Lemongrass chicken rice bowls are one of my favorite meals lately. So easy to make and to customize. The star of this dish is the incredibly juicy, flavor-packed Vietnamese lemongrass chicken, which you can prepare in a pinch!
Grilled Vietnamese lemongrass chicken, packed with so much flavor and perfect for busy weekday meals!
This lemongrass chicken features in our weekday lunches at least once every other week. In fact, I’ve got chicken thighs marinating in this glorious lemongrass marinade in freezer bags in the freezer as I’m writing this.
This grilled Vietnamese lemongrass chicken recipe is PERFECT for busy days when you have to skimp on time, but not on flavor.
This is super quick to prep, and super easy to make. You can substitute the rice with noodles, quinoa, brown rice or just a big hearty salad even. The Nuoc cham sauce (Nước Chấm) is (literally!) the secret sauce that absolutely takes this over the top!
How to make Vietnamese lemongrass chicken
- Make the lemongrass marinade
- Marinate the chicken
- Grill the chicken
Easy peasy. That’s all there is to making the lemongrass chicken.
But let’s talk about that beautiful marinade first. This marinade is very simple to make, and the marinade ingredients can be easily found at the grocery store (if you don’t already have them at home!).
- Fish sauce
- Black pepper
- Soy sauce
- Chili powder (optional)
To make the lemongrass chicken marinade, simply mix all the ingredients together. Toss the chicken in the marinade and let it sit.
This marinade is quite strong, so you can let the chicken marinate for about 20 – 30 minutes and still have robust flavor come through. But I do let it marinate in the fridge for at least 8 hours usually (up to 24 hours even).
Heat a non-stick pan or large skillet over medium to medium high heat (depending on the heat of your stove). The chicken thighs will need to cook on medium heat until caramelized on one side, then flip them over. Continue to cook until caramelized on the other side, and the chicken is cooked through. If cooked on high heat, the chicken will burn too fast.
If you’re cooking the chicken on a grill (charcoal grill is excellent!), then you can look it on both sides until cooked through, with a nice smoky char as well.
The crucial ingredient for lemongrass chicken, obviously. You can use fresh lemongrass or minced lemongrass paste. Remember you will only be using the WHITE PART of the lemongrass stalk. Usually 1 lemongrass stalk (white part only) = about 1 tbsp of lemongrass paste.
Also keep in mind that some brands have added lactose (milk), so it may not be allergen free.
Also an important ingredient for lemongrass chicken. This adds a wonderful umami flavor to the chicken. If you don’t like fish sauce, you can use soy sauce instead, but the fish sauce certainly adds a flavor profile that soy sauce simply cannot replicate.
Since this is a Vietnamese inspired dish, you can use Vietnamese fish sauce if you have access to it. Otherwise, you can use Thai fish sauce.
Honey balances the saltiness in the marinade and helps with the caramelization of the chicken. You can also use brown sugar instead of honey, or palm sugar (which is more traditional). But I love cooking with honey, and the flavor it adds to the marinade.
You can use garlic powder or fresh garlic for this marinade. I’ve used both, and both work well. I do use fresh garlic when I have the time to finely chop it – or I use garlic powder when pressed for time.
Soy sauce adds more seasoning, but also adds a little color too. You can replace it with salt if you prefer, or add tamari sauce instead.
Black pepper and chili powder
I do always add black pepper to this marinade, but not always chili powder. I prefer the flavor from pepper instead of chili in this recipe. Unless I want some extra kick – then I add both.
What type of chicken is best to use for this recipe?
I prefer boneless chicken thighs to make this lemongrass chicken.
The dark meat of chicken can withstand being cooked until caramelized WITHOUT drying out. The higher fat content is the reason for this, which helps it stay juicy.
You can however use chicken breasts as well. But I highly recommend either cutting the chicken breast into strips that are evenly thick, or using a meat mallet to pound the chicken into a cutlet that has even thickness. This will ensure the piece of chicken breast cooks evenly throughout.
You can choose to use bone in chicken thighs or legs to make lemongrass chicken and roast them in the oven as well. These will be perfect to serve in a lemongrass rice bowl too. However, boneless (and/or skinless) chicken cooks faster, so will be easier to prepare.
Nuoc cham sauce
This sauce is optional, but HIGHLY recommended. I love this sauce so much so that once I make it, I mix it with chicken stock or broth and drink it by itself!
It’s great as a dressing, as a dipping sauce, or just to be added to anything for extra flavor.
Nuoc cham is made with just a few simple ingredients,
- Lime juice (I prefer lime juice over lemon juice)
- Fish sauce
- Fresh red chili (optional)
The thing about nuoc cham is that while there is a recipe for it, you will still need to adjust the ingredients to your taste. That’s because limes have different levels of sourness depending on the type of lime you use, and how ripe they are. So to balance the sourness, you will need to adjust the sweetness level.
I have shared my recipe for nuoc cham along with my lemongrass chicken bowl recipe, but the lime juice, water, and sugar levels vary slightly every time I make it.
Other additions for the lemongrass chicken bowl
I make this whenever I want a quick and easy lunch. So any other ingredients that I add to this lemongrass chicken bowl also have to be simple.
