Home » Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken (and Many Ways to Eat It)

Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken (and Many Ways to Eat It)

This is one easy and delicious Vietnamese lemongrass chicken recipe that you will use again and again. It’s full of fresh flavor – tangy, zesty, sweet, savory, citrusy. There are so many ways to cook it – grilled, oven baked, sautéed, shish kabob-ed, or just simmering in its own juices in a skillet.

It’s ridiculously quick and easy to make – think 5 minutes of prep time. It doesn’t even have to be chicken – you can use this marinade to jazz up beef, prawns, pork, fish, or even scallops.

And it’s a major winner for all tastebuds – even the ones belonging to fussy little eaters. My kid normally hates chicken but when it’s flavored with a lemongrass marinade, he will lick his plate clean.

But the best thing about this lemongrass chicken recipe is that it is ideal for meal prep. I never just make one batch. I double-triple-quadruple this recipe, portion them in Ziploc bags, and tuck them into the freezer for quick meals throughout the month.

It’s a wonderful feeling having several pouches of lemongrass chicken ready and waiting in the freezer. Sort of similar to having a chunk of cash tucked away safely in a savings account.

Once defrosted, it cooks up quickly. And it is amazingly versatile. You can incorporate it into literally anything, from a simple lemongrass chicken and rice dish to a delicious bahn mi. Salads, stir fries, Vietnamese spring rolls, and the list goes on. You prep once and end up with several delicious meals.

One lemongrass chicken recipe. So many different ways to cook it. And so many different ways to eat it. So let’s get to it.

Lemongrass Chicken Ingredients

Let’s start with the shopping list. You probably have most of the ingredients required already in your pantry. And if you don’t – there are a lot of substitutions. Here’s what you’ll need…

Chicken

For this lemongrass chicken recipe, any sort of chicken will do. chicken thighs are best since they tend to be more tender and juicier than breast meat. I usually go for skinless and boneless, but skin-on and bone-in chicken thigh works very well, too – especially if you’re grilling (broiling) in the oven or grill.

Prefer chicken breast? Not a problem. The lemongrass marinade does a great job tenderizing the chicken so whereas it may not be quite as juicy as thigh meat, chicken breast also tastes wonderful with this recipe.

What sort of chicken is best? It depends on which cooking method you choose. I’ll explain more below but in short, here’s what I recommend for each cooking method:

  • Skillet on stovetop: Boneless, skin-off chicken thigh OR chicken breast
  • Grill pan on stovetop: Boneless, skin-off chicken thigh OR chicken breast
  • To broil: Bone-in, skin-on chicken thigh OR boneless, skin-off chicken thigh
  • To bake: Bone-in, skin-on chicken thigh OR boneless, skin-off chicken thigh
  • To shish-kabob: Boneless, skin-off chicken thigh OR chicken breast

Don’t want chicken? That’s fine, too. Just replace the chicken with pork, beef, fish, scallops, or prawns. This lemongrass marinade plays nicely with them all.

Lemongrass

Lemongrass is a star ingredient in this lemongrass chicken recipe. At first glance, fresh lemongrass sort of looks like green onions – but they taste and smell nothing like scallions. As their name suggests, lemongrass has a delicate and mild citrus-y flavor.

How to use it? Only the bottom third of the lemongrass stem is edible. So cut off the stem an remove the greener, more papery upper stalks. You can save those to flavor your curries or toss them. They aren’t edible.

Where to get them? Depending on where you live, you may have to trek to an Asian market to get it. But here in the UK, you can get fresh lemongrass at M&S, Sainsbury’s, and Waitrose, as well as online through Amazon Fresh.

I personally prefer to trek out to a larger Asian supermarket where I can buy frozen lemongrass stalks. They’re already trimmed with the bottoms and leafy edges cut off so I can use them without any prep work. Plus, they keep in the freezer for nearly a year so they are always at hand when I want some fresh lemongrass dishes.

How to choose them? If you’re buying fresh lemongrass, make sure to buy only firm stalks. Gently bend them – if they yield too easily, they’re not fresh. Also look out for any brown outer leaves. That is a tell tale sign that the lemongrass is dried out. Pass on those. You can do better.

If you happen to get your hands on a lot of fresh lemongrass in good condition, trim and freeze them in a Ziploc bag. They’ll last for around 8 months.

Fresh or frozen, it doesn’t really matter for this recipe. So go with what’s convenient for you.

