Kai Kawlae (Southern Thai-Style Grilled Chicken)
A rich and aromatic curry marinade lends this savory street food its distinctive, smoky flavor.
1 hour 20 minutes
This southern Thai grilled chicken is quite possibly this area’s most famous dish. When it comes to ethnicity, culture, and religion, Thailand’s deep south has little to do with the rest of the country. Most of its residents are ethnic Malays—Muslims who speak a Malay dialect known as Yawi. Not surprisingly, the region’s food also has a lot in common with what you might find south of the border, in Malaysia. Rich, often sweet flavors dominate, and dried spices make frequent appearances.
Chicken, seasoned and grilled over coals, is a staple across Thailand, but a couple elements make this southern variant unique. Most notably, its marinade is essentially a curry, which is painted over the meat in layers as it cooks, resulting in a grilled bird that’s rich, extremely fragrant, and smoky.
This version is adapted from one by Aisamaae Tokoi, a chef and teacher at Luukrieang, a non-governmental organization that provides a home and education for orphaned children.
Dried asam fruit can be found in some Southeast Asian markets, or in a pinch, tamarind pulp may be substituted. While local vendors typically grill the dish on bamboo skewers for ease of service, when grilling at home, it’s also possible to cook the pieces unskewered, turning them with tongs.
Featured in: “This Smoky Grilled Chicken is a Taste of Thailand’s Deep South.”
For the curry marinade:
- 5 medium mild dried chilies (such as guajillo chiles)
- 10 small hot dried chilies (such as chiles de arbol)
- 2 tsp. fennel seed
- 1 tsp. fenugreek seed
- 3 medium lemongrass stalks, exterior tough layers peeled, green section discarded, pale section thinly sliced thinly (about ¼ cup)
- 1 oz. galangal, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 oz. ginger, peeled and sliced thinly
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- 12 medium garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
- 4 medium shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 tbsp. Thai shrimp paste
- 1 tbsp. coconut oil or vegetable oil
- 2¼ cups fresh coconut milk, or substitute 1¼ cups boxed (“UHT”) coconut milk diluted with 1 cups water (do not substitute canned coconut milk), divided
- 4 slices dried asam fruit, or substitute 1 Tbsp. tamarind pulp
For the chicken:
- 2¼ lb. bone-in chicken thighs (6 medium thighs)
- 1 tsp. ground turmeric
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- Long-grained or sticky white rice, for serving (optional)