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Ping Gai (Laotian Grilled Chicken)

Ping gai is Laotian grilled chicken. And as far as grilled chicken recipes go, this one is woefully underrated – especially when you consider that it will be one of the best grilled chickens you’ve ever had.

What makes it reign supreme? The marinade. It is so full of flavors. It’s fresh and green, zesty and citrusy, tangy, peppery, and with a hint of sweet. It is the most addicting chicken marinade.

Don’t believe me? Try it. Then you’ll know why we eat ping gai at least once a week in our household.

What is Ping Gai Chicken?

Ping gai, pieng gai, or ping kai (ປີ້ງ ໄກ່) translates to grilled chicken in Laotian. It’s sold all over Laos as a street food staple. And like so much of Laotian cuisine, it hasn’t gained the recognition it deserves.

In fact, it’s just as likely to be labeled under the delicious umbrella of Thai cuisine, due to the fact that ping gai chicken is sold all over Issan, a region of Northeast Thailand where the majority population is ethnically Lao. And you know how tasty things have a way of getting around. So it was just a matter of time before ping gai spread all over Thailand.

Thanks to this, you’re likely to find it in Thai restaurants, going by its Thai moniker: gai yang (ไก่ ย่าง), kai ping (ไก่ ปิ้ง), or kai yang lao (ไก่ ย่าง ลาว).

But whether it’s the original Laotian recipe, the Thai version, or even an adaption created by a Western restaurant – namely, the Queen Mother Cafe in Toronto – one thing is for sure: Ping gai chicken is some of the most flavorful chicken you’ll ever eat.

Ping Gai Chicken Ingredients

This recipe is an adaptation that best suits my tastebuds and availability of ingredients. I don’t claim that it’s the most authentic, traditional version. But it is easy to make and absolutely scrumptious.

In Laos and Thailand, the chicken is pounded flat and then skewered onto bamboo sticks to be slowly grilled over charcoal. I won’t be doing that. But you’ll still get crisp, slightly charred, golden skin.

Instead of coriander roots, I use a generous amount of fresh cilantro because I love the taste and it’s not easy to find coriander roots around here. It uses white pepper because that gently, earthy kick is so delicious.

But some things are uncompromisable. Like the oyster sauce. It’s just a bit of it but it adds so much umami flavor to an already delectable marinade.

So let’s get started. Here’s what you’ll need.

The marinade ingredients may look long but it’s a matter of tossing everything into a blender or food processor and blending it up.

And remember – the recipe here is just a suggestion of what worked for me. If you like more umami, add more oyster sauce. More citrus-y zing? Use more lemon juice. A lot more garlic? Go for it.

Here’s a quick explanation of some of the ingredients and alternatives.

Chicken

This marinade recipe is enough to generously marinade about 6 to 8 chicken thighs or 4 chicken quarters. I do recommend you choose chicken thighs over breast meat for this because it’s juicier and more flavorful.

Skin-on, skin-off, bone-in, bone-off – it really doesn’t matter. It’s all delicious. Just remember that the cooking times will vary. I cover this in detail below.

Cilantro

The original recipe calls for coriander roots but it’s not easy to find, even in London. So I go with fresh cilantro. A smart move is to save the leafy bits for garnish and mostly use the stalks.

If you’re a cilantro-tastes-like-soap person, you can substitute cilantro with celery leaves. Or with parsley and double up on the lime juice. You can even leave the cilantro out all together.

Other Ingredients

Garlic: I use about 4 cloves (around a tablespoon) but to be honest – more garlic, more better. If you want to add more, you’re the boss.

Ginger. It can be optional but it adds a lovely earthy spice to the marinade. Just keep in mind that if you use the fresh ginger, you must also use the lime juice. Ginger contains an enzyme called zingibain that can “cook” the chicken while it marinates. But the acid in lime juice counteracts that.

Lime juice. You can substitute lemon juice as well but one or the other should be in this recipe, plus lime wedges to drizzle on the grilled chicken.

Lemongrass. A lot of ping gai recipe say lemongrass is optional. I don’t agree. Unless you really don’t have it or can’t find it, I recommend using it. While cilantro, oyster sauce, ginger and lime, and fish sauce add a lot of flavor, the citrusy tang of lemongrass is too good to leave out.

Pepper. White pepper is my personal favorite but if you don’t have it, feel free to substitute with freshly ground black pepper.

Turmeric powder. It’s just a small amount we’re using – you won’t necessarily be able to pick up on its earthy-sweet taste – but it helps to magnify the flavor of everything else.

Sugar. Go for brown sugar, palm sugar, or coconut sugar if you can.

