There’s a lot to love here with these sweet, sour, spicy nuggets of chicken on a skewer — barbecued when the weather cooperates, or broiled in the oven when it does not.
They’re real crowd-pleasers (watch out, Super Bowl food competitors, this one’s in the running!), but they’re so good that you’ll want to put them on the menu every week!
Vietnamese cooking, like many Southeast Asian cuisines, is all about balance. These skewers have palm sugar for sweetness and fish sauce for salt and umami (don’t worry, the fish sauce really does blend in with the rest of the flavors).
Chili sauce and ginger bring some heat, bright acidity comes from rice wine vinegar, and then it’s all topped off with some pungent cilantro. Fresh mint or Thai basil are also good.
There’s more than enough here to excite your palate and make you reach for just one more skewer.
Roadside stands all over Vietnam sell grilled meats and fish, and they always, always serve them with rice — either in the form of rice noodles or cooked rice. I suggest you do the same!
If I’m making this for a weeknight dinner, I like to remove the meat from the skewers and serve it on top of a bed of rice noodles that I’ve tossed with a little rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, and soy sauce. A crunchy salad served alongside completes the meal.
You can do the same for a party, or just serve them left on the skewer.
Really, you can serve these any way you like—the only thing that matters is that you make them!
Tips for Success!
- Look for specialized ingredients such as rice wine vinegar and fish sauce at Asian groceries or large urban markets. If you have trouble finding palm sugar, then brown sugar is a fine substitute.
- Chicken thighs are practically impossible to overcook, so they stand up nicely to the intense heat of the grill or in the oven. I don’t recommend substituting chicken breasts for this recipe.
- If you use bamboo skewers, they need to be soaked first. That said, I find they almost always scorch a little. You can also use metal skewers if you prefer.
Vietnamese-Style Sticky Chicken Skewers Recipe
Double or triple this recipe as needed if making skewers for a larger crowd.
Grilling Instructions: Light a charcoal grill or heat a gas grill to medium-high. Grill the chicken 4 to 6 minutes on a side, or until cooked through (an instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the chicken should register 165 degrees F).
- 1/2 cup palm sugar (or substitute brown sugar)
- 1/2 cup unseasoned rice wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup fish sauce
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup chili sauce, like Sriracha, to taste
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger
- 1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 2-inch pieces
- Vegetable oil (for the baking sheet)
- Leaves from 1/4 bunch cilantro, for garnish
- 2 to 3 scallions, thinly sliced for garnish
- Cooked rice or rice noodles, for serving
1 Soak the skewers: If using bamboo skewers, soak them in warm water for 30 minutes.
2 Marinate the chicken: In a bowl, stir together the sugar, vinegar, fish sauce, chili sauce, garlic, and ginger. Add the chicken pieces and toss to coat. Marinate for at least 10 minutes at room temperature but no more than 30—otherwise the flavors become too pungent.
3 Heat the broiler: Set an oven rack 4 inches from the broiler element and turn on the broiler to high.
Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Lightly oil or spray it with vegetable oil. (This is important—the marinade tends to burn on the pan, but not on the chicken, and you will save yourself from a tedious cleaning job.)
4 Thread the chicken on the skewers: Place 3 to 5 pieces of chicken on each skewer, depending on whether you’re using small or large skewers. Don’t crowd the chicken pieces too close together; they will brown better if there’s a little bit of space in between each piece.
Transfer the skewers to the baking sheet. Pour the excess marinade into a small skillet.
5 Cook the excess marinade: In a small skillet over medium heat, bring the excess marinade to a boil and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until slightly thickened.
Brush the chicken all over with the reduced marinade.
6 Broil the chicken skewers: Broil for 3 to 4 minutes, or until browned on top. With tongs, turn skewers over and brush with more marinade.
Broil for another 3 to 4 minutes, or until browned on the other side and cooked all the way through. Exact time will depend on the heat of your particular broiler; when done, the chicken should no longer be pink in the middle.
7 Serve the skewers: Transfer the skewers to a platter, or remove the chicken from the skewers and serve the pieces on a platter without the skewers, whichever you prefer. Sprinkle with cilantro and scallions and serve with rice or rice noodles.