meat/recipes/vietnamese food

Sweet and Savory Garlic Shallot Grilled Chicken

Posted May 9, 2017 by Stephanie
Sweet and Savory Garlic Shallot Grilled Chicken -

Sweet and Savory Garlic Shallot Grilled Chicken - Sweet and Savory Garlic Shallot Grilled Chicken -

A couple months after Mike and I got married, Mike’s mom gave us a giant tub of marinated chicken. I was ecstatic! See, one night, at Mike’s parents’ place, we had some amazing grilled chicken. I was obsessed. It was sweet, savory, garlic-y, sticky, charred deliciousness. I wanted to learn how to make it myself so I asked her for the recipe. So, as moms do, she told me it was fish sauce, garlic, shallots, and sugar. I asked how much of everything and got: oh, a little bit of this, a little bit of that, until you feel like it tastes right.

Sweet and Savory Garlic Shallot Grilled Chicken -

I tried to recreate it, many times, but to no avail. Finally she took pity on me and made me a huge tub of marinated raw chicken thighs. I happily grilled it and Mike and I feasted for 6 meals straight with fluffy white rice and crunchy fresh cucumbers. After days of chicken, I wasn’t tired of it, it was that good. After we ran out we ate other things, but I still dreamed of that chicken. So, when Mike’s mom gave us another tub of chicken telling us it was the same chicken, a month or so later, I was in heaven.

In a slightly suspicious heaven though because the chicken didn’t look like my chicken, the chicken I had come to know and love. It had some other things in it?! Other things that were delicious, sure, but the thing is, it didn’t have that smack you in the face flavor of the first chicken. I was happy on the outside because I’m not the type of person to turn down a food gift, but on the inside I was crying because the chicken I knew and loved was over, forever.

Sweet and Savory Garlic Shallot Grilled Chicken - Sweet and Savory Garlic Shallot Grilled Chicken -

Do you guys ever do that? Make something so good you fall in love, say you’ll make it forever, then somehow get distracted, never write the recipe down and then can’t make it again? I felt like that except I never had the recipe in the first place. I mourned for that chicken. I know I’m being melodramatic, but something about that space and time and chicken is forever cemented in my memory of Mike and I being a little family for the first time, grilling chicken (that I didn’t prepare LOL), laughing, and having fun.

Sweet and Savory Garlic Shallot Grilled Chicken -

Anyway, this story has a happy ending because guys, I FOUND THE CHICKEN RECIPE!! The other day, Mike was making pork soup. He seasoned it with a paste that he made out of — you got it — fish sauce, garlic, shallots, and sugar! He gave me a taste and I was instantly brought back to the flavor of the chicken. I got crazy excited and asked him, what is this magic?!

Apparently, it wasn’t magic. It was just the most basic way that Vietnamese people like to season things. It was like I had just had hot wings for the first time and begged for the recipe. I was in love with the magical hot wings but really, it turned out I was in love with Frank’s Red Hot. When I kept talking about the chicken I was basically asking, hey, how do you make hot wings? Something so elemental and elementary that most people don’t even think about it.

Sweet and Savory Garlic Shallot Grilled Chicken -

After I figured it out, I was so happy! I insisted on making the fish sauce, shallot, garlic, sugar paste myself. I cut up some chicken thighs, skewered them, and we had a little grilling session. Our first grill session of the season! We also had some Vietnamese sausage (Mike made it, recipe coming soon), hot dogs, and mochi. It was sunny, smoky, and oh so delicious.

PS – I love our little yakitori grill! We lugged it all the way back from Japan just so we could grill meat on sticks :)

Sweet and Savory Garlic Shallot Grilled Chicken -

Sweet and Savory Garlic Shallot Grilled Chicken
makes about 20 skewers

  • 1 shallot, finely minced
  • 1/2 head garlic (6-8 cloves), finely minced or pressed
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce, or to taste
  • lots of freshly ground pepper
  • 1 lb boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1 inch pieces

Note: I used skin on chicken thighs, because crispy skin, but feel free to use skinless as well.