Alternatives? There is no substitute for lemongrass in this recipe but if you can’t get stalks, use lemongrass paste or minced lemongrass. One tablespoon lemongrass paste is roughly equal to one stalk.  

Lime or Lemon juice

The lemongrass may be enough for a mild citrus-y flavor, but it’s the additional lime (or lemon) juice that’s going to give this recipe a proper zest! Plus, this tart juice does double duty – the acidity of the citrus juice also helps to tenderize the meat.

Tip: It’s not just good in marinade, it’s always wise to have extra lime slices for serving the cooked meat. Especially if you like like the extra zest. My kid loves to squeeze at least 2 to 3 lime slices on top of his chicken.

Fish Sauce

You can’t cook a proper Vietnamese lemongrass chicken without fish sauce. It’s smelly but so yummy and an absolutely integral part of this recipe.

Garlic

Minced or whole cloves – doesn’t really matter since we’ll be blending or blitzing it all through a food processor. The important thing is that you add garlic – lots of it!

Ginger

Spicy, tangy, with a little bit of sweet and citrus notes, ginger adds another dimension to this recipe. You can use minced ginger or a peeled piece of fresh ginger.

Don’t have either? Use ginger powder as a substitute.

Soy Sauce

This recipe doesn’t ask for a lot of soy sauce but in my experience, that little bit makes a big difference. Low-sodium or regular, it doesn’t matter. If you prefer to use an alternative like tamari – that’s fine too.

Sugar

That little bit of sweetness that sugar adds really goes a long way to rounding out this recipe. White sugar, light or dark brown sugar, coconut sugar, honey or even maple syrup all work well. Choose the sweetener you want.

Want More Flavor?

The above ingredients are a quick-and-easy way to make lemongrass chicken that tastes a lot like what you get at the local Vietnamese restaurant. And it’s a tried-and-tested delicious recipe. But maybe you want more. Here are a couple things you can add…

White or black pepper. The first option to add some kick without making it too spicy is to add about half a teaspoon of white or black pepper to this recipe.

Turmeric. To add a little bit of earthy, peppery-without-spicy flavor, add a teaspoon of turmeric.

Coriander seeds. This ingredient takes a little more work but it brings a warm, almost nutty, citrus-y flavor that goes so well that I sometimes make the time for it. To add it on, heat a skillet over medium-low heat and then dry toast a teaspoon or two of coriander seeds for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir and shake the skillet so the seeds don’t burn! When toasted, grind them into a powder with a mortar and pestle or with an electric spice blender.

Chili peppers. If you want it proper spicy and closer to the authentic Vietnamese stir-fried chicken with lemongrass and chili (gà xào sả ớt), add 1 to 3 chili peppers into the mix. Dried chili pepper works as well.

Kaffir lime leaves. If it’s more zest you’re after, you can always up the lime juice. OR you can add a kaffir lime leaf or two. These have a strong citrusy scent – think lime zest – and a lovely tart, tangry taste. Blend them with all the other marinade ingredients.

Pineapple juice. Adding pineapple juice to the lemongrass marinade isn’t an absolute must – the recipe is delicious with just the above ingredients. But if you can, do it. A bit of pineapple juice adds even more sweet tanginess that takes the entire marinade up a notch.

If I have a can of pineapple lying around, I’ll throw in 1/4 to 1/2 cup pineapple juice for extra zest and sweetness. It’s very delicious, especially with seafood variations. Just make sure you use canned, NOT fresh, pineapple juice. Canned pineapple has been heated to deactivate bromelain, an enzyme that breaks down chicken. The result is mushy, chalky chicken so never use fresh pineapple, only canned.

How to Make Lemongrass Chicken

There are so many ways to cook lemongrass chicken. But the step-by-step process for preparing it is always the same and it’s the easiest, barely 5-minute process. Here’s what to do…

Make the Lemongrass Marinade

Toss the lemongrass, lime or lemon juice, fish sauce, garlic, soy sauce, sugar, and ginger into a blender or food processor. Blend until mixed.

lemongrass chicken recipe

Marinate the Chicken

Pour the marinade on top of the chicken. You can do this in a large bowl and cover it. I prefer to put everything into a Ziploc bag and massage the marinade into the chicken. And then store it like that in the fridge or freezer.

How long to marinate? At least an hour or up to 24 hours. If you’re in a rush to get dinner made pronto, even 30 minutes can be okay. But in my experience, the closer you get to 24 hours, the better tasting chicken you’ll have. The ideal is to aim for between 6 to 24 hours.

