Grilled Chicken

Deep-Fried Turkey and Grilled Chicken

For Americans, Thanksgiving is just around the corner and usually celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. People celebrate Thanksgiving to remember the time when Europeans first came to North America. In 1620, the ship the Mayflower arrived, bringing about 150 people who today are called Pilgrims. As they arrived at the beginning of a very hard winter, they could not find enough to eat, and many died. But in the following summer, Native Americans showed them what foods were safe to eat, so that they could save food for the next winter.

The most important part of the celebration is a traditional dinner with foods that come from North America. One thing they cannot dine without is a well-cooked turkey. It is very common for people to roast a whole turkey in an oven, but many families have their own special recipe. The turkey is traditionally filled with stuffing of vegetables, fruits, bread cubes, nuts, salt, pepper, and herbs. The dish is supposed to be shared and savored alongside a variety of side dishes such as homemade gravy, green bean casserole with cream of mushroom and cheddar cheese, sweet potatoes casserole topped with golden-brown marshmallow, fluffy mashed potatoes, and sweet and sour cranberry sauce.

I was lucky to share this special meal with my husband’s family during my first trip to the US some years back. That was my first time eating a turkey. When in the kitchen to help them out, I saw something lying in front of me: a crispy-looking golden-brown whole bird that had been deep-fried. It stood out among other dishes including baked sweet corns, bread and butter, cranberry sauce, and ham. The turkey looked so simple, but I knew its gigantic size would surely make the centerpiece of the table.

I’ve learned that the cooking part is quite easy. You start by rubbing garlic powder, pepper and salt over its skin, and then cook whole in hot oil in a stainless-steel fryer or large pot. Most big families would buy a turkey that can weigh up to five kilograms which takes quite a while to cook.

That turkey I had for the first time was delicious. It tasted different from chicken with its meat being a bit dryer and it had its own distinctive aroma. On another occasion, I wanted to be a little bit more creative, so apart from the turkey, I also made Thai-style grilled chicken to be served during Thanksgiving. When it comes to poultry, I believe nothing beats grilled chicken wings or thighs served with very spicy and savory somtam and sticky rice.

The chicken dish – based on my mom’s original recipe – turned out to impress my American guests who were very open to trying different exotic dishes. Keep in mind the chicken must be marinated overnight with a special homemade sauce made from a mixture of simple Thai ingredients as follows:

Grilled Chicken ingredients

  • A pinch of salt
  • Lots and lots of crushed garlic,
  • 3/4 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon coriander powder
  • 5 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 4 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon ketchup
  • A little bit of sugar
  • Chopped parsley or coriander
  • Crushed ginger
  • Roasted sesame seeds
  • A bit of canola or peanut oil

Put the marinated chicken in the fridge overnight for the grilling on the next day. When the aroma from the grill permeates the air, it’s time to prepare the Isan (northeastern)-style spicy nam jim jaew dip. The ingredients are as below:

Nam Jim Jaew ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons tamarind juice
  • A bit of lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • Ground red pepper
  • Roasted sticky rice powder or khao kua
  • Sliced scallions
  • Sliced red onions

Mix these ingredients together and the end result is ready to be served alongside the special juicy, delicious chicken masterpiece. After over an hour of cooking to char the chicken to perfection, everything else should be laid out on the table.  The Thai-style seasoned chicken goes well with the spicy dip. I still remember receiving positive feedback from all the guests. The funny thing was that that night this popular dish was not even catered along with sticky rice or papaya salad, but with the mashed potato instead.

In the end, what matters most is not the food itself, but the time spent with your family and love ones. For me, it is also about learning different cultures, and when it comes to food, I’m always open to something new. Nevertheless, I’m sure that once I next return to the Land of Smiles, I would go straight to my favorite Isan restaurant and order a plate of spicy somtam with grilled chicken, sticky rice, and the nam jim jaew dip. But until then, I am happy enough to make do with what normal farang cuisine I have – plus a little bit of fish sauce and a spicy dip on the side for good measure.

Born and raised in Bangkok, J. Pakchuen studied English and translation at Chulalongkorn University. Currently, she lives in Washington, D.C. where she works as a translator, interpreter, writer, and tour guide.