After a long, hard Northeast winter, nothing makes me happier than looking out on the deck and seeing row upon row of fresh herbs, sitting up in their little pots all bright and perky, like, “what? I was always here.” No, Rosemary, you weren’t. And I know that for a fact because I paid a freaking fortune for a few measly sprigs in January since I just couldn’t bear to use the dry, desiccated jar of rosemary-scented dust that languishes on my spice rack through the winter.
Even though spring is yet young, the herb garden still feels like a cornucopia. Chives! Mint! Cilantro! Sure it’s still too cold for the basil, but don’t be greedy, it will be here soon. Anxious for a recipe that uses this green bounty, we decided on a Black Rice Salad which, along with crisp red cabbage, sweet golden raisins and crunchy peanuts, uses a full cup of fresh herbs. We went with cilantro and mint (because that’s what we have) but basil, when it’s fresh, would be fantastic too, especially spicy Thai basil if you’re growing it or can find it in the store.
The lemongrass chicken recipe is adapted from this one from Thomasina Miers via the Guardian and as soon as I saw it, I knew I wanted to try my spin on it. Black rice (also called forbidden rice) is one of our favorite grains. We used it this winter in our Creamy Mushroom Soup because it has great texture, perfect for soups and salads.
I have to tell you … this salad is so good we’ll be making at all summer long, with or without the chicken. We added red cabbage to the mix because we love its crisp texture, plus come on, that color! Plump golden raisins add sweetness (and I’m usually a raisin-hater of the highest order but, for some reason, I love them in this). There’s also chopped roasted peanuts for crunch, and a lots and lots of fresh herbs.
The dressing, like the marinade for the lemongrass chicken, relies on the sweet-tart-savory mix of lime juice, fish sauce and honey, along with some toasted sesame oil for nutty richness. If you don’t use fish sauce a lot, this is a great recipe to start with. Its not really fishy, so much as funky, in the way of a really delicious ripe cheese or fermented kimchi. When you combine it with lime juice and something sweet, it’s an unbeatable flavor. It’s really quite addictive. Other than the fish sauce, the salad is vegan so if you want to keep it that way, use soy sauce instead of the fish sauce in the dressing.
On to the chicken which is just as simple as can be. Everything for the marinade gets chucked into the food processor and blitzed. The main flavor agent here is fresh lemongrass which, even here in the Hudson Valley has become really easy to find (if you’re local, take a look at our new Beacon and Hudson Valley Recommendations Guide to find our favorite places to eat and shop). Lemongrass is usually stocked with the fresh herbs, often bundled as 3 or 4 stalks in a bunch. It’s a fantastic flavor, lemony obviously, but also kind of floral and herbal. One of our favorite ways to use it is to infuse it in vodka and then make Lemongrass Collins Cocktails (inspired by our brilliant friend, Jesse Halpert. Hi Jesse!)
When you buy lemongrass, look for firm, pale-green stalks with thick bulbous bottoms (meow). The thinner tops may be a little dry but shouldn’t be shriveled or yellow. Though lemongrass stalks are often about a foot long, almost all of the flavor is in the bottom 4 or 5 inches of the stalk. Trim off the thinner top portion and the bottom of the woody base. Then peel away any tough outer layers to get to the more tender part of the stalk. (You can use all the scraps to make lemongrass tea; steep them in simmering water for 5 minutes, then strain.). Once the stalks are trimmed, slice them into thinnish rounds. They’re going into the food processor anyway, but it’s best to give them a head start.
Note: if you can’t find lemongrass, our Vietnamese-Style Baked Chicken uses a similar blend of flavors as lemongrass chicken, but without the actual lemongrass.
Making the Marinade and Cooking the Chicken
Add the other marinade ingredients to the food processor and give it a whir for about a minute or so, until the garlic and lemongrass are minced. Add the chicken to a gallon-sized sealable bag (or a glass bowl) and pour over the marinade. Smush the chicken around to make sure each piece is well-coated then seal the bag (or cover the bowl with plastic wrap). Refrigerate the chicken for at least 2 hours, though overnight is best. Turn the bag around every so often so it marinates evenly.
When you’re ready to cook, preheat the oven to 425ºF/220ºC, line a rimmed baking tray with foil and set a rack on top of it. Bake the chicken until it’s fully cooked through (about 165ºF/75ºC on an instant-read thermometer). It should take about 25 to 35 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces. If you’re using breasts, start checking for doneness after 20 minutes. If the skin isn’t as brown as you’d like it, set the tray under the broiler for just a minute or two. Make sure to let the chicken rest for at least five minutes before serving.
Serve the chicken over the rice salad with the extra dressing on the side for drizzling.
Are your garden herbs ready for their first big recipe of the season? Put them to work on lemongrass chicken, and enjoy the results!
Sticky Lemongrass Chicken Thighs with Black Rice Salad
For the marinade:
- 3 lemongrass stalks
- 5 garlic cloves
- Finely grated zest and juice from 1 lime about 2 tablespoons juice, 1 teaspoon zest
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons palm sugar or brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons neutral oil
- 6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
For the Rice Salad
- 1 1/2 cups black rice
- 3 cups water
- 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
- 3/4 cup golden raisins
- 3 scallions finely sliced
- 3 cups chopped red cabbage half a small head
- 1/2 cup roasted peanuts
- 1 packed cup roughly torn cilantro, mint or basil leaves (or a mix of all 3)
For the dressing:
- Juice of 2 limes
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons neutral oil
- 2 tablespoons honey
- Cut off and discard the very bottom and dry tops of the lemongrass, leaving the thick part in the middle. Peel away and discard the dry outer layers and slice what’s left of the middle into thin rounds. Add the sliced lemongrass, along with the rest of the marinade ingredients, into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until a fine paste forms, about 15 to 20 pulses. Add the chicken to a sealable plastic bag or a glass bowl, and pour over the marinade. Mix everything around until the chicken is thoroughly coated. Seal the bag (or cover the bowl) and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to overnight.
- When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 425ºF and set a rack in the middle. Line a baking tray with foil and place a wire rack on top.
- Rinse the rice under cold water for 2 to 3 minutes (to stop it from sticking), then cook it according to the package directions. When the rice is tender, transfer it to a bowl, stir in the sesame oil and raisins and allow the rice to cool.
- In a separate small bowl, stir the dressing ingredients together and set it aside.
- While the rice is cooking, lay the chicken, skin-side up, onto the baking tray rack (reserving the marinade) and bake until the chicken is cooked through and the skin is golden and crisp, 30 to 35 minutes (temperature should read about 160ºF on an instant read thermometer). Brush the skin with the reserved marinade halfway through. If you want the skin darker, set the rack under the broiler for a minute or two. Take the chicken out and leave it to rest for at least five minutes.
- To the rice salad, add scallions, red cabbage, peanuts and herbs and toss to combine. Give the dressing another stir and pour half of it over the rice salad and toss again. Lay the rice salad onto a platter and top it with the chicken. Serve, with the extra dressing on the side for drizzling.