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Baby Chicken Chargrilled With Kaffir Lime Leaves

Gà lá chanh

Variations of this dish appear on bia hoi menus across the country, but it is the version from central Vietnam we enjoy most. The galangal, lemongrass, and chile in the marinade give it a wonderful perfume during grilling, and create a complex taste sensation on the palate. — Tracey Lister and Andreas Pohl, authors of Made in Vietnam


  • 1 small chicken, weighing about 2 pounds 3 ounces
  • 12 kaffir lime leaves
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 long red chile, seeded
  • 2 -centimeter (3/4-inch) knob fresh galangal, peeled
  • 1 lemongrass stem, white part only
  • 2 red Asian shallots, peeled
  • 1/4 Teaspoon five-spice
  • 1/4 Teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1/2 Teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
  • Lime and chile dipping salt (see below), to serve

For the lime and chile dipping salt:

  • 1/2 Teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 kaffir lime leaf, sliced into thin strips (optional)
  • 2 –3 thin red chile rings
  • 1/4 small lime, cut into a wedge


To bone the chicken, remove the wing tips using a sharp knife. Then run your knife in a straight line down either side of the backbone. Take the backbone in one hand and hold the breast with the other. Pull the backbone towards you. If you have cut all the way through the skin and tendons, the bones should come away easily. Discard the wing tips and the backbone and lay the chicken on a plastic tray while preparing the marinade.

Roughly chop the lime leaves, garlic, chile, galangal, lemongrass, and shallots. Place in a mortar or food processor. Add the five-spice, sugar, pepper, fish sauce, and oil and work into a paste.

Coat the chicken in the lime leaf paste. Cover and marinate in the fridge for 4 hours.

When ready to cook, heat a chargrill or barbecue to medium. Place the chicken onto the hot grill, skin side down. When char lines appear, turn the bird over and continue cooking for a further 15 minutes, or until the juices run clear when a skewer is inserted into the thigh.

Cut the chicken into eight pieces and arrange on a platter. Serve with the dipping salt.

For the lime and chile dipping salt:

Place a little mound of the salt in a dipping bowl. Next to the salt place the lime leaf, if using, and the chile, and beside that the lime wedge.

Just before serving, squeeze the lime juice into the center of the dipping bowl and stir with a chopstick to incorporate the flavors.

Note: Instead of chile rings, you can use some freshly ground black pepper.

Recipe adapted from Made in Vietnam: Homestyle Recipes From Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh by Tracey Lister and Andreas Pohl (Hardie Grant, 2017)