Sauces. I use a combination of soy sauce, fish sauce, and oyster sauce because each brings something different to the table. Soy sauce is salty umami. Oyster sauce is richer with a sweet-savory-caramely flavor. And fish sauce is deliciously briny umami.

If you don’t have any of the three, here’s what you can do:

  • No oyster sauce: Use soy sauce combined with sugar or hoisin sauce
  • No fish sauce: Use soy sauce with a bit of rice vinegar
  • No soy sauce: Use tamari or coconut aminos

Salt. It’s not necessary in the marinade but that’s a matter of taste. Use it if you want, skip it if you don’t.

Okay, let’s get to making some ping gai.

How to Make Ping Gai

It’s not just deliciousness that makes pieng gai a regular feature on our dinner table. It’s also because it’s ridiculously easy to make.

The prep time is just 5 minutes. And the cooking is mostly hands off. It’s a quick-and-easy dinner that tastes like a lot of work went into it when it’s actually just three simple steps…

Make the Marinade

Add all the marinade ingredients together (can do without the salt). Use a blender or food processor to get it to a paste.

Marinate the Chicken

Place the chicken in a big container. Cut long slices into the chicken legs to help the marinade seep in. Massage the marinade into the chicken.

Another option is to place the chicken legs in a Ziploc bag along with the marinade and massage the bag so the marinade rubs all over the chicken.

How long to marinate? The golden marinade period is between 6 hours to 24 hours. If you can, toss in the chicken with the marinade and let it sit overnight. Or do it in the morning to have it for dinner. If you’re in a rush, you can get away with 3 hours but in my experience – the longer, the better.

Can you freeze it? Marinated chicken is good in the freezer for up to 3 months so you can absolutely do make-ahead meals with this chicken. I have a couple bags in the freezer right now.

It’s the easiest thing – when you make the marinade, double or triple it. Stick however much you’ll be eating soon in the fridge. Place the rest in the freezer as soon as you’ve combined the chicken and the marinade. Defrost it overnight when you’re ready. The chicken will marinate as it defrosts.

Can I marinate at room temperature? No, it’s not safe. If it’ll be out for over an hour, put it in the fridge.

Bake the Chicken

Once you’re ready to eat, it’s just a matter of preheating the oven and sticking your chicken in.

But how and how long you bake the chicken depends on what chicken you’re using. I’ve made ping gai with skin-on, skin-off, bone-in and bone-off chicken thighs as well as chicken quarters. Here’s what I recommend for each type of chicken to get deliciously crisp skin and a lightly charred marinade of yumminess.

Cooking Times for Ping Gai Chicken

Ping gai chicken has proven delicious no matter what kind of chicken I use. But here’s a sort of ‘best practices’ outline for the crispiest, juiciest ping gai…

Chicken quarters

For chicken quarters – skin on or off, the best way to bake them is to use a grill rack (aka roasting or cooling rack). The elevation provided by that little “shelf” allows the hot air to circulate underneath so everything cooks evenly. Plus, you get a nice, crispy crust all around – not just on top.

If you don’t have a grill rack, you can roll up little balls of foil to perch the chicken on top of.

If you do have a grill rack, place the chicken on it. Put a large pan or roasting tin under it to catch drippings. Remember to line that pan with a paper or foil sheet to save you cleanup time!

Preheat the oven to 425°F (218°C). Bake until the chicken is browned and the internal temperature reaches 165°F, 40-45 minutes.

bone-in chicken thighs

For skin-off, bone-in chicken thighs: Preheat the oven to 425°F (218°C). Place chicken thighs on a baking sheet or foil sheet and bake for 15 minutes.

Turn the chicken over and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes.

For skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs: Preheat the oven to 425°F (218°C). Place chicken thighs, skin down on a baking sheet or foil sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Turn over and cook another 15 to 20 minutes.

The cooking time is the same – about 30 to 35 minutes. But when the chicken is done, turn the broiler to high and let the skin crisp off for an additional 3 to 4 minutes.

boneless chicken thighs

For skin-off, boneless chicken thighs: Preheat the oven to 425°F (218°C). Place chicken thighs on a baking sheet or foil sheet and bake for 20 to 25 minutes.

OR grill it on a grilling pan or a cast iron pan on the stove top for about 5 to 7 minutes on each side.

For skin-on, boneless chicken thighs: Preheat the oven to 425°F (218°C). Place chicken thighs on a baking sheet or foil sheet and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. When the chicken is about done, turn the broiler to high and let the skin crisp off for an additional 3 to 4 minutes.

What to Eat Ping Gai With?

Here are the best ways to enjoy a heaping plate of ping gai…

Rice, of course!

