Unspeakably popular at Vietnamese restaurants, grilled five-spice chicken is easy to replicate at home. You can also use the marinade on chicken parts as opposed to a whole chicken, but a butterflied bird is quite dramatic and no trouble to maneuver on a grill. The chicken skin will char easily if placed directly over the coals or gas flame, thanks to the sugar in the marinade, so be sure to grill it over indirect heat. The exterior will still develop a honey brown gloss thanks to the soy sauce and five-spice powder, and the interior will remain juicy as can be.–Janet Fletcher
LC Screw-Your-Courage-to-the-Sticking Place Note
There’s no shame in asking the butcher to butterfly a chicken for you. That said, you can, of course, butterfly it yourself. All this requires is a sturdy pair of kitchen shears and a little know-how (see the first step of the recipe that follows).
Grilled Five-Spice Chicken
- One whole chicken
- 6 cloves garlic thinly sliced
- 1 large shallot coarsely chopped
- 2 tablespoons peeled, minced lemongrass
- 1 tablespoon peeled, minced ginger
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon light brown sugar
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon five-spice powder
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- To butterfly the chicken, first reach for poultry shears or a chef’s knife.
If using poultry shears, place the chicken breast side down on a cutting board and cut from the neck to the tail along both sides of the backbone to release it. Turn the chicken breast side up and press on the breastbone with the heel of your hand to flatten the bird. Cut off the wing tips and discard.
If using a chef’s knife, place the chicken breast side up on a cutting board and insert the chef’s knife into the body cavity. Cut along each side of the backbone to release it. Press on the breastbone with the heel of your hand to flatten the bird. Cut off the wing tips and discard.
- Place the garlic, shallot, lemongrass, ginger, and sugar in a food processor and pulse until very finely chopped. (If you don’t have a food processor, bash the ingredients together in a large mortar or use the flat side of a chef’s knife to mix them together on the cutting board.) With the motor running, add the soy sauce through the feed tube and puree until the paste is as fine as possible. Transfer to a bowl and whisk in the fish sauce, five-spice powder, and pepper.
- Place the flattened chicken in a large baking dish or in a large resealable plastic bag, pour the marinade over it, and turn the bird to coat on both sides. Cover with plastic wrap or seal the bag and refrigerate. Marinate for 6 to 8 hours, turning at least once or twice.
- Remove the chicken from the refrigerator about 1 hour before you plan to grill. Prepare a moderate charcoal fire for indirect grilling or preheat a gas grill to medium 375ºF (190°C), leaving one burner unlit for indirect grilling.
- Remove the chicken from the dish or the bag, reserving the marinade. Brush the skin side of the chicken with some of the marinade. Place the chicken, skin side down, over indirect heat. Cover the grill and cook until the skin is richly browned and crisp, 15 to 20 minutes.
- Brush the meat side of the chicken with the remaining marinade, then turn the chicken, skin side up. Cover the grill and continue to cook over indirect heat until the juices run clear when a thigh is pierced or an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh away from the bone registers 165ºF (74°C), about 15 minutes longer. Let rest for 10 minutes before carving and exclaiming how this is the juiciest chicken you’ve ever pulled from the grill.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
This grills to a beautiful colour with a tantalizing aroma. The cook time and resting period were perfect in turning out juicy pieces of chicken with a light Asian flavour and crisp skin. I started with a free-range, grain-fed chicken and opted for the 8-hour marinating interval, so I could be sure the flavours had enough time to permeate the meat. I was a bit concerned about the amount of fish sauce used, but the resultant well-balanced flavour doesn’t reveal a lot of what’s in the marinade, except for a touch of the characteristic five-spice flavour.
This grilled chicken was dramatic and delicious! I butterflied the chicken with poultry shears and marinated it for 8 hours. The chicken was juicy and a perfect entertaining recipe—I served it with grilled corn and Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages 2008. Everyone was pleased. Next time, we’ll make two chickens, so there are plenty of leftovers for the next day.
This is going to the top of my chicken recipe file! The author’s description of a honey-brown exterior and a juicy-as-can-be interior was spot-on. Overall, the directions were well-written, including enough details on how to butterfly a chicken that even a novice can follow. Most of the ingredients were readily available, with the exception of fish sauce, which omitted because I couldn’t find it. My chicken took a little longer to cook on the grill than the recipe suggested, but that’s not unusual in grilling. The number of servings was listed as four, although my group of three devoured the entire chicken. My 18-year-old granddaughter, who is not a chicken lover, asked, “You’re going to make this again, aren’t you?” I certainly will.
Originally published August 17, 2010