Spicy Lemongrass Chicken (Ga Kho Xa Ot)

December 31, 2007 | Chuck
Braised Lemongrass Chicken (Ga Kho Xa Ot)
(For more pictures, see the slideshow)

A Vietnamese kho is a savory-sweet dish simmered in a caramel-based sauce and is traditionally prepared in a clay pot. It's the ultimate comfort food for me. There are many variations of kho with different proteins used. My favorite kho is ga kho xa ot, which is chicken quickly braised with lemongrass and chili peppers.

Nothing beats my mom's ga kho xa ot! Whenever I visit my parents, it's the first thing my mom prepares for me. I don't ask for it. She just knows it's my favorite meal and I would be a little disappointed if she made anything else. Yes, my mom spoils me. I have no problem admitting it!

I love the dish for its simplicity and wonderful flavors. It has a great combination of salty and sweet from the fish sauce and caramel sauce. While the chicken simmers, the lovely aroma of lemongrass fills the kitchen. The spiciness from the chili peppers is critical and balances the sweetness of the dish.

The best part of the ga kho xa ot is the flavorful sauce that goes fantastically over rice with a few dashes of Crystal Extra Hot Hot Sauce. Give me a bowl of rice and mix in just ga kho sauce and I would be a happy camper. The sauce is that good!

In my family, we serve ga kho xa ot with a side of steamed vegetables, usually cabbage. This may sound bland, but once you dip the cabbage in the chicken sauce there's no need for any other seasoning.

Hungry Bear has asked, "If you had to choose one dish to eat for the rest of your life, what would it be?" Her choice is fried rice. I could never give her a definitive answer, because I like to eat everything... life is a big buffet for me. But I'm finally going on the record and stating that it would be my mom's ga kho xa ot!

Spicy Lemongrass Chicken (Ga Kho Xa Ot) Recipe

The recipe calls for both bone-in and boneless, skinless chicken thighs. The chicken bones will add a little extra flavor. If you prefer using only boneless, skinless chicken thighs, reduce the braising time by 5-8 minutes in step 3. The quantity of chili peppers is up to your discretion. We usually use 1 habanero pepper instead of the Thai chilies.

1 1/2 pounds bone-in, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1 1/2 inch chunks 
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1 1/2 inch chunks
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 1/4 tablespoons of granulated sugar
5 tablespoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 small onion, chopped
2 1/2 lemongrass stalks (7-8 tablespoons), trimmed, chopped finely
1-2 Thai chili peppers, diced

1) Remove all fat from chicken thighs and cut into 1 1/2 inch chunks. Cut around chicken bone and leave the bone whole. In a large bowl, add 3/4 tablespoon sugar, fish sauce, black pepper and mix with chicken chunks and bone.

2) In a medium pot, dissolve 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar in vegetable oil over medium-low heat, being careful not to burn. After a few minutes, the mixture will turn a dark caramel color; immediately stir in onions and chicken. After 4-5 minutes, add lemongrass and chili peppers.

3) Reduce heat to low, cover pot and braise at a low simmer for 18-20 minutes, until chicken is cooked through. Stir the chicken every 5-7 minutes. The juice from the chicken will release and increase the volume of the sauce. Adjust seasonings to taste and serve over jasmine rice and a side of steamed vegetables.

Makes 6 servings

Spicy Ginger Chicken (Ga Kho Gung Ot)
Follow the recipe for ga kho xa ot, substituting 5 ounces chopped ginger for the lemongrass.

[tags]vietnamese, braised, chicken, lemongrass, spicy, habanero, chili pepper, kho, caramel sauce[/tags]

29 Comments on “Spicy Lemongrass Chicken (Ga Kho Xa Ot)”

  1. dp said:

    I love Vietnamese food but I rarely get it here in Portland. Fish sauce and lemongrass…I’m all over this one!

  2. daniel said:

    my mom had an abundance of lemongrass growing in her backyard and she had no idea what to do with it, other than make tom kah. i made this dish tonight and it was GREAT! the perfect balance of sweet and spicy. i don’t think i let the sugar caramelize quite long enough, but it still turned out great. i didn’t think it would yield as much sauce as you said, but after letting it simmer for a while, a crapload of sauce came out. :) thanks for sharing the recipe!

  3. Chuck said:

    No problem Daniel! I’m really glad you liked the recipe. There’s a fine line between really dark caramelizing and burning the sugar, so it’s probably better you played it on the safe side. I wanted to take a picture of the caramel sauce color, but didn’t want to risk burning it!

