Over on Los Angeles’ east side, Top Chef winner Mei Lin is frying up one of the best hot chicken sandwiches in the city at her fast-casual spot Daybird. She’s taken her travels to Nashville and her love of hot chicken and combined with a blend of Szechuan spices and her own chili oil. It’s perfectly crispy and spicy and very Instagram friendly.
That’s not the only chicken she’s highlighting of late. Lin has drawn inspiration from the char siu pork she loved as a kid to create these grilled chicken kebabs. However, unlike the hot chicken sandwich, these kebabs will require you to do your own cooking. Lin has teamed with the new company Occo to create the blend of spices you need to execute her recipe. But this isn’t some big container of seasonings that will sit in your cupboard going only partially used before becoming flavorless. Occo has created little airtight, Nespresso-like pods that preserve the freshness of each individual spice while also portioning out the perfect amount. Combine these spices with some pantry staples and a few fresh ingredients and you’ll have an easy crowd-pleaser for your next cookout.
I grew up eating “siu mei,” which is Cantonese for roasted meats. My absolute favorite is char siu, a.k.a. Chinese barbecue pork. This is my take on a classic from my childhood; I chose to utilize chicken in this recipe but feel free to sub in pork if you’d like! Tender grilled chicken is glazed with an iconic sticky-sweet Cantonese sauce in these kebabs that will have you licking your fingers after each beautifully caramelized bite.
Char Siu Chicken Kebab
- 1 tsp. (2 pods) Cassia Cinnamon
- 1 tsp. (2 pods) Star Anise Powder
- ½ tsp. (1 pod) Sichuan Pepper
- ½ tsp. (1 pod) Clove Powder
- ½ tsp. (1 pod) Fennel Powder
- ½ tsp. (1 pod) White Pepper
- ½-inch piece fresh ginger
- 4 garlic cloves
- 1 lb. chicken thighs, boneless and skinless
- 2 scallions, cut into 2-inch pieces (optional, to add to kebabs)
- 1 green or red bell pepper, cut into 2-inch pieces (optional, to add to kebabs)
- 2 tbsp. hoisin sauce
- 2 tbsp. oyster sauce
- 2 tbsp. shaoxing wine
- 2 tbsp. honey
- 1 tbsp. light soy sauce (typically lighter in color, but saltier)
- 2 tsp. dark soy sauce (darker and thicker than typical soy sauce)
For the marinade, in a blender, add the ginger, garlic cloves, Cassia cinnamon pods, 2 Star Anise pods, 1 Sichuan Pepper pod, 1 Clove Pepper pod, 1 Fennel Powder pod, 1 White Pepper pod, hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, wine, honey, light soy sauce and dark soy sauce. Blend the ingredients until they’re fully combined.
Dice chicken thighs to desired size (we like 1 to 1½-inch cubes). Add the chicken to a ziplock bag and pour the Char Siu marinade over the chicken. Refrigerate for two to four hours, four hours at the max (it will get too salty beyond that!). When it’s ready, remove the chicken from the marinade. Divide the chicken cubes into 4 equal portions and spear with a metal or wooden skewer. Add scallions or bell peppers if desired.
Lightly oil your grill or pan and heat to medium-high. Once hot, grill the skewers for five to seven minutes on each side, to form a tasty crust. When the chicken is done, it will look caramelized and a thermometer should read 160°F when inserted in the chicken. The chicken should be firm to the touch.
Serve each skewer hot off the grill with rice, cabbage slaw and lime wedges.
Learn more about Robb Report’s Culinary Masters event taking place in San Diego on September 25-27 here.