Grilled Chicken with Garlic and Rice Vinegar — Taiwanese American-Style
Make your Memorial Day cookout a tasty Taiwanese American one.
Forget the burgers and sausages. Make room for “Grilled Chicken with Garlic and Rice Vinegar” instead.
Super moist, delightfully garlicky, and full of smokiness and brightness, this easy recipe is from Win Son Presents: A Taiwanese American Cookbook (Abrams, 2022), of which I received a review copy.
The book is by Josh Ku and Trigg Brown, co-founders of the wildly popular Win Son and Win Son Bakery, both in Brooklyn, with an assist from noted Brooklyn food writer Cathy Erway who’s the author of “The Food of Taiwan” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015).
Brown, who had cooked at New York City’s Craft and Upland had a Taiwanese American mentor, Pei Jen Chang early in his career. He teamed with best friend Josh Ku, a former property and construction manager whose parents grew up in southern Taiwan, to open the restaurant. It is named for the sweater manufacturing company, Winsome, which Ku’s grandfather started in Taiwan. Its name roughly translates from Chinese to “success and abundance of profit.”
It proved prophetic given the throngs now flocking nonstop to both Win Son and Win Son Bakery.
The cookbook pays tribute to the food they serve. It’s not traditional Taiwanese per se. Or as Ku describes it in the intro to the book, “Whatever you want to call it, the food we serve is what makes sense to us — a Taiwanese American guy raised in New York, and a white dude from Virginia who can cook lu rou fan (Taiwanese ragu) better than your mom.”
That “Lou Rou Fan” made with rock sugar, dark soy sauce, and lager beer can be found in the book, along with recipes for “Fried Eggplant With Black Vinegar, Labneh and Spiced Cashews,” “Yun Hai Scallion Noodles,” “Sloppy Bao,” and “Banana Caramel Tart.”
For this chicken recipe, the poultry gets marinated with a whole head of chopped garlic, along with olive oil, five-spice powder, white pepper, and Sichuan chile flakes.
The directions call for grilling the pieces skin-side down the entire time. My husband, the grill meister in the house, found this a little tricky because many of the pieces began to char considerably long before they were cooked through. As a result, he ended up flipping the chicken pieces over to cook for part of the time. Feel free to do the same if you find the skin side blackening too much. Just try to keep the skin-side on the grate as long as you can, though, to prevent drying out the meat.
As the chicken pieces grill, they get spritzed or basted with what can only be described as “a total umami bomb.” It consists of rice vinegar stirred together with rice wine, toasted sesame oil, and a splash of shiro dashi. You can find this Japanese soup base concentrate sold in bottles in Japanese markets.
The basting liquid is potently tangy, sweet, savory and salty, and really adds yet another big boost of flavor to the chicken.
Serve the chicken garnished with cilantro and thin slivers of red onion tossed with a little lime juice, plus a sprinkle of chile flakes, if you like.
Flavor penetrates this chicken throughout — offering up a tantalizing treat for the long holiday weekend, all without relying on your usual bottle of barbecue sauce.
Grilled Chicken with Garlic and Rice Vinegar
For the chicken and marinade:
4 pounds skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs, drumsticks, and/or whole wings
1 head garlic, cloves peeled and minced or chopped in a food processor
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
1 tablespoon Sichuan chile flakes
For the basting spritz:
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/2 cup rice wine, preferably Taiwanese, or use Shaoxing rice wine as a substitute
1 tablespoon shiro dashi
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seed oil
For the garnish:
1 small red onion, sliced into thin slivers
1 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves and stems
Red chile flakes, such as gochugaru or Sichuan chile flakes (optional)
Marinate the chicken: Combine the chicken with garlic, olive oil, salt, black pepper, white pepper, Chinese five-spice powder, and Sichuan chile flakes and rub to distribute evenly. In a large bowl or baking dish, marinate the chicken . Cover the bowl or baking dish with plastic wrap and let marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or up to 2 days.
Make the basting spritz: Mix together the rice vinegar, rice wine, shiro dashi, and sesame oil in a spray bottle, or if that’s unavailable, just mix them in a bowl and have a spoon or brush ready to baste the chicken with later on.
If using a gas grill, heat over medium-high until it reaches 450 degrees. Typically gas grills have three burners across a rectangular surface or grates. Keep the left side high and reduce the center and right burner flames to medium-low then place the chicken pieces skin side down on the grills.
If using a charcoal grill, keep the charcoal contained to just one-half of the grill rack. Let the coals flame for 20 minutes or so until the flames die down and the coals are white-hot. You don’t want to see black charcoal or your food will taste like fuel. Rub the grates with a brush or towel before placing the chicken pieces down on the sides with the thickest, fattest skin on the grills.
Watch the chicken and move the pieces around on the grill to ensure that no piece becomes too charred (but don’t flip them). Spray or brush all the pieces with the basting mixture. Continue this process of moving the chicken around and spraying or brushing them with the baste until the bottoms of the chicken pieces are cooked through, about 40 minutes. (There’s no need to flip over and cook on the sides with less skin and fat, as this can dry the meat out.) If some pieces become too charred early on, that’s fine, but try to control the charring later on in the process. If the pieces do start to get overly charred, then flip the chicken, only if absolutely necessary. To check if the chicken is cooked through, insert a thermometer into the thickest part of the meat close to the bone and ensure that it reaches 160 degrees before removing it from the grill.
Garnish the chicken and serve: Halve the lime and squeeze the juice from one-half into a bowl. Toss the thinly sliced red onions in the lime juice to let them pickle ever so slightly. Transfer the grilled chicken pieces to a serving platter. Spritz them all again, then scatter the red onion, cilantro, and more chile flakes, if using, on top. Serve with the extra lime half on the side.
Adapted from “Win Son Presents A Taiwanese Cookbook” by Josh Ku and Trigg Brown with Cathy Erway
More Grilling Fun: Thai Grilled Chicken with Lemongrass and Ginger by Steven Raichlen