Saturday, April 6, 2024

Lemongrass Chile Chicken (Ga Xao Xa Ot)

As followers of this blog may know, I am a big fan of the public broadcast television series, Luke Nguyen's Vietnam. I watched every episode, as the chef made his way across the country  to showcase the ingredients, dishes and traditions that make Vietnamese cuisine special. 

Many years later, I got a copy of the Luke Nguyen's cookbook, The Food of Vietnam. Much like his television series, the cookbook is a culinary tour from south to north, with many stops along the way.

One such stop was in Hoi An. As Nguyen describes the city: "There are no street lights, but the entire town is dotted with thousands of colourful lanterns, lighting up ancient old buildings and cobbled streets, a slow-folowing river and pretty foot bridges." Hoi An is a remarkable place, finding itself on UNESCO's World Heritage List as a well preserved Southeast Asian trading port. The government owns the entire town, with its structures and environment controlled by several laws. 

As Chef Nguyen made his way through this beautiful town, the one thing he noticed was an "obsession with food." As he wrote, "I am surrounded by street food, market food, restaurants, cafes, and even liitle old ladies sitting on the streets with a steam pot and kerosene lamps." Chef Nguyen had more stories about the town, its people and their food; but, I have to admit I skipped to the recipes (knowing that I would return to read the rest of what he wrote). As I paged through recipes, such as Green Mango & Dried Anchovy Salad and Whole Chicken Pot-Roasted in Sea Salt, my attention fixated upon one particular dish ... Lemongrass Chile Chicken. 

Chef Nguyen prepared this dish in the garden of Brother's Cafe, a restaurant in Hoi An. This dish presented an opportunity to cook with many familiar ingredients, such as fish sauce, chiles, lemongrass and garlic, along with a new ingredient, coconut water.  Coconut water is a clear liquid found in young coconuts, and it is available in many supermarkets. 

This dish is very easy to make, with the only issue being the time it takes to marinate the chicken. (I really wanted to try the dish, so I was a little impatient while the chicken rested in the refrigerator.) Once prepared, this recipe reminded me of all the great things about Vietnamese cooking, such as the lightness of the dish and the balance of the five flavor elements.


Recipe from Luke Nguyen, The Food of Vietnam, pg. 175

Serves 4-6


  • 3 tablespoons of fish sauce
  • 1.5 tablespoons of sugar
  • 2 lemongrass stems, white part only, finely diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely diced
  • 2 long red chiles, finely diced
  • 1 pound of boneless, skinless, chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup young coconut juice
  • 1/2 onion cut into wedges
  • Cilantro sprigs, for garnish


1. Prepare the chicken. In a mixing bowl, combine the fish sauce and sugar and mix until the sugar has dissolved. Add half the lemongrass, half the garlic, half the chile and all of the chicken. Toss the chicken to coat, then cover and marinate in the refrigerator for one hour or overnight for an even tastier result. 

2. Cook the chicken. Heat a large saucepan or work over medium heat. Add the oil and the remaining lemongrass, garlic, chile and stir-fry for one minute, or until fragrant and slightly brown. Increase the heat to high, then add the chicken and sear for 2 minutes on each side or until browned all over. Now add the coconut juice and the onion. Cover and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes or until the sauce has reduced by half. 

3. Finish the dish. Transfer to a bowl, garnish with coriander and serve with steamed jasmine rice.


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