Hawker Fare is a red-hot restaurant in San Francisco helmed by Thai-Laotian chef James Syhabout. His new collection of the restaurant’s most beloved recipes is well-worth a spot in your culinary library, so pick up a copy of Hawker Fare and heat up a grill. It’s Isan BBQ chicken time!
BBQ chicken is everywhere on the streets and in the markets of Isan. You can smell it from afar, like a smoke signal commanding you to come and eat. Chicken, roasted or barbecued, just spells comfort. It’s easy and delicious. And with gai yang, sticky rice, and tum som, you’ve got a complete meal.
- 1 gallon water
- 1/2 cup kosher salt
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 whole chickens, about 2 1/2 pounds each, split in half, backs removed
- 1/4 cup thinly sliced lemongrass
- 2 tablespoons peeled garlic cloves
- 1/4 cup cilantro root or stems
- 1 teaspoon yellow curry powder
- 1/8 teaspoon MSG (optional)
- 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
For the chicken
BRINE THE CHICKEN: In a large pot, combine the water, salt, and sugar. Bring to a boil to dissolve the sugar and salt, then turn off the heat and let the brine cool completely. Transfer to a container large enough to hold both chickens and fit in the fridge. Add the chickens to the brine and refrigerate for 24 hours.
MARINATE THE CHICKEN: In a mortar, pound the lemongrass, garlic, cilantro root or stems, and coriander seeds to a paste. Stir in the curry powder, MSG, if using, oyster sauce, fish sauce, oil, and salt and mix well. Remove the chicken halves from the brine and drain well; transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add the marinade and toss to coat. Marinate, refrigerated, for at least 8 hours, but no more than 16.
COOK THE MEAT: Preheat a grill to low, using gas, charcoal, or wood. Grill the chicken halves over low heat, flipping and watching carefully — it will take about 1 hour. To help with even heating and creating a sort of hot smoker, you can cover the chicken with a lid as it cooks. To tell if the chicken is done, check the color of the flesh between the thigh and the breast: The juices should run clear and the meat look opaque. Once done, the chickens can be hacked through the bones with a Chinese cleaver. Serve with sticky rice.