  4. Christine said:

    Hi Chuck,

    This is also something my mother made for us on a regular basis when we lived at home. The lemongrass and the caramel sauce sort of get to the heart of Viet food for me. I think the use of boneless thigh is a nice alternative if fat is a concern, although I feel the bones and skin add such richness and depth of flavor.

    I didn’t realize the chili-garlic sauce I made originated from you…thanks for coming up with that recipe. Everyone who’s tried it, even those who say they don’t like hot and spicy, loves it.

  5. patty said:

    This looks delicious! I’m saving the recipe, and will try it out soon. I absolutely love Vietnamese food. Especially your spring rolls!

  6. Ooooh, I made a Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken following a recipe from the food magazine but it looks completely different. Yours looks like a complete comfort dish…:)


  7. b'gina said:

    Hi, Chuck. I just got here from Amy’s blog. I love lemongrass but seldom use it because I’m just not sure what to do. For example, do you only use the softer, inner portions? And, if so, how far up the stalk do you go? How finely is that lemongrass minced? How do you avoid that chewing on slivers thing that I always seem to end up with? ; )))

    I’d really love to use lemongrass for more than Tam Ka Gai, but I’ve never been very successful in turning out something that didn’t leave splinters. Thanks!

  8. Chuck said:

    b’gina, lemongrass can be a pain to finely chop. I just use the white part of the stalk. The bottom 1/2 inch is immediately discarded. Then I will trim it where it starts turning green, maybe 6-8 inches in length. Remove any loose or tough outer layers.

    To save time and energy, I will cut the lemongrass into small sections and throw into a food processor. Lemongrass is very fibrous so it’s necessary to cook it long enough to soften it up a bit. I’m not sure how big your slivers are, but using a food processor should reduce it in size.

    Another option is to get a ready-to-use lemongrass at a Asian grocery store. I hope I answered your questions.

  9. b'gina said:

    Thanks, Chuck. Yes, that does it. I used to have a huge bunch growing in a container on my deck, until I moved. The inner stalks were always more tender. Now I’m stuck buying at the supermarket, and their stuff is like wood.

    I’m going to have to find a good Asian market here. The one I used to love when I lived here before has gone, so I’m stuck with Safeway. Not the same at all. /;+))) I’m loving your recipes here, btw. Great blog.

  10. Tracie said:

    Hey Chuck, I made my husband Eric (Hungry Bear’s co-worker) this dish tonight. It was my first time using the fish sauce you recommended and it is milder than the previous brand that I had been using. It was surprisingly easy to make. Thanks for sharing the recipe. I had always wanted to learn Vietnamese cooking. I was wondering if you have any recipes for bho kho, Vietnamese lemonade and a good broth for pho. Bho Kho is one of Eric’s favorite dishes. Is it prepared in a similar way? Everyone that I work with seems to have a different way of making pho broth. Any suggestions for a tasty broth? Thanks, Tracie :)

  11. Chuck said:

    Tracie, yeah! I’m glad you tried out the recipe. For a traditional bho kho check out this recipe from HolyBasil. I haven’t made pho at home in a long time, as I like bun bo hue more. I can get good pho at restaurants, but it’s much harder to find good bun bo hue. Anyway, for pho check out Andrea Nguyen’s pho recipe.

  12. Harris Gershman said:

    Tried this with lemongrass and it was pretty good…I’m not real good with prepping the lemongrass so maybe I didn’t use enough.

    THEN I used ginger and OH My God! Love it Love it…whole family cries out for more!

    Keep it up!

  13. My said:

    Hi, your posts are really good. The pictures are great! thank you so much. by the way, how can you know about the Vietnamese food? Have you ever been to Viet Nam?

  14. Kiki said:

    Made the dish today, was so delicious!
    Thanks! Will def make it again and again!

  15. QD said:

    If you could get a fresh chicken from a live poultry shop, this dish would kick up a few notches.

  16. Luke said:

    I tried this recipe out, and added a few things.

    I added a chopped shallot, a few cloves of freshly minced garlic, and a few extra teaspoons of sugar to sweeten it up a bit. Finally, I added a tablespoon of generic maple syrup. It was absolutely fabulous, and my whole family loved it.

