Grilled chicken with peppercorn cilantro root paste is something you’re going to make again and again. The marinade and dipping sauce both come together quickly and are full of the big flavors of chile, garlic, fish sauce, and cilantro root.
North Americans have come to love Southeast Asian food for its bright, fresh flavors. But beyond the dishes themselves, one of the most attractive aspects of the food is the life that surrounds it. In Southeast Asia, people eat for joy. The palate is wildly eclectic, proudly unrestrained. We celebrate this great culinary region with all the passion, color, and life that it deserves.–Naomi Duguid
Grilled Chicken with Peppercorn Cilantro Root Paste
For the chicken
- 2 tablespoons cilantro root paste*
- 2 to 3 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
- 3 pounds bone-in chicken breasts or breasts and legs chopped into 10 to 12 pieces
- Mild vegetable oil
- Sticky rice to serve
For the hot and sweet dipping sauce
- 1/2 cup rice or cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 to 2 cloves garlic finely minced
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
Marinate the chicken
- In a large bowl, combine the cilantro root paste and fish sauce. Place chicken pieces in the marinade and turn to coat well. Cover and marinate in the fridge for at least 1 hour and up to 3 hours.
Make the hot and sweet dipping sauce
- In a small nonreactive saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the vinegar to a boil. Add the sugar, stirring until it has completely dissolved, then lower the heat to medium-low and let simmer for 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, using a mortar and pestle or a bowl and the back of a spoon, pound or mash the garlic and salt to a smooth paste. Stir in the red pepper flakes and blend well.
- Remove the vinegar mixture from the heat and stir in the garlic paste. Let cool to room temperature. Store sealed in a glass jar in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
Finish the chicken
- Heat a grill to 400°F (200°C) with cooking grates set 4 to 5 inches (10 to 13 cm) from the flame, or preheat the broiler to medium with the rack set 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm) from the element.
- If using a grill, clean and oil the cooking grates. Place the chicken pieces bone side down, and grill until the bottom side is starting to brown, about 6 minutes. Flip the chicken pieces and cook until golden brown on the other side and the juices run clear when the meat is pierced and the internal temperature has reached 165°F (74°C), about 6 minutes more.If using a broiler, lightly coat a broiler pan with oil. Broil until the chicken is starting to brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Turn the pieces over and broil until the juices run clear and the internal temperature has reached 165°F (74°C), 4 to 10 minutes more.
- Arrange the chicken pieces on a platter and serve with the dipping sauce and plenty of sticky rice.
*What is cilantro root paste?Cilantro root paste is a nearly all-purpose barbecue rub or marinade that takes its flavors from the southeast Asian cuisines of Thailand and Vietnam. Cilantro (coriander) plants are at their peak in late spring and early summer and once they've gone to seed, the roots are ripe for use. This paste enhances chicken and fish particularly well. It is reminiscent of cilantro but it's quite a bit more pungent, with a peppery, lemony, and earthy flavor. If you're unable to get your paws on any roots, you can absolutely use cilantro stems instead. There will be a subtle difference but it will still taste fantastic.
Recipe Testers' Reviews
This is a great back-pocket recipe because it marinates quickly, imparts a tremendous amount of flavor, and is made with pantry ingredients I always have on hand. My family did exile me outside while I made it, since banging and scraping of cast-iron isn't conducive to people having Zoom meetings, but I found I had the paste to a desirable consistency in 5 minutes.
While not everyone enjoyed the vinegar dipping sauce, I found it brought a delicious contrast to the chicken, reminding me of a thinner version of namchim kai (sweet chili sauce) I've bought bottles of for years (albeit with a stronger vinegar punch) and makes me want to dip spring rolls and chicken wings in it. I'm absolutely making this grilled chicken with peppercorn cilantro root paste again.
I used the lesser amount of the fish sauce in the marinade and it was easily salty enough, and next time I'll only make a half recipe of the dipping sauce.
This review is for all three components to this recipe. Sure, the broiled chicken was easy to prepare! Sure, the timings were very approximate! Sure, the taste was fantastically delicious! Sure, the skin was crispy, and the chicken was tender, juicy, and flavorful.
I chose the broiler method. I had lots of cilantro roots. Sometimes these get wasted. I recently learned that you can freeze chopped cilantro roots and stems. This paste could have been made with frozen roots as well. All the ingredients were pantry staples. These are all pluses.
This chicken was meant to be served with cilantro paste and the hot and sweet dipping sauce. When recipe components are created in volumes that only contribute a small flavoring to the main recipe, then yes, they can be treated as accessories. In this case, both the paste and the dipping sauce were completely used in the chicken. These were the main players. This chicken depended on the cilantro paste and the dipping sauce.
Some recipes are meant to be used as guidelines, and some are meant to be followed in their entirety. This recipe, however, needs attention to every detail. The ingredient list should include all the ingredients to all of the components. This one is the type of recipe one follows, not only to enjoy a great food experience but also to interpret the goals of the recipe writer. Let’s face it, chicken pieces can be boring, but this combination of grilled chicken with peppercorn cilantro root paste is not! It was a joyous combination. It was a fun meal served family-style.
Go ahead, make all three recipes then let the party begin. 10 out of 10.
Originally published May 29, 2021