This low-carb, Whole30-compatible Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken is packed with umami and deserves a regular slot on your weeknight meal rotation. My recipe includes air fryer instructions and directions to make a paleo nuoc cham dipping sauce, too!
Table of Contents
- What is lemongrass chicken?
- Why should you make my paleo lemongrass chicken recipe?
- Lemongrass is magical!
- Where can I buy lemongrass?
- Don’t use fresh ginger!
- What is nuoc cham dipping sauce?
- Make-ahead tips
- How to make Vietnamese lemongrass chicken
- What do you serve with lemongrass chicken?
- Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken and Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce! Recipe
I don’t like to pick favorites, but if I had to choose one particular cuisine to eat for the rest of my days, it just might be Vietnamese. The balance of flavors, textures, and even contrasting temperatures in many of the dishes is straight-up life-changing. I especially love the interplay of fresh herbs and seasonings that take simple proteins to the next level of flavor in Vietnamese cooking.
What is lemongrass chicken?
Lemongrass chicken is a popular Southeast Asian dish made with chicken marinated in a mixture of lemongrass, garlic, shallots, and other seasonings. The marinade typically includes a combination of soy sauce, fish sauce, brown sugar or palm sugar, and lime, which keeps the chicken tender and infuses it with amazing flavors.
Once marinated, the chicken is tossed on a grill or pan-fried until cooked through and slightly charred on the outside. Lemongrass chicken is often served with a tangy dipping sauce (nuoc cham), rice or rice noodles, fresh herbs like cilantro or Thai basil, and sliced chili peppers for added flavor and heat.
Why should you make my paleo lemongrass chicken recipe?
Seriously? You have to ask? My Vietnamese lemongrass chicken recipe has been a Nomster favorite since I first published it back in 2015 because it’s friggin’ simple, delicious, Whole30-compatible, low carb, and gluten-free! The better question is: why haven’t you made it already?
After all, the lip-smacking marinade in this recipe also works with other proteins; it can be used to season pork chops, shrimp, chicken breasts, and even tofu (for all you plant-based, non-paleo lurkers here). Still not convinced? I updated this recipe to include both oven and air fryer instructions and I added a paleo nuoc cham dipping sauce recipe as well! Besides…
Lemongrass is magical!
Inspired by our trip to Vietnam, I went in search of fresh lemongrass immediately upon returning home. This citrus-scented culinary herb stars in just about every single one of my favorite Vietnamese dishes, and it’s what makes them shine. (Well, that and fish sauce.)
If you’ve never cooked with fresh lemongrass before, you owe it to yourself to try it. (Really—you’ve got no excuse now that I’ve put together a step-by-step tutorial on how to prepare it!)
With fresh stalks of lemongrass in hand, I decided to create this dish back in 2015: Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken. And it’s still a go-to meal that I regularly make for my family!
Where can I buy lemongrass?
You can buy fresh lemongrass at most Asian grocery stores—just look for it in the produce section. I’ve also seen it at Whole Foods and Safeway locations in the San Francisco Bay Area. Some stores offer pre-trimmed lemongrass in little plastic boxes by the fresh herbs. If you can’t find fresh lemongrass, you can find frozen stalks at Asian supermarkets. Personally, I have never tried dried lemongrass in this recipe, but here’s a good post by the folks at Cook’s Illustrated about how to use it.
Don’t use fresh ginger!
My first attempts at making Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken produced some tasty results, but there was still something a little…off. Over a couple of weeks of recipe testing, I discovered that when I left the chicken in the marinade for more than a day, the texture of the chicken would be too soft. After the debacle with my Wonton Meatballs recipe testing, I figured out that fresh ginger was the culprit (it contains an enzyme that breaks down protein)—so I’ve since changed the original recipe to use ground ginger in place of fresh ginger!
What is nuoc cham dipping sauce?
Known for its sweet, sour, salty, umami, and spicy flavor profile, nuoc cham is a traditional Vietnamese dipping sauce that’s commonly served with savory dishes like spring rolls, grilled meats, noodle bowls, and salads. The sauce is typically made with fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, garlic, chili peppers, and sometimes vinegar, and can be tweaked to individual tastes by adjusting the balance of these ingredients. Nuoc cham’s a versatile condiment that makes everything taste better—and now, I have a paleo version to share with you!
