Thai Grilled Chicken with Hot and Sweet Dipping Sauce

May 11, 2015
1 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Serves 6
Author Notes

Very lightly adapted from Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid's "Hot Sour Salty Sweet." A few notes: 1) If you cannot find the (semi-mythical) cilantro roots, and you have not grown them in advance and frozen them for this very moment, do not despair. You can still make this—just chop up some cilantro stems instead. 2) If you are making this for small humans, you may want to reduce the number of black peppercorns in the flavor paste and red pepper flakes (and/or garlic) in the dipping sauce. (I have done both. I've even made an entirely separate dipping sauce; it's hardly any more work.) —Nicholas Day

What You'll Need
  • For the peppercorn-cilantro root paste:
  • 2 teaspoons black peppercorns
  • 2 tablespoons garlic, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons cilantro roots, chopped
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce
  • For the grilled chicken with sweet and hot dipping sauce:
  • 1/2 cup rice or cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 to 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons dried red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 3 pounds chicken parts, cut into 10 to 12 pieces total
  1. For the peppercorn-cilantro root paste:
  2. In a mortar and pestle, or a small blender or food processor, pound or blend the peppercorns and garlic into a paste. Add the cilantro roots and salt and pound everything into a paste again. Stir in the fish sauce.
  1. For the grilled chicken with sweet and hot dipping sauce:
  2. For the dipping sauce: In a small saucepan, heat the vinegar to a boil. Add the sugar, stirring until it dissolves, then lower the heat to a simmer for 5 minutes. In the meantime, pound or mash the garlic and salt into a paste in a mortar or on a cutting board with the side of your knife. Stir the red pepper flakes into the sauce. When the vinegar and sugar mixture is done simmering, stir in the garlic paste and fish sauce and let the sauce cool to room temperature.
  3. For the grilled chicken: After you've stirred the fish sauce into the peppercorn-cilantro root paste, toss the chicken parts in the mixture and marinate at room temperature for at least an hour or up to three hours in the fridge.
  4. Prepare your grill. Remove the chicken from the marinade and grill until it is a beautifully golden brown and its juices run clear. Serve alongside the dipping sauce.

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  • twinjadojo
  • Christopher P Schooler
    Christopher P Schooler
  • Manhattan Tart
    Manhattan Tart
  • sexyLAMBCHOPx
I'm the author of a book on the science and history of infancy, Baby Meets World. My website is; I tweet over at @nicksday. And if you need any good playdoh recipes, just ask.

24 Reviews

MikNik August 17, 2020
I used boneless, skin-on chicken thighs. I thought this was great. When I first tasted the dipping sauce, it seemed wildly hot to me, but it tamed down to a nice level by the time we sat down to eat.
michelle January 4, 2019
I make this with skinless boneless chicken thighs. Everybody loves it. If you can get your hand on some of the Pok Pok Thaan charcoal all the better. I sometimes do it on my gas grill and it is still delicious.
Linda D. August 20, 2018
Loved it! Thank you!
CanadaDan January 30, 2017
Thought it was good, not great. The marinade didn't really get into the meat, just the skin even though it was on there for 8 hours. The dipping sauce is very good but a little too sweet even though i used less sugar than it called for. I'll use the dipping sauce (with half the sugar and some added lime juice) for future dipping needs. thanks
jenstolk January 27, 2016
I believe this is Vietnamese Street Chicken, not Thai:-)
lynx60489 July 29, 2015
This was excellent. I had never cooked with cilantro root and was worried about the amount of peppercorns in the marinade, but the second I blended everything together, it smelled so good. The marinade alone imparts so much flavor to the chicken.

