Thai Chicken

Thai Chicken is an easy, healthy, juicy, fragrant explosion of exotic flavors that will have you drooling!

This Thai Chicken is an easy marinate-and cook recipe that’s 5-star taste bud heaven.  It’s marinated in Thai basil, cilantro, lemongrass, fish sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, ginger, garlic and maple for a tantalizing, complex, can’t-stop-eating chicken laced with savory, slightly sweet, sour, citrusy, herbaceous, umami notes.  Once the marinating is complete, this Thai Chicken can be on your table in less than 15 minutes cooked on the grill, stovetop or in the oven.  Serve the chicken up with a side of pickled veggies and coconut rice or pineapple rice or in salads, wraps, or sandwiches!  This Thai Chicken recipe is excellent for meal prep, make ahead lunch/dinners, entertaining and leftovers – all instructions included.

Thai Chicken, in all its forms, is one of my all-time favorite cuisines because of the exciting layers of flavor!  If you love Thai food, don’t miss crazy popular Thai Red Curry Chicken as well as Lemongrass Chicken, Banh Mi Sandwiches, Coconut Chicken, Green Curry Chicken, Yellow Curry Chicken and Thai Basil Chicken and Thai Basil Beef.

top view showing what to serve with Thai chicken with rice, pickled vegetables and grilled pineapple
top view of grilled thai chicken thighs on a plate garnished with cilantro

Thai Chicken Recipe Ingredients 

This Thai Chicken recipe features a blend-together marinade with barely any chopping. So, while the ingredient list may seem a bit lengthy, once you have everything gathered, it comes together in minutes! Let’s take a closer look at what you will need (recipe measurements in the printable recipe card at the bottom of the post):

  • Lemongrass: This is a perennial grass that grows in tropical climates with a pungent, lemony taste. It is widely used in Thai and Vietnamese cuisine and as a medicinal herb in India. A stalk of lemongrass consists of a few layers of tough outer husks which you will discard to reveal the softer white core layers, which is what we want for this recipe. You can find lemongrass at Sprouts and Whole Foods either whole or in sectioned into smaller pieces with the herbs.  If you can’t find it – make sure to ask!  I’ve included more details with how to work with lemongrass below.
  • Fresh cilantro: Bright, earthy cilantro adds a fresh pop of zesty flavor to the umami packed marinade. 
  • Thai basil: I recommend using Thai basil if possible, but regular “sweet” basil may also be used. Thai basil can be found at specialty Asian grocery stores. It tastes like normal basil with more of a fresh, herbal-licorice flavor and crisp pungency that’s slightly more peppery than the sweet kind.
  • Shallot: These have a delicate, sweet flavor that blend well with the other aromatics in the marinade.  You may use half a yellow onion in a bind.
  • Fish sauce: Please don’t skip the fish sauce, nothing comes close to its knockout flavor!  It is critical to infuse the Thai chicken with its nutty, rich, savory, salty flavor. If you’ve never used fish sauce before, it can be found in the Asian section of any grocery store. Please use quality like Red Boat Fish Sauce.
  • Oyster sauce: This is a thick, brown sauce with a balance between sweet and salty with an earthy undertone, due to the oyster extracts. You can find oyster sauce in the Asian aisle of any supermarket for only a few dollars. Please use QUALITY oyster sauce such as Lee Kum Kee or Kikkoman. You truly can taste the difference and will be sorely disappointed with less quality brands.
  • Lime juice: You’ll need 2 tablespoons of fresh or bottled lime juice.
  • Sweeteners:  Both maple syrup and brown sugar are requisite to balance the salty fish sauce and tangy citrus notes.  Please use pure maple syrup and not the imitation kind.  You may substitute with all brown sugar if needed.
  • Ginger: You may use fresh or ground ginger in the marinade, but fresh is always best!
  • Garlic:  4 cloves of garlic infuse the marinade with a subtle garlic flavor. You may substitute with one teaspoon garlic powder in a bind.
  • Toasted sesame oil:  Please use toasted sesame oil, also known as dark, black, or Asian sesame oil.  Toasted sesame oil boasts a strong nutty aroma and flavor verses light/plain sesame oil which is a low-flavor oil.
  • Chili paste: Use your favorite chili sauce like Sambal Oelek or sriracha.
  • Spices: Chinese 5 spice and turmeric round out the marinade. If you don’t keep them stocked, then they’re okay to skip – but try and use them next time for the best Thai Chicken!

