Chicken Skewers, Two Ways

Simply switching up the marinade gives you a whole new dish
July 11, 2019 Updated: July 14, 2019

One of the core promises I made when I introduced my Table for Two column was that all of the recipes I delivered would take 45 minutes or less. I failed to mention one thing: Marinating time doesn’t count!

Vegetables and meat can sometimes be marinated effectively in just a few minutes, but often require several hours for the marinade to really get to work. Both of these chicken skewers recipes, yogurt-marinated and Vietnamese-inspired, require a minimum of one hour of marinating time, but are best after a full 24 hours.

I developed these recipes for my cookbook, “Just Married.” Each chapter in the book includes a “two ways” recipe: two different ways to use an ingredient or cook a dish. These chicken skewers are a huge fan favorite, so I knew I had to share them here with all of you.

Choose Your Own Adventure

I hope you’ll make both of these recipes, because they are a very cool example of how treating one ingredient (in this case, chicken breasts) two different ways can create totally different results.

The Vietnamese Chicken Skewers are sweet and tangy, thanks to a marinade consisting mostly of fish sauce and sugar. George and I fell in love with this combo while traveling in Vietnam, and still lean heavily on these flavors in our everyday cooking. The sugar seeps into the chicken, and caramelizes when grilled over high heat, giving the chicken a nice crunchy char that is really something special.

The Yogurt-Marinated Chicken Skewers have a completely different vibe. The cumin in the marinade makes the chicken taste vibrant and Mediterranean, while the lactic acid in the yogurt tenderizes the meat—the same effect as marinating it in buttermilk for fried chicken—and protects it from drying out over the high heat of the grill. They are so tender and juicy on the inside that they taste more like the fattier chicken thigh than a breast. I love serving these skewers with grilled pita, crisp vegetables such as cucumbers and tomatoes, and creamy avocado, so that each person can make individual little pita sandwiches. 

A Kitchen Relay

I love the rhythm of “marinate in the morning, grill in the evening” that George and I tend to slip into in the summertime. Since I work from home (and, well, am the better cook in our family) I tackle marinating duty the evening or morning prior to grilling out. 

I turn to my super-simple, Asian-inspired marinade and these two marinades time and time again. Just yesterday, I used the Vietnamese marinade on pork tenderloin that George later grilled along with some asparagus. The pork had the most beautiful charred, caramelized crust—we highly recommend. 

While inspiring couples to cook together is the mission of this column, some nights there are babies to be fed, exercise to squeeze in, or work to be finished, and cooking together simply isn’t realistic. Splitting up the duties into “marinator” and “griller,” as George and I often do, still allows you to create a nourishing meal for and with one another, even if you aren’t tackling every step hand-in-hand. 

However you approach the cooking, take the time to slow down and eat together, preferably outdoors, and marvel in the beautiful feast you’ve created for each other.

Collection of watercolor hand drawn tomato, mushrooms, vegetables.
(Shutterstock)

Yogurt-Marinated Chicken Skewers With Yogurt Sauce

The lactic acid in yogurt tenderizes the chicken to juicy perfection. They’re great on their own or with pita bread and lots of toppings to let your guests build their own sandwiches.

Serves 4 to 6

  • 1 1/2 cups plain yogurt 
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon 
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin 
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder 
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt 
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch thick strips 
  • 4 pita breads 
  • 1 cup cucumber slices 
  • 1 avocado, sliced 
  • Maldon sea salt 
  • Fresh chopped herbs, sliced tomatoes, thinly sliced red onion, lemon wedges for serving (optional)

In a large bowl, whisk the yogurt, lemon zest and juice, cumin, garlic powder, kosher salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper. Reserve 1/2 cup of the yogurt mixture in a small bowl for later use as a sauce. Stir the chicken into the large bowl of yogurt marinade to coat. Cover with plastic wrap, refrigerate, and marinate for at least 1 hour, and up to 24 hours.

Preheat a grill or a stove-top grill pan to medium-high heat.

Shake off as much marinade as possible from the chicken and thread it loosely onto wooden skewers that have been soaked in water, so it’s stretched out, not bunched tightly. Alternatively, use metal skewers—no soaking required!

Oil the grill and grill the skewers for 3 minutes. Flip and cook for 3–4 minutes more, or until an instant-read thermometer registers 165 degrees F. If using a grill pan, you’ll need 5–7 minutes per side to cook the chicken through. Grill the pita for a couple of minutes to lightly toast and warm through. 

Transfer the chicken to a large serving platter along with the reserved yogurt sauce, grilled pita, cucumber slices, avocado slices, sea salt, fresh chopped herbs, sliced tomatoes, thinly sliced red onion, and lemon wedges (if you like) and any other desired accompaniments. Encourage your eaters to pull their chicken off the skewer and make mini pita bites with pita triangles, toppings, and yogurt sauce.

Vietnamese Chicken Skewers With Grilled Scallions

These sweet and savory skewers are inspired by the ones sold roadside all over Vietnam.

Serves 4 to 6

  • 1/2 cup sugar 
  • 1/3 cup fish sauce 
  • 1/3 cup warm water 
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons grapeseed oil or other neutral oil 
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil 
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sambal oelek 
  • 5 garlic cloves, grated 
  • 1 1/2 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch thick strips 
  • 2 bunches scallions, stems trimmed 
  • 1/4 cup torn fresh mint leaves

In a large bowl, whisk the sugar, fish sauce, water, 1/4 cup of the grapeseed oil, sesame oil, vinegar, sambal oelek, and garlic. Transfer 1/2 cup of the marinade to a small bowl for later use as a sauce. Stir the chicken into the marinade, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, but preferably 24 hours. 

Preheat a grill to medium-high heat. 

Thread the chicken loosely onto wooden skewers that have been soaked in water, so it’s stretched out, not bunched tightly. Alternatively, use metal skewers—no soaking required! Grill the chicken for 3 minutes, flip, and cook for 3–4 minutes more, or until an instant-read thermometer registers 165 degrees F.

In a small bowl, toss the scallions with the remaining 2 teaspoons grapeseed oil. Grill for 4–5 minutes while the chicken cooks, or until soft and charred. Transfer the chicken and scallions to a serving platter, brush the chicken with the reserved marinade, scatter fresh mint over the top, and serve the remaining marinade alongside as dipping sauce.

Reprinted from “Just Married” by Caroline Chambers, with permission by Chronicle Books, 2018.

Caroline Chambers is a recipe developer, food writer, and author of “Just Married: A Cookbook for Newlyweds.” She currently lives in Carmel, California, with her husband, George, and baby boy, Mattis. Follow her on Instagram for cooking tips and snippets from her life in Northern California @carochambers

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