If you want to eat ping gai like a true Laotian would, serve it with a side of sticky rice. Sticky rice is important – with a capital “I” – to Laos. So important, in fact, that Laotian people devour more sticky rice than any other group of people in the world (estimated at over 345 pounds per year).

And why wouldn’t they? This stuff is delicious.

Fun fact: Laos cleverly grows its own supply and is responsible for around 90% of the global production of sticky rice.

Other alternatives are coconut rice and jasmine rice, which is the second most consumed type of rice in Laos.

Ping gai Bahn Mi

Stick the ping gai in a baguette and serve it as a bahn mi! Add all the usual bahn mi ingredients – carrots, cucumber, cilantro, some mint, lettuce, and of course, sriracha mayo and a little side of nuoc cham.

Quick and easy and delicious.

What to Do with Leftovers?

Store all leftover chicken in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 to 4 days. You can also store it in the freezer for 3 to 4 months.

When it’s time to reheat, you can reheat it in the microwave, over a grill pan, or stick it in a preheated oven (400°F (200°C)) and cook for about 10 to 15 minutes.

ping gai

Ping Gai – Laotian Grilled Chicken

Ping gai is woefully underrated and that's a shame because it is bursting with flavor. Fresh and green, zesty and citrusy, tangy, peppery, and with a hint of sweet. It is the most addicting chicken recipe. Ever.
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Laotian
Servings 3
Calories 410 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 8 chicken thighs
  • 30 grams cilantro
  • 4 cloves garlic about 1 tbsp
  • 1 inch ginger OR 3/4 tsp ginger powder
  • 1.5 tbsp lime juice about 1/2 lime, juiced
  • 1 stalk lemongrass about 1 tbsp lemongrass paste
  • ½ tbsp white pepper
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp rice vinegar optional
  • ¼ tsp salt optional

Instructions
 

Make the marinade

  • Add all the marinade ingredients together. Use a blender or food processor to get it to a paste.

Marinate the chicken

  • Place the chicken in a big container. Cut long slices into the chicken legs to help the marinade seep in. Massage the marinade into the chicken.
    OR place the chicken legs in a Ziploc bag along with the marinade and massage the bag so the marinade rubs all over the chicken.
    Marinate the chicken for at least 3 hours. If you can, 6 hours to overnight is the best.

Cook it up

  • For skin-off, bone-in chicken thighs: Preheat the oven to 425°F (218°C). Place chicken thighs on a baking sheet or foil sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Turn the chicken over and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes.
    For skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs: Preheat the oven to 425°F (218°C). Place chicken thighs, skin down on a baking sheet or foil sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Turn over and cook another 15 to 20 minutes. Turn the broiler to high and let the skin crisp off for an additional 3 to 4 minutes.
    For skin-off, boneless chicken thighs: Preheat the oven to 425°F (218°C). Place chicken thighs on a baking sheet or foil sheet and bake for 20 to 25 minutes.
    OR grill it on a grilling pan or a cast iron pan on the stove top for about 5 to 7 minutes on each side.
    For skin-on, boneless chicken thighs: Preheat the oven to 425°F (218°C). Place chicken thighs on a baking sheet or foil sheet and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. When the chicken is about done, turn the broiler to high and let the skin crisp off for an additional 3 to 4 minutes.

Notes

Any chicken will do. Whether it’s bone-in vs boneless, skin-on or skin-off – just be mindful of the cooking times. Bigger pieces will take longer and bone-in chicken needs more time as well. 
Ginger makes lime juice necessary. Ginger is optional but if you choose to add it (recommended!) – you need to counteract the enzymes with acid. You can do that by absolutely using lime juice and/or rice vinegar. 
Substitutions for the sauces used. I love the combination of soy, oyster, and fish sauce. But if you don’t have some of those, no worries. You can do this:
  • No oyster sauce: Use soy sauce combined with sugar or hoisin sauce
  • No fish sauce: Use soy sauce with a bit of rice vinegar
  • No soy sauce: Use tamari or coconut aminos
Marinade times. About 6 to 24 hours is golden for tender, flavorful chicken. Always refrigerate chicken in the fridge. If you won’t be eating soon, you can place the marinating chicken in the freezer for up to 3 to 4 months. Transfer it to the fridge the day before you’re ready to eat it. It will marinate as it defrosts.

Nutrition

Calories: 410kcalCarbohydrates: 11gProtein: 60gFat: 13gSaturated Fat: 3gPolyunsaturated Fat: 3gMonounsaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0.1gCholesterol: 286mgSodium: 2074mgPotassium: 929mgFiber: 1gSugar: 5gVitamin A: 753IUVitamin C: 7mgCalcium: 63mgIron: 4mg
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

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