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I'm not sure what the science is behind it, but I can tell you with certainty that food just tastes better when it's served on a stick. Chicken, especially, is a favorite for grilling up skewer-style. While my mind typically jumps straight to barbecue sauce for chicken kebabs, I have a real soft spot in my heart for a different kind of sweet and savory chicken skewer—one that draws its inspiration from the sticky caramel glaze of Vietnamese gà kho (caramelized chicken), but is fortified with a citrus kick and some crunch from toasted sesame seeds and sliced almonds.
Any great skewer recipe needs a great marinade, but that doesn't mean that the marinade has to be complicated. In this recipe, I use a simple mixture of fish sauce, brown sugar, and orange juice to help the chicken stay tender and flavorful when it's grilled. To minimize the mess and get the greatest marinade coverage, I cut the chicken into chunks, then toss it in a zipper-lock bag with the marinade and give it a good shake.
Then I thread the pieces tightly onto skewers.
Using chicken thighs in this recipe is a must. Chicken breast tends to dry out quickly, while thighs hold up well to the high heat, thanks to moisture from their extra fat.
As for the glaze, I start with a base of brown sugar and a bit of honey, which I find tastes more like the rock sugar that is traditionally used in Vietnamese cuisine, as opposed to granulated white sugar.
Due to the high sugar content of this marinade, it's important to balance it with other flavors, like salty-savory fish sauce, some citrus from orange juice, and acidic rice vinegar. Minced garlic, ginger, and shallot add a slight spiciness and intensity to the glaze as it reduces—it's ready once it coats the back of a spoon (and will thicken further when brushed onto the chicken during grilling).
Once it's on the grill, I brush the skewered chicken with the glaze several times over, until the chicken is cooked through and caramelized. Right after the final brushing, I roll the skewers in a mixture of sesame seeds and almonds, then place them back on the grill just until the almonds brown.
In the end, they're juicy, crispy, crunchy, sweet, and a welcome change-up from the typical barbecue fare.
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