Coconut-Kissed Chicken and Chile

Andrea Nguyen

"The Pho Cookbook"

The availability of coconut water, which is so popular nowadays, makes this dish possible. It was inspired by a roasted game bird recipe in Làm Bếp Giói, the Vietnamese equivalent of the Joy of Cooking, first published in the early 1940s by Van Dai, a Hanoi-born poetess and author. In that recipe, the birds were cooked on the stove top with fresh coconut water until the liquid reduced and coated them with a lovely, mildly sweet flavor.
I applied the technique to boneless, skinless chicken thighs and added coconut oil for richness and fresh chile for zip and color (employ two chiles for a spicy edge). The simple, weeknight dish comes together quickly and reheats splendidly for a leftovers lunch. Serve with rice and sautéed greens (after finishing this dish, throw the greens into the skillet and add a splash of water and/or oil).


  • 4 medium-large boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 1 2/3 pounds total)
  • 1 teaspoon grated or minced and mashed peeled ginger
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • Rounded 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Caramel Sauce, or 1 teaspoon molasses
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 3/4 cup coconut water, plus more as needed
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon sugar (optional)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons virgin coconut oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
  • 1 or 2 chiles, such as Fresno, jalapeño, or cayenne, cut into rings, with seeds intact


Cut the chicken thighs into 2-inch pieces and transfer to a large bowl. Add the ginger, cornstarch, salt, caramel sauce, and fish sauce and stir to coat the chicken well. Set aside.
If the coconut water needs an extra hint of sweetness, add sugar by the 1/4 teaspoon. Set aside.
In a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of the coconut oil. Turn the heat to medium-high, add the chicken, and cook for about 1 minute, until the edges look opaque and the chicken is beginning to brown. Turn the chicken and cook for 45 to 60 seconds more. Add the coconut water and scatter the shallots around the chicken. Bring to a boil and continue boiling for 10 to 12 minutes, turning the chicken occasionally, until there’s little to no liquid and you’re left with mostly sizzling oil. Add the chiles and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly, until slightly softened and fragrant. Transfer the chicken and chiles to a bowl.
Splash about 3 tablespoons coconut water into the pan and add the remaining 1½ teaspoons coconut oil. Stir to combine and let bubble for about 30 seconds, until slightly thickened. Pour the sauce over the chicken and chiles (or return them to the pan) and stir to coat. Transfer to a shallow bowl or plate and serve.

Reprinted with permission from Vietnamese Food Any Day: Simple Recipes for True, Fresh Flavors by Andrea Nguyen, copyright © 2019. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.


4 servings