Has anyone every tried subbing erythritol for the white sugar in the sauce? It works, but the sauce hardens and crystalizes when it reaches room temp. I had to reheat it a little bit in the microwave to make it liquid. Taste wise, erythritol is a great sugar substitute, but the consistency of whatever I make is always warped, this sauce, caramel, meringue... any advice or tips would be appreciated.
serena July 24, 2015
This was delicious. We made it as kebabs for quicker cooking, but that was the only change. Ridiculously good as written, which is rare.
melissa July 21, 2015
I did not have cilantro or cilantro root, so I added fresh mint, flat leaf parsley and basil finely minced, to the marinade and it added an amazing dimension. I highly recommend this combination, it was fantastic!
flourgirl June 29, 2015
Oh, gosh...where do I begin?! My husband is still raving about this dish, and he's not the overly-emotional sort. If he likes something, he'll say...."it's a keeper." We were eating this the other night, and as he dipped each little morsel of chicken into the dipping sauce, he began crying. I thought it was the spiciness of the dish. But, no! It was pure love and satisfaction. He said it was the best thing he's ever had! Now, he looks at me with longing eyes, and the question on his lips is...."are you making it again?...please...". He just needs to calm down, now. What if I could actually find the cilantro root....
Freddurf November 7, 2016
I made this dish based on this comment alone :) It made me laugh because everytime I try a new, delicious dish, my husband falls in love with me all over again. I served this with coconut rice and everyone enjoyed it.
twinjadojo June 13, 2015
Oh dang, Mr. Day! Made this last night with some simple steamed basmati and the genius recipes spicy cucumber salad. It was like being transported back to Chicken On Fire in LA, one of my fave joints. By far the best BBQ chicken recipe we've ever made. And I even had cilantro root on my bunch! Booya. Thanks so much for posting this!
Cliff H. June 11, 2015
Holy MOLY was this good! Keep your heat low to get that awesome golden color and don't be shy with the dipping sauce. Maybe next time I'll sprinkle some chopped Cilantro leaves on as a garnish, but no matter what there WILL be a next time!
Julia June 7, 2015
Can both the sauce and the marinade be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated a couple of days before using?
serena July 24, 2015
Julia, the sauce can most definitely be made in advance. We had leftover sauce we used several days later as dipping sauce for potstickers. I would not make the marinade in advance, but it only took a few minutes to throw together anyway.
Christopher P. May 31, 2015
I liked this recipe enough to use it as a base. Without Cilantro root, used chopped cilantro and I substituted a couple of Radishes - which worked great. And added a little Sesame oil for depth and roasting purposes. Served as skewers - with bed of arugala and Vinegar sauce as sort of dressing. It was flippn fantastic!
Manhattan T. May 23, 2015
Even I, the person posing this question, see the utter ridiculousness of it, but I have to ask anyway. Two members of my family share a loathing for cilantro that borders on the absurd -- they literally whine (and make interesting gagging noises...) about the scent of it while it sits on the counter, minding its own business, waiting to go into a taco. Two OTHER, reasonable members of the family, myself included, love the stuff. So here's the question: Is the marinade interesting enough on its own to warrant two separate cliantro-added-in and cilantro-avoided-like-the-plague batches?
Also, I've been burned by the overwhelming saltiness of fish sauce in the past and have taken to cutting it by half to avoid "Salty" being the flavor that dominates; is there a brand that you prefer/use that you'd recommend to avoid that problem? Thanks!
Susan May 24, 2015
My husband has high blood pressure so a high salt diet is a no-no. We love Thai food, in fact we make our own pastes. We always leave the salt out that's listed in the recipes and cut down on the fish sauce without any problems. We haven't had any complaints yet.
Barb168 May 24, 2015
1. Re omitting the cilantro, you *could* up the garlic, but I think a better alternative is to replace the cilantro with lemongrass (if your relatives can handle that).

2. As for the fish sauce and salt, everyone has a favorite brand. But 2 Tbls of fish sauce for 3 lbs of chicken isn't all that much. You can omit the salt in the dipping sauce and just add 1 Tbls fish sauce, then taste and add salt or more fish sauce as you like.

This person in the following link notated the sodium content of several fish sauces, so you can see if you have any of the lower-sodium brands at your local store. Bear in mind that he/she posted this 5 yrs ago but it may give you a start:
juju May 24, 2015
I've heard that the reason some people dislike cilantro is due to a gene which they possess and others do not.
thebibosez June 2, 2015
I'm one of those genetic cilantro haters. Fresh basil or fresh mint are great alternatives to the leaf. Ginger root might work as a substitute for cilantro root.
sexyLAMBCHOPx June 5, 2015
If they don't like cilantro they will probably feel the same about lemongrass. I detest the taste of both.
Lisa M. May 22, 2015
Where do you find cilantro root?
Most of the bunches I see have no root
breezemuns May 22, 2015
A farmers market is your best bet but you might get lucky at your local Asian market. Most grocery stores hack of the roots so they can be tough to get a hold of but if you do find them you can always freeze them for later use.
Susan May 24, 2015
You can substitute the cilantro stocks for the roots if you can't find any. Just make sure you don't add any leaves as the flavour is quite different.