Fish sauces vary greatly in taste, salt level, and quality, we prefer Red Boat Fish Sauce.

In a mortar and pestle, add the shallot, garlic and sugar. Pound until everything becomes a homogenous, sticky paste. Really take your time with this, you want all of the oils in the shallots and garlic to be expressed. When everything is a paste, stir in the fish sauce, starting with 1 tablespoon, adding to taste up to 2 tablespoons. Stir in a ton of freshly ground black pepper. Adjusting if needed. The paste should taste sweet, salty, with a huge hit of slightly spicy shallot and garlic.

Marinate the chicken overnight the the paste, being sure that all the pieces are coated evenly.

The next day, skewer your chicken, with about 4 pieces of chicken to each skewer. Grill over medium to medium high heat, until cooked through and slightly charred. Enjoy!



  1. Peter says:

    Hi Steph,

    Does your little yakitori grill take long to heat / take long to cook things?

    1. Stephanie says:

      hey peter,
      it takes about 2 minutes or so. it’s electric so it’s pretty fast, it’s japanese so our voltage is higher, which makes it run a bit hotter that it would in japan. as for cooking things, maybe 5 minutes per skewer? hope that helps!

      1. Peter says:

        Thanks :)

  2. Howard says:

    OH, this looks soooo good.
    I’ve definitely had that experience of making something delicious but not writing down the changes to the recipe. That awesome taste is lost to history. But I’m so stoked you were able to recreate it!

  3. This looks extremely delicious!

  4. Angela says:

    Yum! Can’t wait to try this one.

  5. Krishnan Iyer says:

    Hmmm..Sounds yummy. Anyways, will share the final comments after I get it made at a friend’s. Till then bye…

  6. Joyce says:

    oh my goooooosh! I love that mini grill! I asked Terry if I could set up a diy mini indoor charcoal one and he said I would suffocate us with it :( haha Do you use this indoors as well? and would it get super smoky? Grilled meats are such an addictive thing eh?

  7. Maria says:

    Oh my gosh!! My fam has a favorite a pork skewer recipe that is similar. I bet it would be superb on chicken!! And Yes, I absolutely have been there – make something awesome without a recipe that you can never seem to replicate.

  8. Sharron says:

    Hi this looks so good but cannot seem to share the recipe to my Facebook page could you please send a link ?

  9. Jennifer says:

    I made this for my birthday party and they were gobbled up so quickly!! Making the shallot, garlic, and sugar paste was the most fun part. :)

  10. Audrey B says:

    I really looked forward to this chicken but I found the fish sauce too strong for my taste. If you are sensitive to fish sauce I would reduce the amount by half.

    1. Stephanie says:

      hi audrey,
      thanks for the note! with fish sauce, it’s always best to start with a bit, then add to taste – i find how much you need really depends on the brand you’re using :)

  11. connie says:

    hi! i made this dish last weekend and my husband and i loved it! it’s so delicious, and it is now going to be my go-to-chicken marinade. question though… if i make big batches, how long would it last in the freezer? thanks!~

    1. Stephanie says:

      hi connie! so happy you like it! you can defintely marinate the chicken and freeze it! i haven’t tried freezing just the marinade, but i absolutely think it would work :)

  12. Oh hell, just by looking at the pictures, make me drool. :x

  13. Melissa says:

    Question! Can I use a food processor to make the marinade or do you think a mortar and pestle is essential?

  14. Deanna says:

    I made this tonight for dinner to go with a rice noodle salad, and it was perfect! There almost wasn’t any chicken for dinner, because I keep snacking on it. I made the marinade in the blender (on my lunch break, so short on time. Just added a splash of oil to get things moving) and cooked it under the broiler (thanks winter). Will definitely be making this again, possibly with pork belly.

  15. Kim says:

    Hi! Do you think it’ll yield the same results if I blend or use the food processor instead of the mortal and pestle? It just takes so much time and energy!

    1. Stephanie says:

      hi kim,
      it won’t be exactly the same, but do what you gotta do ;)

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