Ingredient Substitutions 

  • Chicken: I used boneless, skinless chicken thighs, but any cut of chicken may be used.
  • Thai basil: Sweet or Italian basil is a good substitute, or 1 teaspoon dried basil.
  • Cilantro:  If you don’t like cilantro or don’t have it on hand, it’s okay to skip. Try adding 1 teaspoon ground coriander instead.
  • Toasted sesame oil: Regular sesame oil may be used, but again, the depth of flavor won’t be there. 
  • Sambal oelek: Use another spicy Asian chili sauce if desired. 
  • Lemongrass: 1 tablespoon lemongrass paste. In a pinch you can use 1 tablespoon lemon zest.
  • Oyster sauce: Nothing provides the rich depth of oyster sauce, but you swap it for fish sauce in this recipe. Note that I have tried this recipe with all fish sauce and it wasn’t quite as good.
side view of Thai Chicken on a plate serving with slices of lime, jalapenos and fresh cilantro

How to Make Thai Chicken 

The Thai chicken is so easy to prepare, but you MUST let the chicken rest in the marinade to soak up all the nuanced Thai flavors. Here’s an overview of how the marinade and chicken are prepared.  (Full recipe in the printable recipe card at the bottom of the post):  

  1. Step 1: Make the marinade: Blend the marinade ingredients together in a high powered blender. If you don’t have a high powered blender, then dice the ingredients before adding to your blender.
  2. Step 2: Marinate the chicken: Add the chicken to the marinade and turn to coat. Marinate in the refrigerator for up to 12 hours (the longer the better!).  
  3. Step 3: Bring chicken to room temperature: When ready to cook, remove the chicken from the refrigerator and let it rest 20-30 minutes before cooking.
  4. Step 4: Cook the chicken on the grill, stovetop or in the oven.
showing how to cook Thai Chicken on the grill

How to Cook Thai Chicken (3 Ways!)

You can either grill, bake or pan-sear the Thai Chicken – all methods result in ultra-juicy, flavorful chicken so pick whichever cooking method is best for you, although we love the added char and easy cleanup of the grill! The following instructions are for boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs:

showing how to serve thai chicken recipe by adding chicken to a bowl with rice and pickled vegetables

FAQs About Marinating thai Chicken

HOW LONG SHOULD CHICKEN BE MARINATED? 

Thai Chicken is best if the marinade is allowed to work its magic for at least 4-6 hours. However, the chicken can be refrigerated in the marinated for as much as 12 hours! 

IS IT POSSIBLE TO MARINATE CHICKEN FOR TOO LONG?

Yep! You can marinate the chicken for up to 12 hours, but don’t push it too much longer than that otherwise the acid in the marinade can break down the muscle fibers too much and make your chicken mushy.   

SHOULD YOU POKE HOLES IN THE CHICKEN BEFORE MARINATING IT? 

No, you should NOT poke holes in the chicken before marinating. This actually drains out the valuable juices and will result in less juicy Thai Chicken. You can cut slits in thick pieces of chicken like chicken legs to reach deeper into the protein, but never poke holes.

WHAT ARE THE BEST CONTAINERS FOR MARINATING CHICKEN? 

I prefer food-safe sealable plastic bags such as freezer Ziploc bags. They really allow the marinade to envelop the chicken vs. a dish in which the marinade might not cover all of it.  When using a plastic bag, make sure to squeeze out excess air before sealing then roll up the bag so the chicken is nice and snug. Sealable bags are also great for easy cleanup – just toss them!

You may also use food grade plastic, stainless steel, or glass containers and cover with plastic wrap if they don’t have a lid. If you marinate the chicken in a shallow dish, make sure to flip the chicken over occasionally so it marinates evenly.

SHOULD I MARINATE CHICKEN IN THE FRIDGE? 

Always marinate chicken for a prolonged period of time covered in the refrigerator and not at room temperature to avoid food-born illness. Only remove the chicken from the fridge to the counter 30 minutes before you’re ready to grill to help bring it to room temperature so it cooks more evenly. 