My paleo nuoc cham sauce comes from page 286 of our green cookbook, Nom Nom Paleo: Let’s Go!, and it’s the perfect accompaniment for these lemongrass chicken thighs!
Pro tip: If you double the recipe for Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken, you can save even more time by blitzing all of the roughly chopped marinade ingredients in a high powered blender! Also, you can marinate the chicken in the fridge for up to two days before you cook it. (But don’t freeze it. I don’t love freezing uncooked marinated chicken thighs and cooking them later because the skin can get kind of rubbery. I prefer to roast all the thighs and freeze the cooked chicken.) Once it’s cooked, you can keep roasted Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken in the fridge for up to 4 days or freeze it for up to 3 months.
- Chicken thighs: I love using bone-in, skin-on thighs for this recipe, but you can definitely use boneless and skinless thighs or even chicken breast. However, the cooking time does need to be reduced if you are using one of these other cuts.
- Lemongrass stalk, trimmed and minced
- Shallot: I use minced shallots in this marinade, but you can sub it out for finely chopped red onion, sweet onion, or even green onions in a pinch.
- Garlic cloves
- Ground ginger: Avoid using fresh ginger in this recipe because it contains an enzyme that can make the chicken mushy!
- Red Boat Fish Sauce: The chicken won’t taste as good if you leave out the fish sauce! If you have an allergy, you can replace it with coconut aminos and extra salt, but it won’t be quite the same.
- Lime: The zest is used in the marinade and the juice can be squirted on the finished chicken!
- Extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil
- Honey: I use a smidge of honey to balance the savoriness in the marinade. If you’re doing a Whole30, you can substitute 1 tablespoon of orange juice.
- Diamond Crystal kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Nuoc cham dipping sauce (optional, recipe is included in the recipe card below)
- Optional garnishes: Lime wedges, fresh herbs (e.g. mint, cilantro, and Thai basil), lettuce, and pickled vegetables
How to make Vietnamese lemongrass chicken
Make the marinade
Grab a large bowl and toss in the minced shallots.
Trim the fresh lemongrass stalk…
…and grate finely with a microplane rasp grater (my preferred method)…
…or smash the stalk with a meat pounder and mince finely against the grain of the fibers. The finer the dice, the less lemongrass fiber you’ll be picking out of your teeth when you eat the chicken later. (Check out my lemongrass tutorial for more deets, peeps.)
Add the minced lemongrass to the bowl.
Crack some black pepper into the bowl, and then grab a lime and zest off just the outermost green layer of the fruit. If you’re grating the white pith, you’ve gone too far. Trust me: the white pith is bitter and will ruin your marinade.
Lastly, add the salt, olive oil, fish sauce, and honey. (If you’re doing a Whole30, you can add a tablespoon of orange juice in place of honey. I promise: it’ll still taste fab.)
Stir or whisk the marinade to combine all the ingredients.
Plop in the chicken thighs and massage the marinade all over the bird parts.
Marinate the chicken
Cover the bowl and let it marinate for at least one hour and up to 48 hours in the fridge. (I’m loving these eco-friendly silicone bowl covers, by the way.)
I know it’s hard to wait, but your patience will be rewarded.
Bake the chicken
When you’re ready to cook the chicken thighs, heat the oven to 400°F. I like to use the convection roast function because the circulating hot air cooks the chicken more evenly. No convection? No problem! Just increase the temp to 425°F and rotate it more often.
Place the chicken skin-side down on a wire rack placed on top of a foil lined baking sheet. Ignore the gagging noises your overly dramatic seven-year-old makes upon encountering a tray of raw chicken.
Pop the chicken in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Flip the chicken skin-side up and rotate the tray 180 degrees. Bake for an additional 20-25 minutes or until the skin is evenly browned and the thickest part of the meat registers 175°F on an instant-read thermometer.
Don’t worry about the dirty wire rack! I show you how to clean it like a champ in this video.
