If you love lemon, or are a fan of Thai flavors, try cooking with aromatic lemongrass. This reed-like, yellow-green stalk adds a bright, citrusy flavor with a hint of ginger to cooking. Here, it makes for flavorful roast chicken.
An Exotic Grass Used Like an Herb
If you have seen lemongrass in the herb section of your produce department or at an Asian market but did not know what it was, let me introduce you to this fabulous flavor.
Lemongrass is one of the most important flavors in Southeast Asian cooking. It’s also found in Indian and Caribbean cuisines. In some places it goes by the name citronella. I discovered lemongrass while training with an Asian chef. I love lemon and ginger, and this was an exotic, aromatic new kind of lemon I quickly grew fond of. It’s used in soups, stir-frys, marinades, teas and curries.
Lemongrass is truly a grass that is used like an herb. It is thin and stiff, kind of spiky, with a scallion-like base. The stalk has layers wrapped around a tight central core. For cooking, use the lower part of the stalk, not the skinny top (if there is one).
Depending on where you buy lemongrass, you may need to start by peeling off a tough layer of the outer grass to get to the paler, softer inside. Some stores do this for you. Some sell it in a more natural state. Buy fresh-looking stalks that are a bit moist, not dried out, yellowed, browned or withered.
For this recipe, I’ve created a quick and easy marinade for chicken. Combine finely zested lemongrass with ginger, Tamari (wheat-free soy sauce), garlic, shallot, coconut oil and lime juice. I’ve also added the Vietnamese fish sauce, nuoc mam.
If you have never used fish sauce, you will find it in the Asian section of your market and online. If you didn’t grow up with this foundational Asian ingredient, one whif might send you running. It can have a strong fish smell. But don’t let that deter you from using it. It gives great dept of savory flavor to this marinade and does not taste fishy when mixed in.
The brand I buy is Red Boat. Read about it here on Amazon. I like it best because it is all natural, does not contain preservatives or MSG, and is first pressed like extra virgin olive oil.
To prepare, trim chicken breasts of side ribs and excess fat, make marinade and combine in a ziploc bag. Marinate over night in the refrigerator if you have time, or even an hour or two. Drain chicken, discard marinade, and roast the chicken. Save any extra for making chicken salad, and add a little fresh lemongrass.
Zest Versus Chop
Many recipes will tell you to chop lemongrass. I discovered that it is much easier to use a microplane zester. You get very finely grated lemongrass versus woody chunks. One stalk should give you enough for this recipe, about 3 tablespoons. With the extra stalks, zest finely then freeze. Then it is ready to add to others recipes at a moment’s notice.
More Ideas for Cooking with Lemongrass
- Try adding lemongrass to chicken soup for a fresh, new flavor. Add either the fine zest or try 2″ pieces, crushed first to release the flavor while cooking. Remove pieces before serving.
- Add zest to chicken salad
- Use this marinade for Thai grilled shrimp. Marinate the shrimp 30-45 minutes at room temperature, skewer and grill until done. Serve with rice.
- Add the zest to a ginger stir-fry at the end before serving, along with some chopped fresh cilantro.
- Allow pieces to steep with tea and served either hot or chilled for a refreshing iced tea.