- Shredded lettuce
- Shredded carrots
- Chopped roasted peanuts
- Steamed broccoli (tossed in sesame seed oil)
- Herbs like cilantro or mint
You can also include other fancier additions such as,
- A spring roll
- Grilled shrimp
- A satay sauce
- Sauteed mushrooms or spinach
You can also replace the rice with other options for your lemongrass chicken bowl,
- Rice vermicelli noodles
- Brown rice
- Wild rice
- Kale or leafy green salad
- Steamed vegetable salad (broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, potatoes, sweet potatoes – tossed in nuoc cham sauce)
Can I use this marinade with other meats, instead of chicken?
This marinade works just as well with pork or beef. Just make sure to choose cuts that are suitable for pan frying, and will remain juicy.
You can also marinate tofu with this marinade. Grilled lemongrass tofu is fantastic! While I do use regular fish sauce for tofu, if you’re vegetarian or vegan, you will need to use vegetarian fish sauce instead.
Why I love this recipe
Lately, I’ve been baking far more often in the kitchen during the day, so I LOVE having flavorful but easy recipes that I can quickly whip up for myself for lunch.
This lemongrass chicken bowl is an absolute favorite of mine. I usually freeze the marinated chicken, and even cooked lemongrass chicken sometimes (when I cook in bulk) for those busy days.
Plus, I use any extra vegetables left in the fridge, and pair ’em with rice, or noodles, or just go with a bowlful of veggies and lemongrass chicken. Can’t go wrong with any of those options!
You can marinate the chicken ahead of time, or even marinate and cook the chicken ahead of time, so this dish is GREAT for meal planning.
A simple recipe, can be made ahead, and incredibly flavorful! What’s not to love?
Grilled Lemongrass Chicken
Lemongrass chicken (marinade)
- 4 tbsp fish sauce 60 mL
- 4 lemongrass stalks white part, or 4 tbsp lemongrass paste
- 4 garlic cloves minced, or ½ tsp garlic powder
- 3 tbsp honey 45 mL
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tbsp soy sauce 30 mL
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper optional
- 1 kg boneless chicken thighs about 8 – 9 thighs, skinless or skin on
Nuoc cham sauce
- ½ cup water
- 3 tbsp fish sauce
- 3 tbsp white sugar adjust to taste
- 3 tbsp lime juice adjust to taste
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- 1 tbsp fresh red chili finely chopped, optional
- Rice of your choice
- Shredded iceberg lettuce
- Shredded carrots
- Sliced cucumbers
- Cilantro optional
- Chopped peanuts optional
- If you're using lemongrass stalks, finely slice the white part of the lemongrass stalk and then finely mince it. The minced lemongrass will be used in the marinade.
- Mix the ingredients for the marinade in a small bowl. Whisk until everything is mixed through. If you prefer, you can add about 1 – 2 tbsp of water to adjust the consistency of the marinade to your liking.
- Place the chicken in a ziploc bag, or a large bowl or container. Pour the marinade in and toss the chicken pieces well to make sure all the chicken is well coated in the marinade.
- Let the chicken marinate for at least 30 minutes, OR for best results marinate in the fridge overnight (or up to 24 hours).
- When ready to cook, heat a non-stick skillet with a drizzle of vegetable oil, over medium heat. You can use a cast iron skillet as well, but you may need to reduce the heat slightly because the cast iron skillet retains more heat.
- OPTIONAL – When the pan is heated, pat dry the excess marinade from the chicken pieces using paper towels. This is an optional step, but helps the chicken grill and caramelize better.
- Place the chicken thighs on the heated pan, skin side down. Do not overcrowd the pan, so cook in batches.
- Cook the chicken for about 5 minutes per side, until the chicken is caramelized on both sides and is cooked through. Adjust the cook times depending on how fast the chicken is caramelizing, since the cook times will vary depending on the size of the chicken and your stove.
- Place the cooked chicken on a plate and let it rest for a few minutes.
- Slice the cooked chicken thighs, and serve with rice or noodles or a salad, with nuoc cham sauce.
Nuoc cham sauce
- Make sure to use freshly squeezed lime juice to make the nuoc cham sauce.
- Place all the ingredients in a bowl. Whisk until the sugar is dissolved through. Taste and adjust the flavor by adding more lime juice, honey, or water.
- Keep in the fridge until ready to serve.
- Serve the sliced lemongrass chicken with a salad and rice or noodles, and any other additions.
- Serve the nuoc cham on the side, so that it can be poured over the rice and salad.
- If you make this for meal prep, either pack the salad separately, OR add sauteed vegetables instead of raw vegetables/salad. Also add the nuoc cham sauce separately, since it can become bitter when heated.
Tips & Tricks
Note on cooking the chickenIn case the chicken caramelizes too quickly, and starts to burn on the outside, but the inside still remains raw : Preheat the oven to 350 F / 180 C. Line a baking tray with parchment paper or foil. Place the chicken on the baking tray and let it cook in the preheated oven for about 15 – 20 minutes until cooked through.
“This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. Nutrition data is gathered primarily from the USDA Food Composition Database, whenever available, or otherwise other online calculators.”