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!

A closeup overhead shot of Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken on a plate.

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!

A collage of the cooking steps for Whole30, paleo, Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken

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!

Make-ahead tips

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.

Ingredients

An overhead shot of the raw ingredients to make lemongrass chicken.
  • 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.

Mincing shallots on a wooden cutting board to make Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken

Trim the fresh lemongrass stalk…

Cutting and trimming fresh lemongrass for Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken

…and grate finely with a microplane rasp grater (my preferred method)…

Using a microplane rasp grater to finely cut lemongrass.

…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.

Smashing a piece of lemongrass with a meat pounder before mincing with a kitchen knife.

Toss in the minced garlic and ginger. You can use a microplane to mince the garlic, too, but I prefer to use my garlic press for my bulbs—mostly ’cause I like to keep my fingertips intact.

Adding minced garlic from a garlic press to the marinade for Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken

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.

Zesting a lime for the Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken 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.)

Adding the rest of the ingredients for the Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken marinade

Stir or whisk the marinade to combine all the ingredients.

Stirring the Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken marinade in a large bowl.

Plop in the chicken thighs and massage the marinade all over the bird parts.

Massaging the chicken thighs with the Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken marinade

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.)

Covering the Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken bowl with a silicone lid

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.

A cute kid making a funny face in front of a tray of Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken

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.

Flipping the Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken skin side up in the oven.

Voilà!

An overhead shot of Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken fresh from the oven.

Don’t worry about the dirty wire rack! I show you how to clean it like a champ in this video.

An overhead shot of a plate of paleo and Whole30 Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken.

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.

A hand is placing raw lemongrass chicken thighs in an open air fryer., skin side down.

The chicken is finished when the thickest part of the thighs reach 175°F on a meat thermometer and the skin is golden brown.

An open air fryer with golden brown paleo Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken inside.

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!

Four shots that show how to make a paleo Vietnamese 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!

4.84 from 36 votes
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time45 minutes
Marinating time1 hour
Total Time2 hours
Servings 6 servings
This Whole30-compatible and low carb Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken is packed with umami and should become a regular weeknight meal! Includes air fryer instructions and a paleo nuoc cham dipping sauce, too!

Ingredients 
 

Lemongrass Chicken

  • 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

Instructions 

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.

Video

Notes

Make ahead instructions:
  • 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.
How to store leftovers:
You can store roasted Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken in the fridge for up to 4 days or freeze it for up to 3 months.

Nutrition

Calories: 511kcal | Carbohydrates: 12g | Protein: 32g | Fat: 37g | Saturated Fat: 9g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 7g | Monounsaturated Fat: 17g | Trans Fat: 0.2g | Cholesterol: 189mg | Sodium: 1690mg | Potassium: 509mg | Fiber: 0.5g | Sugar: 8g | Vitamin A: 180IU | Vitamin C: 3mg | Calcium: 41mg | Iron: 2mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Like this? Leave a comment below!

About Michelle Tam

Hello! My name is Michelle Tam, and I love to eat. I think about food all the time. It borders on obsession. I’ve always loved the sights and smells of the kitchen. My mother was (and is) an excellent cook, and as a kid, I was her little shadow as she prepared supper each night. From her, I gained a deep, abiding love for magically transforming pantry items into mouth-watering family meals.

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Recipe Rating




29 Comments

  1. Thank you Michelle!
    It’s absolutely delicious!
    I had only fresh ginger and I used both 1tbs of honey and oranges juice.
    Love your recipes ❤️

  2. Hi Michelle! If I omitted the red pepper flakes, do you think this recipe will still be successful? I don’t tolerate nightshades or nightshade spices well but really wanted to try this receipe. Thanks in advance!! =)

  3. 5 stars
    I just made this and it was delicious!! Your book is fun and fantastic! So many recipes going on my menu.

  4. 5 stars
    I loved this and it has the perfect level of fish sauce and lemongrass to serve to people who aren’t used to Vietnamese seasonings (I could have had more fish sauce, but this was perfect to make when my parents came over). The nuoc cham was to die for and I ended up drinking the Tbsp that was left over in my little dipping bowl. Thank you so much!

  5. I love this recipe. Chicken is so juicy and very flavorful. Will definitely make it again. Also tried it with the dipping sauce and it’s bomb!

  6. 5 stars
    We’ve been enjoying this lemongrass chicken for several years now. Thanks for adding the paleo nuoc cham sauce! Love the maple syrup instead of sugar. Your recipes always please!! Thank you.

  7. 4 stars
    That dipping sauce was delicious–I ended up dipping the chicken and veggies in it! I found that only marinating for a few hours didn’t bring out the full flavor. If I were doing it again, would certainly let it marinate for a full day.

  8. 5 stars
    I love this recipe. Have you made it with the lemongrass paste ready use in the tube in produce section of grocery store? Would be a big time saver. Let me know!