How to air fry lemongrass chicken
This is for you air fryer fans! Air fry the chicken in batches at 400°F for a total of 20 to 25 minutes, starting skin side down and flipping skin side up at the halfway point.
The chicken is finished when the thickest part of the thighs reach 175°F on a meat thermometer and the skin is golden brown.
What do you serve with lemongrass chicken?
Serve the chicken with lettuce, pickled veggies, fresh herbs, and lime wedges. Your family will love it! (And if they don’t, tell them they can make their own %@#*-ing dinner next time.) Want to add a paleo-friendly sweet, tangy, and savory dipping sauce? Check out the recipe card below for my paleo nuoc cham dipping sauce!
Looking for more recipe ideas? Head on over to my Recipe Index. You’ll also find exclusive recipes in my cookbooks, Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2013), Ready or Not! (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2017), and Nom Nom Paleo: Let’s Go! (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2022)
PRINTER-FRIENDLY RECIPE CARD
Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken and Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce!
- ¼ cup minced shallots
- 1 large lemongrass stalk trimmed
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- 2 teaspoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger fresh ginger contains an enzyme which can break down the chicken
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- zest from 1 lime
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon Red Boat fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon honey or 1 tablespoon of orange juice if you’re doing a Whole30
- 8 chicken thighs bone-in and skin-on (~3½ pounds)
- Lime wedges fresh herbs, lettuce, and pickled vegetables (optional)
Paleo Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce
- 3 tablespoons Red Boat fish sauce
- 3 tablespoons maple syrup or ¼ cup apple or pineapple juice (for Whole30)
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
- ¼ cup water
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 small garlic clove minced
Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken
- Let's make the marinade. Grab a large bowl and add the minced shallot.
- Trim the fresh lemongrass stalk and grate finely with a microplane rasp grater (my preferred method) or smash the stalk with a meat pounder and cut finely against the grain of the fibers. The finer the dice, the less lemongrass fiber you’ll be picking out of your teeth when you eat the chicken later. Refer to this tutorial if you have more questions on how to trim lemongrass.
- Add 3 tablespoons of the finely minced lemongrass to the bowl, along with the garlic, Diamond Crystal kosher salt, ginger, black pepper, lime zest, extra virgin olive oil, fish sauce, and honey (sub 1 tablespoon of orange juice if doing a Whole30). Stir to combine well.
- Plop in the chicken thighs in the bowl and massage the marinade all over the bird parts.
- Cover the bowl and let it marinate for at least one hour and up to 24 hours in the fridge.
- When you’re ready to cook the chicken thighs, heat the oven to 400°F convection or 425°F non-convection, with the oven rack in the middle.
- Place the chicken skin-side down on a stainless steel wire rack placed on top of a foil lined baking sheet.
- Pop the chicken in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Flip the chicken skin-side up and rotate the tray 180 degrees. Bake for an additional 20-25 minutes or until the skin is evenly browned and the thickest part of the meat registers 175°F on an instant-read thermometer.
- Cooking in air fryer? Air fry the chicken in batches at 400°F for a total of 20 to 25 minutes, starting skin side down and flipping skin side up at the halfway point (~10-12 min mark). The chicken is finished when the thickest part of the thighs reach 175°F on a meat thermometer and the skin is golden brown.
- Serve the chicken with lettuce, pickled veggies, fresh herbs, and lime wedges. Want a dipping sauce? Make the Paleo Nuoc Cham below!
Paleo Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce
- In a small bowl, combine the fish sauce, maple syrup, lime juice, water, red pepper flakes, and garlic. Stir well to combine and adjust seasoning as needed. (If on a Whole30, substitute apple juice or pineapple juice for the maple syrup. Start with ¼ cup and add more to taste.)
- The dipping sauce can be stored in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 4 days.
- If you double the recipe, you can save even more time by blitzing all of the roughly chopped marinade ingredients in a high powered blender!
- Also, you can marinate the chicken in the fridge for up to two days before you cook it. I don’t love freezing uncooked marinated chicken thighs and cooking them later because the skin can get kind of rubbery. I prefer to roast all the thighs and freeze the cooked chicken.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.