Grilled Five-Spice Chicken with Tamarind Sauce

  • Preparation: 30 mins
  • Cooking: 30 mins
  • Skill level: Medium
  • Servings: 4

Description Grilled Five-Spice Chicken with Tamarind Sauce

This marinade is a bit more heavily seasoned than most Vietnamese meat marinades. It uses both fermented red bean curd, which is intensely salty, and five-spice powder (which often contains more than five spices), a popular seasoning blend for duck and other poultry recipes. The tartness of the tamarind sauce, which is made from the pulp in the pods of the tamarind tree, adds another layer of complexity. I learned this recipe from a Vietnamese woman who worked in the kitchen at the original Slanted Door, but I don’t think it originated in Vietnamese Food. It seems like something that was created in the States, where dishes are often made to seem Asian with the addition of ingredients like five-spice powder. Origins aside, this is a crowd-pleaser. We make it with chicken breast (one of the few times I recommend using breasts), but you can use chicken thighs, if you prefer. Serve with steamed rice and a green vegetable.


  • 1 cup Fish sauce
  • ½ cup light soy sauce
  • ¼ cup minced garlic
  • ¾ cup minced shallots
  • 2 to 3 Thai chiles, stemmed and minced
  • 1½ cubes fermented red bean curd, mashed (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 1 teaspoon five-spice powder
  • 6 (5-ounce) skin-on, boneless chicken breasts Sauce
  • 6 ounces seedless tamarind pulp
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Fish sauce

Method Grilled Five-Spice Chicken with Tamarind Sauce

1, In a large bowl, whisk together the fish sauce, soy sauce, garlic, shallots, chiles, bean curd, and five-spice powder. Add the chicken to the marinade and turn to coat evenly. Cover and let marinate at room temperature for up to 2 hours or in the refrigerator for up to overnight. If refrigerating, bring to room temperature before grilling.
2, To make the sauce, in a small saucepan, combine the tamarind pulp and 1½ cups water and bring to a boil over high heat. Decrease the heat so the mixture is at a gentle simmer and simmer for about 20 minutes, until the tamarind pulp has softened completely and can easily be pressed against the side of the pan with the back of a spoon.
3, Remove from the heat and strain through a fine-mesh sieve placed over a bowl, pressing on the solids with a rubber spatula to force through as much pulp as possible. The liquid should have the consistency of ketchup. Discard the contents of the sieve. While the liquid is still warm, add the sugar and fish sauce and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Set aside.
4, Prepare a medium fire in a charcoal grill (you should be able to hold your hand 1 inch above the grate for only 4 to 5 seconds). When the coals are ready, push two-thirds of the coals to one-half of the grill, creating a hot zone; spread the remaining one-third on the opposite side of the grill to create a cooler zone.
5, Arrange the chicken pieces, skin side down, on the grate over the hottest part of the grill and cook them without moving them for 6 minutes, or until well browned on the first side. Using tongs or a spatula, flip the chicken and move to the cooler side of the grill; cook for about 4 minutes more, or until browned on the second side and no longer pink at the center when tested with a knife.
6, Transfer the chicken to a platter and serve immediately. Accompany with the tamarind sauce, inviting diners to spoon it over their own servings.

Chef's Note

This Vietnamese food recipe is adapted from the book Vietnamese Home Cooking by Charles Phan. Copyright © 2012 by Charles Phan

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