How long to freeze it? Marinated chicken can be frozen for up to 3 months. Freeze it as soon as you’ve added the lemongrass marinade. Put it in the fridge the night before you plan on eating it. The chicken will marinate as it defrosts.

Can I marinate at room temperature? No, it’s not safe. Even if it’s just for an hour or so, stick it in the fridge.

How to Make Lemongrass Chicken: 3 Options

Here’s the thing about lemongrass chicken – you have so many options when it comes to cooking it. I’m going to list them here from the easiest to the ones requiring a little more work.

Bake It

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.

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

Want crispier skin? Turn the broiler to high and broil for an additional 2 to 5 minutes.

Chicken pieces or skewers: Preheat the oven to 425°F (218°C). Place chicken skewers on a baking sheet or foil. Bake for 15 minutes until golden brown. Turn on the broiler to high and broil for an additional 2 to 3 minutes until the chicken gets a nice char.

Broil the Chicken

Skin-off, boneless chicken thighs: Position the oven rack to the top position, about 3 to 4 inches away from the heat. Preheat the broiler at the highest setting. You don’t need to wait for it to get fully hot – just a couple minutes will do. Place chicken thighs on a baking sheet or foil sheet and broil for 7 to 10 minutes.

Skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs: Position the oven rack to the top position, about 3 to 4 inches away from the heat. Preheat the broiler at the highest setting. Place chicken thighs, skin down on a baking sheet or foil sheet and broil for 10 minutes. Flip the chicken thighs over and broil for an additional 10 minutes.

You don’t absolutely have to, but if you can – baste the chicken skin with any remaining sauce about halfway through.

STOVETOP

On a grill pan. To get those beautiful grill marks, heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Lightly coat it with a neutral oil. Cook boneless, skin on or off chicken thighs for about 5 to 7 minutes per side, until the chicken is beautifully charred and cooked through.

Cook bone-in chicken thigh for 10 to 13 minutes per side until charred and cooked through.

On a skillet or sauté pan. Heat 1 tsp of oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the chicken. There should be a bit of liquid left in the bag that I like to use to rinse the clumps of stringy lemongrass stuck on any chicken.

Cook boneless chicken for about 5 to 6 minutes on each side. For bone-in chicken, aim for around 25 minutes of cooking time in total, flipping the chicken halfway through.

The upside of cooking lemongrass chicken in a skillet is that you end up with some delicious sauce-y chicken juice, which is delicious mixed with some rice. That’s why this is why preferred method when making lemongrass chicken to serve with rice.

What to Serve with Lemongrass Chicken

When I prep and marinade lemongrass chicken, I never do it for just one meal. I’m thinking of the week ahead. That’s because this deliciously flavorful chicken dish is ridiculously versatile – it can be incorporated into so many different meals.

So prep once and get several scrumptious meals. Here are some of my favorite ways to eat lemongrass chicken…

Sauce

This marinated lemongrass chicken is delicious on its own. But add a sauce and it becomes tastebud heaven. Here are the best sauces to pair it with:

  • Nuoc cham. The classic sauce for lemongrass chicken takes just 5 minutes to make. It’s easy, delicious, and it keeps well in the fridge.
  • Nam Jim Jeaw. This addictively sweet, sour and spicy sauce is the perfect way to add a little Thai flavor to this dish. It takes a little longer to make but is so very worth it.
  • Sriracha mayo. This sauce is just good. With anything – and lemongrass chicken is no exception. It’s also ridiculously quick and easy to make and you can sub with sour cream or even creme fraiche if you don’t have or don’t want to use mayo.

Rice

Sometimes, the simplest option is the best. Broken rice is the obvious first choice to pair this lemongrass chicken with. Just regular, unbroken jasmine rice is great, too. Basmati is also yum.

But it really doesn’t matter – it goes with pretty much every kind of rice or rice dish under the sun. White or brown, long or short grain, fried or fresh – it’s all good.

Salad

One beautiful low-carb option is to top a salad bowl with sliced lemongrass chicken. It can be as high – or low – effort as you want. You can go all out with the salad – lettuce, bell peppers, sprouts, spinach, mint, basil, and so on.

Or you can do what I do: chop up fresh lettuce, top it with sliced cucumbers and carrots, add some herbs (mint, basil, and cilantro are my favorites with this), and drizzle a simple salad dressing. Here’s a 2-minute salad dressing recipe that’s great on lemongrass chicken salad:

  • 1/2 cup vinegar (apple cider vinegar or white vinegar)
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • pinch of salt

Mix to blend well. Taste and adjust as necessary.

