I tasted lemongrass for the first time in 1986,  in a tiny Vietnamese restaurant in Redwood City, a few miles away from my home while I lived in California.  I’m afraid the restaurant, Than’s,  no longer exists. My former husband and I used to have lunch at Than’s on Saturdays.   In those days we knew next to nothing about Vietnamese food, but  on our first visit I ordered “Chicken in Lemongrass Sauce,” and thought I had died and gone to heaven.  Whenever we returned over the  following three years  we’d share two dishes, and lemongrass chicken was always one of them.   I just couldn’t get over it.    Some people say that you can substitute lemon zest, or Meyer lemon’s zest, …they lie.  Lemongrass has  NO comparable substitute:  it’s just that special and just that good.

So, when I had the luck of finding fresh lemongrass in our farmer’s market, I made sure to bring some home, and put it to good use….

(adapted from Fine Cooking #86,  July 2007)

1 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup chopped fresh lemongrass
12 fresh basil leaves
1 serrano pepper, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
salt to taste
2 tsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp black pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed
1 lime, cut into wedges

Combine 3/4 of the cilantro with the coconut milk, lemongrass, basil, serrano, garlic, salt, brown sugar, pepper and coriander in a blender and puree until smooth. Place the chicken breasts in a dish in a single layer, and pour this marinade over them, turning to coat them completely. Refrigerate for 2 to 24 hours (mine stayed 7 hours in the fridge).

Heat a grill to medium high, grill the chicken until it has good grill marks on the first side, 4 to 5 minutes. Flip the chicken and continue to cook until completely cooked through (check by making a slice into one of the thicker breasts), 5 to 6 more minutes. Transfer to a serving dish and let rest for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup cilantro and serve with the lime wedges.


to print the recipe, click here

Comments: The secret for this recipe is blending the marinade to turn it into a thick paste.  The lemongrass flavor is more pronounced this way,  a blast of freshness in perfect balance with the coconut milk and herbs.

Food memories can be so strong!  While slicing  the lemongrass, I went straight back to Redwood City, and could almost visualize the table cloths in that simple, but amazing restaurant. It was run by a husband and wife, their two young kids very shy peeking at the customers from behind the counter. I often wonder where they are now, probably all grown up and graduated from college. 😉

ONE YEAR AGO: Greens, Grapefruit and Shrimp Salad

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  1. Thank you, everybody

    I hope you all give this recipe a try, very flavorful, I am craving it already…. Carole, I can see why you would make it often, my only problem is the availability of lemongrass, so hard to find here!


  2. well apparently i am a year late finding this recipe but better late than never. We live in the midwest and i grow my lemongrass in pots and bring them in in the winter.. so tedious, but SO WORTH IT.. out with the scissors and snip snip for this chicken.. c


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