Vietnamese-Style Baked Chicken Recipe

A wooden platter topped with browned chicken thighs, lime wedges, and cilantro, with cucumber salad on the side.

Emily and Matt Clifton / Serious Eats

Why It Works

  • Lime, ginger, and fish sauce add bold, bright, and deep flavor to chicken thighs.
  • A short stint in this marinade gives the chicken the perfect tang.

Baked marinated chicken is one of our favorite weeknight dinners. Just mix up some spices, soak chicken thighs in the mixture for half an hour, then stick them in the oven—yeah, sign us up. Marinating is a simple, straightforward process, but given how flavorful the results can be, it can seem downright miraculous. So it is with these Vietnamese-style chicken thighs.

There's a lot going on in the marinade, but one of the standouts—arguably even the key ingredient—is anchovy-based Vietnamese fish sauce, or nuoc mam. We use it here in this Vietnamese-inspired recipe, but regular Serious Eats readers know that its utility goes far beyond that; it can boost the flavor of all sorts of dishes, from stews and braises to pasta sauces. When used sparingly, it also won't add a fishy taste.

Overhead image showing ingredients for Vietnamese-style chicken marinade: limes, ginger, palm sugar, chile paste, cilantro, and fish sauce.

Emily and Matt Clifton / Serious Eats

We're also using palm sugar to sweeten the marinade and lend the chicken skin a beautiful golden-brown color during baking. It's a traditional ingredient in Vietnamese cuisine, but it may be hard to find. If you are able to obtain it, you'll find that bricks of palm sugar are usually rock-hard. You can grate it for recipes that need just a little (we recommend using the wide shredders of a sturdy box grater), or you can use a whole brick by softening it for a few minutes in hot water. If you can't find palm sugar, you can substitute dark brown sugar.

The key to understanding marinades is knowing that they mostly don't penetrate deeply into the meat; they offer little more than a surface treatment. Because of that, a half hour of marinating time is more than enough to get the flavor into the chicken thighs. You can leave them in for up to four hours, but any longer than that and the acid in the marinade could start to make the meat mushy.

Overhead image showing browned chicken on a wooden platter with rice, cucumber salad, chile paste, cilantro, and lime wedges on the side.

Emily and Matt Clifton

Once it's fully marinated, take the chicken out, shake (but don't rinse) off any excess liquid, and bake it, skin-side up, in a hot oven. You should check the chicken's temperature at 30 minutes, and make sure it's at least 155°F (68°C) on the inside before you pull it out. If you like, you can add a broiling step at the end to enhance the color and crispiness of the skin, but take care not to let the sweet marinade burn.

While the chicken is baking, get your sides ready. We like to make this with simple boiled or steamed rice and a salad of quick-pickled cucumbers and red onions.

Recipe Facts

Prep: 3 hrs 30 mins
Cook: 30 mins
Active: 20 mins
Total: 5 hrs 30 mins
Serves: 4 servings

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Ingredients

  • 2 pounds (900g) bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs

  • 1/4 cup (60ml) soy sauce

  • 1/4 cup (60ml) Asian fish sauce, such as Red Boat

  • 1/4 cup (55g) palm or dark brown sugar

  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) grapeseed or other neutral oil

  • 2 packed tablespoons (7g) fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems, finely chopped

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons (20ml) fresh juice from 1 lime

  • 1 teaspoon (5g) finely grated zest from 1 lime

  • 1 tablespoon (10g) minced peeled fresh ginger

  • 2 teaspoons (10ml) hot chile paste (sambal oelek)

  • 3 medium cloves garlic, minced or grated (about 2 teaspoons)

  • Sliced limes and cilantro leaves, for garnish

Directions

  1. Place thighs in a large zipper-lock bag. In a medium bowl, whisk together soy sauce, fish sauce, sugar, oil, cilantro, lime juice and zest, ginger, chili-garlic paste, and garlic. Pour marinade into bag with chicken, seal bag, and toss to coat well. Let chicken marinate for at least 30 minutes and up to 4 hours.

  2. Preheat oven to 425°F (218°C) and set oven rack to middle position. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and place a wire rack on top. Remove chicken from bag, allowing marinade to drip off, and set on wire rack skin-side up, making sure to leave space between thighs. Discard marinade. Bake until thighs register 155 to 160°F (68 to 71°C) on an instant-read thermometer, about 35 minutes. (Be sure to measure temperature in the center of the thickest part of the thighs, but not directly against the bone.) If chicken skin is not brown and crisp enough by the time the thighs are cooked through, set broiler to high and broil until browned and crisp, about 1 minute, being careful not to burn the skin. Transfer chicken to a platter and let rest for 5 minutes. Garnish with lime slices and cilantro, then serve.

Special equipment

Rimmed baking sheet and wire rack, instant-read thermometer