This ancient Cambodian grilled chicken recipe, called Mann Oeng K’tem Sor, may look complicated, but it’s really just a series of simple steps.
The stone walls of the Bayon temple in Cambodia, built at the end of the 12th A.D, includes an amazing series of bas-relief pictures of the army supply trains, encampments, field kitchens, and some of the earliest depictions of Asian barbecue.
Specifically, you'll see chicken skewered on split sticks and grilled over pyramid-shaped fires. Nine hundred years later, you'll find the same chicken grilled exactly as it was done during the height of the Khmer empire.
This recipe may look complicated, but it's really just a series of simple steps.
Like most S.E. Asian recipes, the end result is a succulent, savory, melt-in-your-mouth delight. (Feet are optional... ;) )
For the Chicken and Marinade:
- 1 whole chicken (3 1/2 to 4 pounds)
- 5 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
For the Glaze:
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
- 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
For the Dipping Sauce:
- 1 teaspoon coarse salt (kosher or sea)
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon sugar (optional)
- 2 limes
Rinse the chicken, inside and out, under cold running water, then drain and blot it dry, inside and out, with paper towels. Spatchcock the chicken see my video below.
Place the garlic halves, sugar, and salt in a heavy mortar and pound to a paste with a pestle. Work in the soy sauce and fish sauce.
If you do not have a mortar and pestle, combine the garlic, sugar, and salt in a small food processor and puree to a paste, then work in the soy sauce and fish sauce. Spoon the marinade over the chicken, forcing it under the skin and turning the bird to coat it well on both sides.
Let the chicken marinate in the refrigerator, covered, for 4 hours; the longer it marinates, the richer the flavor will be. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium heat.
Add the crushed clove of garlic and cook until just beginning to brown, about 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the garlic to a small heatproof bowl. Add paprika to the saucepan with the oil and cook until fragrant and browned and the oil turns orange about 15 seconds. Set the glaze aside.
Prepare the dipping sauce: Place ½ teaspoon each of salt and pepper and ¼ teaspoon of sugar, if using, in 2 small bowls. Have the limes ready; you’ll add the lime juice at the last minute.
Oil your grill, and prepare a 2-Zone fire.
Drain the chicken, discard the marinade and place the marinated chicken, skin side up, in the center of the grate over the drip pan and away from the heat.
Cover and cook the chicken until browned and cooked through, 40 minutes to 1 hour (I recommend using a water-pan method to keep your chicken moist). Start brushing the chicken with the glaze during the last 15 minutes of cooking and baste it again every 5 minutes.
Use a calibrated instant-read meat thermometer to test for doneness, inserting it into the thickest part of a thigh but not so that it touches a bone. The internal temperature should be about 170°F.
During the last 10 minutes of cooking, start brushing the chicken on both sides with the glaze.
To serve, transfer the chicken, skin side up, to a platter. Let it rest for about 2 minutes, then cut it into pieces with a cleaver.
Add 2 tablespoons of lime juice to each bowl with the salt, pepper, and sugar for the dipping sauce and stir it with a fork or chopsticks until the salt and sugar dissolves. Serve over jasmine sticky rice.
To eat, dip the pieces of chicken in the salted lime juice.
Note: If you are serving 4 people, double the dipping sauce ingredients and divide them among 4 bowls.