Isan BBQ Chicken: Gai Ping
whole chickens, about 2 1/2 pounds each, split in half, backs removed
thinly sliced lemongrass
peeled garlic cloves
cilantro root or stems
yellow curry powder
BBQ chicken is everywhere on the streets and in the markets of Isan. You can smell it from afar, like a smoke signal commanding you to come and eat. Chicken, roasted or barbecued, just spells comfort. It’s easy and delicious. And with gai yang, sticky rice, and tum som, you’ve got a complete meal.
- Brine the chicken: In a large pot, combine the water, salt, and sugar. Bring to a boil to dissolve the sugar and salt, then turn off the heat and let the brine cool completely. Transfer to a container large enough to hold both chickens and fit in the fridge. Add the chickens to the brine and refrigerate for 24 hours.
- Marinate the chicken: In a mortar, pound the lemongrass, garlic, cilantro root or stems, and coriander seeds to a paste. Stir in the curry powder, MSG, if using, oyster sauce, fish sauce, oil, and salt and mix well. Remove the chicken halves from the brine and drain well; transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add the marinade and toss to coat. Marinate, refrigerated, for at least 8 hours, but no more than 16.
- COOK THE MEAT: Preheat a grill to low, using gas, charcoal, or wood. Grill the chicken halves over low heat, flipping and watching carefully— it will take about 1 hour. To help with even heating and create a sort of hot smoker, you can cover the chicken with a lid as it cooks. To tell whether the chicken is done, check the color of the flesh between the thigh and the breast: The juices should run clear and the meat look opaque. Once done, the chickens can be hacked through the bones with a Chinese cleaver. Serve with Hot, Sweet, and Sour Dipping Sauce for BBQ Chicken or Charred Tomato and Chile Relish.