Keen observers may have noticed by this point that I tend to go on extended benders when I become interested in making particular types of food. Over the summer I made more tarts and galettes than any rational human should consider consuming in the span of a mere 3 months, and not long after that I became enamored with all things related to Mexican food. A short glance at the most recent archives will more than give away the fact that my heart currently resides on the continent of Asia, bringing us food from India, Japan, and undetermined (but it sure tasted good).
A couple of those recipes are courtesy of Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford, a formerly-married couple from Canada (and now Canada and Thailand) who make their living traveling around (mostly through Asia) with their children and researching recipes. They have written numerous cookbooks (including two books on baking and one book entirely about rice), and I can only imagine that, given their track record of producing incredible recipes and cooking techniques, time will only bring us more of their wonderful work.
This recipe for lemongrass chicken is taken from one of Duguid and Alford’s books with a focus on the cuisines of Southeast Asia, from Myanmar (Burma) to Vietnam. As is often the case, I was reading this cookbook as I would read a non-cookbook, sitting down and flipping through it page by page, reading everything in detail before moving on. My best friend once revealed to me that sometimes she liked to sit in bed and read a cookbook before falling asleep, as one might read a novel or a magazine, and I could not stop nodding my head in agreement (needless to say, there is a reason we are best friends).
The recipe originally calls for beef, but I, recent indiscretions aside, am not the biggest fan of beef, so I swapped it out from some chicken breasts. Say what you want to about everyone’s favorite meat to belittle, but boneless, skinless chicken breasts really work well in this application, subtly sitting in the background so the lemongrass marinade can receive all the glory. For a dish so simple, it is a huge winner in our household. We eat it over steamed rice, over thin rice noodles sprinkled with herbs, or sometimes over a pile of fresh and snappy arugula. I can’t say that I’ll ever possess the gumption to cook an everyday meal like Duguid and Alford are prone to doing (I recall an article in the New Yorker that detailed the couple making a casual meal of homemade crackers, hand-rolled noodles, and roasted wild boar), but with inspiration culled from time spent with many a cookbook, I am at least hoping that, little by little, I’ll be able to take these little bursts of global cooking and transform the bulk of them into regular staples on our table. This recipe is a good place to start.
Grilled Lemongrass Chicken
2 stalks lemongrass, trimmed and minced
2 to 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
2 shallots, peeled and chopped
1 bird or Serrano chile, finely chopped
2 teaspoons Vietnamese or Thai fish sauce
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon roasted sesame oil
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 tablespoons roasted sesame seeds
To prepare the marinade, combine lemongrass, garlic, shallots, and chile in a mortar and pestle or a food processor and pound or blend to a paste (adding just a little water if necessary to make a paste). Transfer the paste to a bowl, add the fish sauce, lime juice, and water and blend well. Add sesame oil and stir well. Set aside.
Cut the meat into very thin slices (less than 1/8-inch) against the grain (this is much easier if the meat is cold). Duguid recommends you then cut the slices into 1 1/2 –inch lengths, but I kept our slices longer and was quite fond of them that way. Place the meat in a shallow bowl, add the marinade, and mix well, making sure that the meat is well coated. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour, or up to 8 hours.
Prepare a grill, grill pan, or broiler on medium high heat. Sprinkle the meat with sesame seeds, then grill or broil until cooked through, about 2 minutes for the first side and 1 minute for the second side, depending on how hot your grill or broiler is and how fast the chicken is cooking through.
Serves 4 as part of a meal, more as an appetizer.