Lemongrass Chicken Bahn Mi

All the above options are perfect quick and easy options to eat lemongrass chicken. But our family favorite is definitely lemongrass chicken bahn mi. For this, I marinade and cook boneless, skin-off chicken thighs whole – no cutting.

Slice open a baguette, stick in the lemongrass chicken, top it off with fast-pickled cucumber and carrots, add some herbs on top. Serve with a side of sriracha mayo. Yum.

Spring Rolls

If you’re a fan of Vietnamese spring rolls, you’ll love them with lemongrass chicken instead of fresh prawns. They instantly add a dose of delicious flavor that gets addicting quick.

Vietnamese Noodle Bowl

Vietnamese vermicelli bowls are one of my favorite dishes in the world. They’re the perfect light meal to fill you up on refreshing, zesty, savory sweet flavor without leading you to food coma.

But for a long time, I figured they’d be too difficult to make at home. Turns out I was fortunately very wrong. Once you have the lemongrass chicken, making bun ga nuong takes you maybe 10 more minutes. And it is so very worth it.

lemongrass chicken

Lemongrass Chicken

This is one lemongrass chicken recipe that you will use forever. It’s full of addictively fresh flavor – tangy, sweet, savory, citrusy. There are so many ways to cook it and so many ways to serve it. The perfect prep-once-and-eat-all-week recipe!
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Vietnamese
Servings 4
Calories 382 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 10 boneless skinless chicken thighs (around 1000 to 1200 grams
  • 2 stalks lemongrass
  • 2 tbsp lime juice (about 1 lime, squeezed)
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp garlic (around 6 cloves)
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp ginger minced

Instructions
 

Make lemongrass marinade

  • Place the lemongrass, lime or lemon juice, fish sauce, garlic, soy sauce, sugar, and ginger into a blender or food processor.
    Blend until mixed.

Marinate the chicken

  • Pour the marinade on top of the chicken and make sure it's well mixed and covered. To make it easy, I put everything into a Ziploc bag and massage the marinade into the chicken.
    Store it in the fridge if you'll be eating the chicken in the next 24 hours. The ideal marinade time is 6 to 24 hours.
    Otherwise, stick it in the freezer for a future meal.

Cook it up

  • Preheat the oven to 425°F (218°C). Place chicken on a baking or foil sheet.
    For skin-off, boneless chicken thighs: Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Option: switch from the oven to the broiler and broil for 2 to 3 minutes for a little charring.
    For skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs: Bake for 20 minutes. Turn the chicken over and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes. For crispier skin, switch from the oven to the broiler. Set it to high and broil for an additional 2 to 5 minutes.
    For chicken pieces: Bake for 15 minutes until golden brown. Turn on the broiler to high and broil for an additional 2 to 3 minutes until the chicken gets a nice char.

Notes

How to meal prep this? This is one of the best recipes to make ahead. Triple or quadruple this recipe. Make the marinade and add the marinade and chicken together. Stick it directly the freezer if you won’t be eating it in the next 24 hours. 
It’ll be good in the freezer for up to 3 months. When you have no meals planned for the next day, pop it in the fridge overnight. The chicken marinates as it defrosts.
How to make it gluten-free? This entire recipe is gluten-free, with the exception of soy sauce. Choose a gluten-free soy sauce or use tamari sauce instead. 
Other ways to cook it? There are so, so many different ways to cook this lemongrass chicken and they all turn out delicious. So what do you choose? It depends on what chicken you’re using. Here’s what I recommend:
  • Skillet on stovetop: Boneless, skin-off chicken thigh OR chicken breast
  • Grill pan on stovetop: Boneless, skin-off chicken thigh OR chicken breast
  • To broil: Bone-in, skin-on chicken thigh OR boneless, skin-off chicken thigh
  • To bake: Bone-in, skin-on chicken thigh OR boneless, skin-off chicken thigh
  • To shish-kabob: Boneless, skin-off chicken thigh OR chicken breast
I have detailed notes on cooking options in the post so check those out for more ideas. 

Nutrition

Calories: 382kcalCarbohydrates: 11gProtein: 56gFat: 12gSaturated Fat: 3gPolyunsaturated Fat: 3gMonounsaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0.1gCholesterol: 268mgSodium: 1211mgPotassium: 814mgFiber: 0.2gSugar: 7gVitamin A: 73IUVitamin C: 4mgCalcium: 44mgIron: 3mg
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