Vietnamese Lemongrass and Chili Chicken Recipe (Ga Xao Xa Ot)
Lemongrass chicken (cơm gà xào xả ớt) is a very delicious and easy Vietnamese meat dish to prepare. To start with, the chicken pieces are marinated overnight to guarantee optimum tenderness. The next day, I prepare a mix of spices made of finely chopped lemongrass, sugar, chili and salt. The dish is completed by combining and sautéing the ingredients in a fry pan.
I love the fragrance and taste of lemongrass. It has hints of sweet lemon and a touch of ginger. It really adds a distinctive flavor, but this dish can easily be ruined if the lemongrass isn't ground properly into a fine, moist powder. It’s important to take time to thinly slice the stalks of lemongrass before grinding them.
In case you’re interested, growing lemongrass is very easy. All you need to do is trim it often. My husband Lulu planted 4 "bushes" of lemongrass a few years ago. I gathered 4 stalks from the garden and made both lemongrass tofu (tàu hủ xả ớt) and lemongrass chicken for dinner tonight. The plants are quite prolific, and if you use a lot of lemongrass in your cooking, it’s worth planting some in your garden.
Note: Glossary of relevant Vietnamese cooking terms.
Thịt gà = chicken
Thịt = meat
Cơm = rice
Xào = stir fry
Ớt = chile
Xả = lemongrass
Tàu hủ or Đậu hủ = tofu
Yields: 8 servings2 pounds chicken breasts, boneless and skinless
2 teaspoons papaya paste (see tips)
½ teaspoon baking powder
1-½ teaspoons red chili powder
1 teaspoon Kosher salt (or regular salt)
2 teaspoons ginger garlic paste (click on the link for the recipe)
2 jalapeños, sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 stalks lemongrass
1 tablespoon mushroom salt seasoning (or salt)
1-½ tablespoons granulated sugar
3 tablespoons canola oil
3/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 yellow onion, cut into small wedges
2 tablespoons coconut milk (optional)
1/3 cup chicken stock, as needed
1 tablespoon nước mắm (optional)
3/4 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
juice of 1 lemon
Thai basil (I used African basil), for garnish
4 sprigs cilantro, for garnish
One day ahead...
Marinating the chicken:
Trim the fat around the bottom of the breast if there is any. Wash the chicken breasts and pat them dry using paper towels. Cut into 1-½" to 2" cubes.
Season the chicken with 3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper. Add the baking powder and papaya paste. Mix well. Place the chicken in a large bowl or a sealable zip-top bag. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and about 2 tablespoons of oil. Marinate in the refrigerator overnight.
The next day...
For the lemongrass purée:
Wash the lemongrass. Remove all the white powder off from of the leaves. Cut the stalk in half. Crush the younger part with the back of a chef's knife and set it aside (you can use it for making broth).
Cut the remaining stalk into extremely thin slices using a chef's knife. In a mortar and pestle, grind the thin slices of lemongrass, then transfer and mix everything using a mini food processor. It should turn into a fine moist powder. Set aside.
Making lemongrass spiced blend:
In a small bowl, combine the lemongrass, sugar, 2 teaspoons mushroom seasoning salt and chili powder.
Pat the meat dry one more time using paper towels.
In a large non-stick pan, heat about 2-3 tablespoons of oil. Add the onions wedges and cook on high heat for about 2-3 minutes until slightly golden. The onions should still be crunchy. Transfer the onions to a bowl. Set aside.
In the same pan, add the shallots and cook on high heat until slightly golden. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook until soft and tender, about 6 minutes. Transfer the caramelized shallots to a bowl. Set aside.
In the same pan, add the rest of the oil. Once the oil is hot, add the minced cloves of garlic and cook until it is slightly golden. Bring the heat to the highest setting, add 2/3 of the quantity of the lemongrass mixture and cook until slightly golden. Pan-sear each side of the pieces of chicken for about 1-½ minutes (a total of about 9 minutes) until golden. Season with turmeric powder, red chili powder and remaining mushroom seasoning salt. Stir constantly and cook for about 5 minutes until the color changes. The lemongrass should coat the pieces of chicken. Once the chicken is golden on each side, add the remaining lemongrass, shallots and jalapeños. Stir well. Add the coconut milk (if used, for a richer mouth-feel) and chicken stock.
Once the liquid evaporates, add nước mắm (if used). Adjust seasoning. Add more salt and black pepper. Cook for another 15 minutes. Finish with lemon juice and the onions. Stir well.
Garnish with aromatic herbs.
Serve with steamed jasmine rice.
Mushroom seasoning salt brings a very distinct, earthy flavor to the sauce. You can get it at any gourmet specialty store or in most Korean stores. I buy mine at the Marina -10122 Bandley Drive -Cupertino, CA 95014.
Baking powder and papaya are both great meat tenderizers to ensure moist and juicy meat. Papaya paste was Baji, Lulu's late grandma's secret for tenderizing meat. Peel a green papaya. Grind the cubed papaya with the seeds in a blender, place about 1 tablespoon of papaya paste per slot in an ice-cube tray and freeze them. Transfer the ice-cubes into sealable plastic bags and place back in the freezer. I think it's the best way to keep the same flavor without getting freezer burn. I store them exactly the same as I would extra pesto.
You can buy lemongrass at an Asian market. Lemongrass is quite expensive in regular stores and is sold in bulk in bunches of 5 stalks. So plan other dishes using lemongrass.June 10, 2010.