Grilled Five-Spice Chicken

It may not be in my best interest to admit this, but here goes nothing: grilling chicken scares me. It’s just too easy to get wrong. Black, cremated skin on the outside with an interior so pink that just looking at it might give you salmonella. Or worse, well-cooked flesh with skin so flabby that it can be removed in a single piece. I think this is why I am especially in awe of Vietnamese chefs.  I’m not exactly sure how they do it, but somehow they’re able to keep their grilled chicken juicy and moist  inside, but with a crisp exterior reminiscent of deep-fried chicken skin.  While I’ve yet to master this elusive technique, with this fairly simple preparation the delicious results were worth the potential for failure.

A great alternative to the standard barbecue chicken, this recipe relies on the exotic flavor of Chinese five-spice powder.  Usually a mix of star anise, fennel, cinnamon, cloves and Szechwan peppercorns, the blend lends a sweet and subtly spicy flavor to the dish along with an especially heady aroma.  While its great fresh off the grill, this stuff is just as addictive cold from the fridge or at room temperature for a picnic.


Adapted from William Sonoma’s, San Francisco: Authentic Recipes Celebrating the Foods of the World

If you’ve ever tried to grill chicken before, you know that it can be tricky due to the fact that chicken fat tends to burn easily.  Couple this with a marinade that contains sugar and you have the perfect formula for chicken that is burnt on the outside and raw in the middle.  Watch your chicken carefully while grilling and move the pieces to a cool part of the grill if flare-ups occur.  If your chicken browns too quickly, don’t be afraid to finish cooking it in a medium oven until the juices run clear when poked with a knife.


  • 6 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 1 large shallot, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon, peeled and minced fresh ginger
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon five-spice powder
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 chicken (about 3 lbs) cut into eight servings


  1. In a mortar and pestle or small food processor combine the ginger, shallot, garlic and sugar and smash to form a paste.
  2. Create a marinade by transferring the paste to a small bowl and whisking in the soy sauce, fish sauce, five-spice powder and a healthy dose of pepper.
  3. Rinse the chicken pieces in cold water and pat dry.  Place the chicken in a large, resealable zip-top bag and pour in the marinade.  Toss the chicken inside the bag to cover evenly with the marinade and refrigerate for 12 hours or as long as overnight.
  4. Prepare a charcoal or gas grill for direct grilling over medium heat.  Remove the chickens from the bag and reserve the marinade in a small bowl.
  5. Place the chicken pieces skin side down on the grill directly over the heat until the first side is nicely browned, about 11-12 minutes.  Baste once or twice with the reserved marinade during the first stage of grilling.  Turn, baste again and grill until the chicken reaches the internal temperature of 165°, about11-12 minutes longer.  Do not baste chicken during the final 10 minutes.
  6. Remove the chicken from the grill and let rest for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Makes 4 servings

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  1. Mmm, I like these flavors. It looks like a great dish!

  1. April 20th, 2010