    I’ve noticed a few people posting about the difficulty of working with fresh lemongrass (which part of the stalk to use, chopping it finely enough, etc) – my local Thai grocer had a small container of pre-minced lemongrass in his frozen food section. It made things super easy!


  17. Jeannette said:

    Hi – I just ate this dish for the first time at Miss Saigon restaurant in Washington, DC. It was sooo good! I am making it this weekend for my fiance’s birthday dinner. I am wondering if I should be using dried chilis or fresh? Thanks!

  18. Chuck said:

    Jeannette, fresh chilies are preferable. And you can use any type of chili pepper you like.

  19. Harris Gershman said:

    I’ve been making this for months! Great dish. I made major tweaks however. I used both ginger and (prepared) lemongrass together. Also, I added chopped daikon, chunks of carrots, reconstituted shitakes and, on occaision, chinese sausage slices. The carrits and mushrooms absorb the “sauce” and are killer. Thanks for the lead.

  20. Ros said:

    Oh help! I really am a great cook, but despite following the instructions very carefully twice now, I am failing at caramelizing the sugar! I do as instructed and my sugar never dissolved in the oil. The nearest it got was to stay granular on the bottom of the pan, and the when it did start to change color, it the crystals got larger and then clumped together. On the third try, we decided to try caramelizing the sugar the way we do for other recipes with a small amount of water in a heavy saucepan. We added the chicken and onion to the hot oil right before we reached dark brown on the sugar, and then added it together. My recipe looks much like yours only the sauce is not as dark and the chicken looks anemic. The taste is wonderful, absolutely fabulous, but I am totally bothered by not being able to get it to work. Input would be fabulous!

    Oh, and if I may humbly request one more thing, we would love a recipe for egg fu yong that is made with bean thread noodles as the main base. A local restaurant serves it and it looks much like the traditional, but there are no bean sprouts, has lots of bean thread and the sauce is not as gloppy.

    Thank you so much for your wonderful recipes!

  21. Steve said:

    I had the same issue with the sugar as Ros had. Once it was disolved it immediately clumped togehter. Should I add more heat? Please help

  22. Chuck said:

    Steve, the goal is to get a rich, dark caramelized color to the sugar. I think you should add more heat. The sugar can burn easily if you aren’t attentive and throw the chicken in once it turns the right dark brown color. The sugar my clump once you throw the chicken in, but that’s ok, as it will dissolve again. I hope that helps.

  23. Samantha said:

    Great Tip: Use skin-on chicken thighs but remove skin and fat for rendering. Wash and cook fat and skin over medium heat (cover) until skin is crispy like fried chicken skin. Use that rendered chicken fat instead of vegetable oil. It really adds an extra richness that vegetable oil doesn’t.

    You could always just keep the skin on when you make this dish but, I’ve never really liked the texture of soft braised chicken skin.

    Chicken fat is a great substitute for vegetable oils in chicken braises and stir-fries.

  24. jenna said:

    Heychuck, I was wondering what type of fish sauce you use?

  25. Chuck said:

    Jenna, we use the ‘three crabs’ brand of fish sauce.

  26. Jenna said:

    Thank you! We love this dish! We’ve been searching for one that tastes like the Vietnamese restaurant Le Mekong we go to, unfortunately it’s almost an hour away so we can’t always go there! We’ve only added two little things to this recipe to “perfect” it. We love it!!! Thank you for sharing! (: (: My husband would eat this every night if I let him.

  27. Noelene said:

    I make this dish often. Never fails. I use a micro plane fine grater for the lemongrass and it blends into the juices beautifully. No slicing required

  28. dok9874 said:

    The flavors are spot on, but cooking the diced chicken for as long as the recipe states made it dried out and crumbly. Next time, I’ll cook the sauce ingredients and reduce them a bit, then add the chicken the last 10 minutes or so.


  1. Lemongrass chicken w. caramelized onion & Vietnamese style quiche | CARLTON GROVE by Abby

    […] I love learning how to cook stuff from people… saves me time trying to find an authentic one on the internet. My friend taught me how to make the egg thing, its supposed to go with ‘nouc nam’ sauce. And the lemongrass chicken recipe can be found here. […]

Leave a Comment

Comment Guidelines:
Email addresses are never published. Comments are editable for 15 minutes after submission. Basic HTML can be used, e.g. <strong> <i> <em> <strike> etc. Gravators (globally recognized avatars) are enabled. Sign-up at Gravatar to display your avatar on SND and other sites.