BBQ chicken is everywhere on the streets and in the markets of Isan. You can smell it from afar, like a smoke signal commanding you to come and eat. Chicken, roasted or barbecued, just spells comfort. It’s easy and delicious. And with gai yang, sticky rice, and tum som, you’ve got a complete meal.
- Brine the chicken: In a large pot, combine the water, salt, and sugar. Bring to a boil to dissolve the sugar and salt, then turn off the heat and let the brine cool completely. Transfer to a container large enough to hold both chickens and fit in the fridge. Add the chickens to the brine and refrigerate for 24 hours.
- Marinate the chicken: In a mortar, pound the lemongrass, garlic, cilantro root or stems, and coriander seeds to a paste. Stir in the curry powder, MSG, if using, oyster sauce, fish sauce, oil, and salt and mix well. Remove the chicken halves from the brine and drain well; transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add the marinade and toss to coat. Marinate, refrigerated, for at least 8 hours, but no more than 16.
- COOK THE MEAT: Preheat a grill to low, using gas, charcoal, or wood. Grill the chicken halves over low heat, flipping and watching carefully— it will take about 1 hour. To help with even heating and create a sort of hot smoker, you can cover the chicken with a lid as it cooks. To tell whether the chicken is done, check the color of the flesh between the thigh and the breast: The juices should run clear and the meat look opaque. Once done, the chickens can be hacked through the bones with a Chinese cleaver. Serve with Hot, Sweet, and Sour Dipping Sauce for BBQ Chicken or Charred Tomato and Chile Relish.