’s also quite immoderately delicious, and inordinately easy to do.
There’s a term for this flatten-out chicken, it’s called “spatchcock”. To spatchcock, a chicken is to remove its backbone and flatten it out before cooking. I doubt the folks grilling the chickens on the street in Bangkok know the proper culinary term, but this is precisely how they do it over there. It makes things a whole lot easier to do a whole chicken on the grill. I also think that it normalizes cooking time so that the breasts, legs, and thighs finish cooking at about the same time. I’ve never had dried-out breasts and undercooked thighs when grilled like this over low fire.
This chicken got a Thai seasoning rubbed all over and let marinate for a bit. It doesn’t take that long, really, just prepare the chicken before you set your barbecue afire. By the time the fire dies down enough to cook the chicken, the marinade will have done its job.
In Thailand, a grilled chicken like this is usually served with two sauces: one is often referred to as “grilled-chicken sauce”, which is basically a sweetish chili sauce you can buy in a bottle, and the other is a Jaew sauce, which is basically this dressing I used in my Ugly Salad post last week. You can use either, or both, or none at all.
Gai Yang, Thai Grilled Chicken
- 5 cloves of garlic
- 2 stalks of lemongrass, use only up to about 3 inches from the root (optional)
- 1-2 tbsp of chopped cilantro roots or the bottom part of cilantro stalks
- 1/2 tbsp white and black peppercorns
- 2 tbsp oyster sauce
- 1/4 cup fish sauce
- 3 tbsp canola oil or other mild-tasting cooking oil
- 1 tsp turmeric powder (or curry powder if that’s all you have)
- a dash of rice vinegar
Peel and finely chop the garlic. Peel the tough outer part of the lemongrass, discard everything but the inner stalks, about three inches from the root. Finely chop the lemongrass.
In a mortar or food processor, pound (or process) the garlic, lemongrass, cilantro roots, and peppercorns together. In Thailand, we use only white peppercorns, but I like to mix a few black peppercorns in it as well. You can do as you wish, or as your kitchen pantry dictates. Work everything together into a fine paste.
Add the oyster sauce, fish sauce, oil, turmeric powder, and rice vinegar into the mortar and mix well. You might need to take the paste from the mortar into a bowl before doing this, depending on the size of your mortar.
Spatchcock your chicken. The only thing I suggest differently is to use a kitchen sheer instead of a knife to cut off the backbone–much easier that way, trust me.
Place your spatchcocked chicken on a large serving platter and massage the marinade paste all over that baby. Let chicken rest while you go take care of the fire. Let the fire dies down to almost ember before you place the chicken on the barbecue. You want to do this on a very low fire or your chicken will burn before it’s fully cooked.
Grill the chicken, basting a few times with the remaining marinade until done. Serve with a chicken sauce or Jaew sauce.