Every culture has some form of street food. The United States has hot dogs and pretzels. Vietnam has a whole culinary dictionary of street delights. One of the most common snack is meat skewer marinated in fragrant lemongrass and fish sauce grilled over these tiny aluminum boxes filled with flaming coals on a hidden alley somewhere. These grilled skewers became a staple of Vietnamese restaurants in the US and worldwide. Every family has a marinade recipe of the same ingredients but in different proportions. This is our family’s recipe that we serve at the restaurants and at home over the years.
The trick to this recipe is to marinate the meat overnight. We tried it with just ½ an hour and it was still delicious. I highly suggest marinating these overnight and even leaving them in the freezer during the week until you are ready to consume them. We grilled these chicken skewers over a traditional Vietnamese charcoal box, but you can easily do this on any grill or on the stove. The combination of charcoal heat and smoke caramelizes the sugar in the marinade and just brings this bbq to another level. This recipe is made with chicken but you can substitute with any protein that you want. We served this with lettuce and tomato for an easy lettuce wrap.
This marinade is for 3 pounds of meat.
¼ cup of minced, fresh lemongrass
½ teaspoon of ground black pepper
½ teaspoon of paprika
1 tablespoon of sugar
½ teaspoon of garlic powder
¼ teaspoon of Five Spice Powder
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon of honey
1 tablespoon of fish sauce
¼ teaspoon of sesame oil
¼ cup of any type of oil (*so your meat won’t stick to the grill)
2 ½ pound to 3 pound of boneless chicken thighs with skin on. We did not have the boneless option so we deboned the meat ourselves.
Skewers for grilling. Make sure to soak the wooden skewers in water before use so they do not burn.
Finely mince the lemongrass.
Combine all the wet and dry ingredients together in a bowl and lightly whisk the ingredients together. Set aside.
Prepare your meat of choice. For our demonstration, we used 2 ½ pound of bone in chicken thighs with skin on. The trick is to cut your chicken pieces in the same size, roughly slightly larger than a large clove of garlic.
Put your meat into the marinade bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Leave it in the fridge for at least 1 hour. It’s best to marinate overnight.
Prepare your skewers for grilling:
Put the chicken through the skewers ⅔ of the way. If there is skin on your meat, put the skin on the outside so it will get crispy. Otherwise, you will get a glob of fat with your meat if the skin is on the inside.
Place the skewers on the grill with low to medium heat. Turn the skewers when the meat has turned golden from the caramelized marinade.
Serve as is or with additional vegetables for a quick salad.