CAN CHICKEN BE FROZEN IN A MARINADE? 

Yes! If you can’t get to cooking your marinating grilled chicken within 12 hours, just pop it in the freezer – another perk of using sealable plastic bags. When it’s time to cook, just thaw and cook immediately. You don’t want the chicken to marinate again or it can become mushy.

serving sliced Thai chicken in a bowl with rice
  • Use a different cut of chicken: I typically make this recipe with boneless thighs because the rich flavor holds its own against the strong marinade, but the Thai marinade works with any cut of chicken. 
  • Use a different protein: Use the marinade to flavor steak, pork, or shrimp! 
  • Use different or additional herbs:  Fresh mint, green onions, etc.
  • Make it spicy: Increase the amount of sambal oelek in the marinade, or add a pinch of red pepper flakes. 
  • Make it citrusy: Add extra lime juice or add lemon zest in addition to the lemongrass. 
top view Thai chicken sliced and served over rice with pickled vegetables
up close of sliced Thai chicken showing how juicy and tender it is

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top view Thai chicken sliced and served over rice with pickled vegetables

Thai Chicken

This Thai Chicken is an easy marinate-and cook recipe that’s 5-star taste bud heaven.  It’s marinated in Thai basil, cilantro, lemongrass, fish sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, ginger, garlic and maple for a tantalizing, complex, can’t-stop-eating chicken laced with savory, slightly sweet, sour, citrusy, herbaceous, umami notes.  Once the marinating is complete, this Thai Chicken can be on your table in less than 15 minutes cooked on the grill, stovetop or in the oven.  Serve the chicken up with a side of pickled veggies and coconut rice or pineapple rice or in salads, wraps, or sandwiches!  This Thai Chicken recipe is excellent for meal prep, make ahead lunch/dinners, entertaining and leftovers – all instructions included.
Servings: 6 -8 servings
Total Time: 2 hrs 35 mins
Prep Time: 20 mins
Cook Time: 15 mins

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Ingredients

Chicken

Marinade

  • 1/2 cup packed cilantro
  • 1/3 cup Thai basil leaves (or regular basil) (may sub 1 TBS dried)
  • 1 shallot, peeled, roughly chopped
  • 2 stalks lemongrass – white inner part only, roughly chopped (see notes)
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup (may sub brown sugar)
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar (may sub maple)
  • 1 tablespoon chili paste (like sambal oelek)
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 inch ginger, peeled, rougly chopped (or 1 tsp ground)
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled, roughly chopped (or 1 teaspoons powder)
  • 1/2 tsp EACH ground turmeric, Chinese 5 Spice

For serving (optional)

Instructions

  • Add all of the marinade ingredients to a high powered blender. Blend until smooth, scraping down the sides as needed.
  • Combine chicken and marinade in a large freezer bag or bowl and turn to coat. Cover and marinate for 2 to 12 hours (the longer the better).

TO GRILL CHICKEN

  • Preheat grill to 400 degrees F with the lid closed, clean and grease grates.
  • Grill chicken undisturbed with the lid closed for 5-7 minutes per side, until chicken is cooked through. (For chicken breasts, cook to 160 degrees F on an instant read thermometer; for chicken thighs, cook to 170 degrees F, then allow to rest for 5 minutes to carryover to 165/175).

TO PAN SEAR CHICKEN

  • Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet or indoor grill pan over medium-high heat. Once very hot, add chicken and cook, undisturbed, for 3-4 minutes, or until deeply golden on one side.
  • Flip chicken over, cover, and reduce heat to medium. Cook for approximately 5-7 more minutes (depending on thickness of chicken), or until chicken breasts are cooked to 160 degrees F on an instant read thermometer and chicken thighs are cooked to 170 degrees F, then allowed to rest for 5 minutes to carryover to 165/175.

TO BAKE CHICKEN

  • For breasts: Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line chicken in a single layer in a lightly greased baking dish. Bake the chicken for 14 to 16 minutes (for small/medium breasts that are about 5-6 ounces), 16 to 20 minutes (for medium/large breasts that are 7 to 9 ounces), or 20 to 25 minutes (for larger breasts). Cook to 160 degrees F on an instant read thermometer, then allow to rest for 5 minutes to carryover to 165 degrees F.
  • For Thighs: Bake chicken in a lightly greased baking dish at 425 degrees F for 25-30 minutes or until 170 degrees F on an instant read thermometer, then allow to rest for 5 minutes to carryover to 175 degrees F.

Notes

Tips and Tricks

  • Making this recipe without fresh ingredients:  If you don’t have fresh Thai basil, cilantro, lemongrass, ginger and garlic – you can still make this recipe!  Swap the fresh ingredients as needed for 1 tablespoon dried basil, 1 tablespoon lemongrass paste, 1 teaspoon ground coriander, 1 teaspoon ground ginger and 1 teaspoon garlic powder. 
  • Lemongrass: Chop off the bottom of the stalk, remove the tough outer husks, about 2-3 layers, until you reach the more pliable layers where the bottom is white and tender. Next, chop sections of the lemongrass starting at the bottom (just to fit into your blender) up until it gets tough – about the bottom third/5” of the lemongrass stalk. Discard the rest or use it soup.  You can find lemongrass at Sprouts and Whole Foods either whole or in sectioned into smaller pieces with the herbs.  If you can’t find it – make sure to ask!
  • Lemongrass paste: Substitute the lemongrass with 1 tablespoon lemongrass paste.
  • Chinese five-spice and turmeric: Add great flavor, but may be skipped if you don’t keep them on hand.
  • Blender vs. Food Processor:   I found my food processor started to leak because there was too much liquid, so, I suggest sticking with your blender, but a food processor may be used in a crunch.  
  • Serving:  See post for side serving suggestions and fun ways to serve Thai Chicken!

Storing and Reheating

  • Storage: Store cooked Thai Chicken in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.
  • To reheat: Microwave chicken for 30 seconds then at 15-second intervals as needed or transfer to an oven-proof dish, cover with foil and reheat at 350 degrees F for 8-10 minutes or just until warmed through.
  • Freeze chicken in marinade: Add the chicken to the marinade ingredients in a freezer-safe bag, squeeze out excess air and freeze for up to 3 months. When you’re ready to use, the chicken will marinate as you thaw the chicken in the refrigerator; cook immediately so it doesn’t marinate for too long and become mushy.
  • Freeze cooked chicken: After you have grilled the chicken, let it cool completely then transfer it to an airtight container or plastic freezer bag and squeeze out any excess air. If you want access to individual pieces of chicken without having to thaw all of the chicken, wrap each chicken breast in plastic wrap before adding to the freezer bag. Freeze for 2 to 3 months. 

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8 Comments

  1. Annette says

    Made this as written & was so delicious! Had a senior moment & didn’t blend marinade in the blender bc I didn’t read down the recipe until too late. Nevertheless, the recipe was outstanding, as have been all of your recipes that I have tried to date! Thank you for yumminess!

    • Jen says

      Thanks for being the first to review this Thai Chicken Annette, I’m so pleased you loved it! Thank you for making my recipes!

  2. Lisa Kelly says

    This recipe looks incredible and I will be trying it soon. I have a question regarding the pickled vegetables – daikon is a little harder to come by so what other vegetables would you recommend work well pickled and would go nicely with this chicken dish?

    • Jen says

      Julienned or spiralized zucchini and carrots are also excellent.

  3. TKay says

    You don’t have coriander in the recipe but you mention it in the notes. I mixed and blended based on the recipe. Having this tonight. Just wondering if coriander was meant to be in the recipe or if that was an accident? Noticed this recipe was similar to the Ban Mi, which was delicious.

    • Jen says

      Hi there, I mention coriander in the notes as a possible substitute for the cilantro – do I have it somewhere else as well? Thx! Yes, this recipe is definitely inspired by the Banh Mi Sandwiches – I’m so pleased you loved those!

  4. Sue says

    I made this last weekend. It was a huge hit even with fussy adults. I’m making it again tomorrow for guests . Thanks so much for sharing!

    • Jen says

      I love hearing this Thai chicken is now on repeat – and guest worthy! Thanks so much Sue!

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