Chinese food is a big deal in my house. We have a local spot, my Father knows the owner, and his Chinese food is the best in the area. However, prices have continually gone up and we can't go there as often.
Something I wanted to be able to do was create some of my favorite foods from there, at home. One of those foods is Chinese Chicken on a stick.
For chicken on a stick, boneless chicken thighs work best - This is mainly due to the added fat content and price.
On a per pound basis, chicken thighs cost less than breast and they taste better (in my opinion). Six pounds of chicken thighs cost me $12. The same amount of chicken breast would of cost me roughly $18-20.
Chicken thighs are sourced from the top section of a chicken leg above the knee joint that separates the thigh from the drumstick. Chicken thighs are an entirely dark-meat portion of the chicken.
I know this is going to be a question for the curious so I'll outline the differences between white and dark meat chicken. A hard and fast answer is, dark meat contains more myoglobin.
Dark meat is comprised of slow-twitch muscle fibers. Slow-twitch muscles (like thighs) are used by the bird for extended periods of time (walking, sitting, standing) meaning they need a consistent energy source like oxygen to function. The protein myoglobin stores oxygen in cells and provides muscles with the oxygen required for activity. Myoglobin can have differing effects on species of animals, however, in general it's a reddish hue, hence "dark meat."
Note: In my article on blue steak, I discuss what happens when myoglobin comes into contact with oxygen - Iron in the muscle reacts and becomes unstable, turning red or brown depending on the levels of oxygen present.
White meat is comprised of fast-twitch muscles. Remember, chickens are flightless birds - while they can fly to some extent, they can't for long periods of time - meaning the breast and wings aren't used much and require very little myoglobin. Rather, these muscles make use of glycogen stored in muscles.
A cut of white meat like a chicken breast will have a "glass" like quality when it's raw. However, upon cooking, the proteins effectively coagulate eventually resulting in white meat.
Poultry is graded by the USDA and is assigned a grade of "A, B, or C." At your grocery store you're likely to only see USDA "A" Grade.
According to the USDA website:
"This grade indicates that the poultry products are virtually free from defects such as bruises, discolorations, and feathers. Bone-in products have no broken bones. For whole birds and parts with the skin on, there are no tears in the skin or exposed flesh that could dry out during cooking, and a good covering of fat under the skin. Also, whole birds and parts will be fully fleshed and meaty."USDA.gov
Grades B and C are reserved for processed foods where-in the poultry is cut up, chopped, or ground.
Chicken thighs are sold both bone-in and boneless/skinless (sometimes even boneless with skin). While it is entirely possible to remove the bones from the chicken thighs, it's just another added step.
You will be removing the bones regardless. If you pay for bone-in chicken thighs you're essentially paying for weight you can't/won't use in this recipe.
Buy boneless skinless chicken thighs and save yourself the trouble.
To prepare your chicken thighs for the skewers you'll need:
Boneless chicken thighs are typically packaged in an over-wrap tray. With your knife, open the package by cutting the plastic.
Do not wash your chicken. Doing so only increases your risk of food poisoning from campylobacter bacteria. Washing raw chicken can contaminate work surfaces, the sink, clothing, cooking utensils, and equipment.
Your goal is to cut the chicken thighs into strips. You don't need to be anal retentive, however ensure they're relatively uniform in size. Uniformity simply means they'll cook and finish at the same time on the grill. It also makes putting them on the skewers easier.
You might be tempted to remove the fat that's on the thighs, however it doesn't matter much. If there are random nodules that you can easily remove, do so. However the removal of all the fat isn't necessary - fat is also flavor.
Preparing the marinade is pretty straight forward. While I know most people tend to make substitutions in marinades, the only ingredients I wouldn't skimp on are the ginger and gochujang; These two ingredients are the primary taste contributors.
This marinade is for 3 lbs of chicken thighs (a standard package of boneless/skinless thighs). This amount fits nicely in a 1 gallon storage bag too.
For the marinade you will need:
In terms of equipment you will need:
In your large mixing bowl, add all of the ingredients above in specified quantities and mix thoroughly. Especially pay attention to the honey and gochujang to ensure they've fully dissolved and have been incorporated.
In order to marinate the chicken, all you need are one-gallon storage bags.
I suggest using two bags. Place the chicken thigh strips inside one gallon storage bag and then put the chicken-laden bag inside another bag. This is done to further prevent leaks in the refrigerator and act as a second barrier.
Pour the marinade into the first bag. Attempt to remove as much air/oxygen as you can and then seal the bag. Do the same with the second bag.
Then, massage the marinade into the chicken.
You should marinate the chicken for at least 24 hours. However, I've gone as long as 2 days; Going longer could deteriorate the meat.
The USDA website notes: "Poultry can be refrigerated for up to 2 days in a marinade."USDA.gov
The next step depends on the type of grill you have. If you have a charcoal grill where the wooden skewers can come in direct contact with the heat source, I would soak the skewers overnight while the chicken marinates.
However, if you have a pellet grill, you don't need to soak the skewers as you can manipulate the hot zones easier.
After waiting 24-48 hours, you can drain most of the excess marinade in the trash. Again, do not drain this liquid in the sink due to the potential for contaminating your sink.
In order to put the chicken on the stick you need:
Note: If you have a charcoal grill you should soak the skewers for a minimum of 24 hours or while the chicken marinates.
After draining most of the excess marinade, place the chicken strips on a large serving tray or plate. From here you will put the chicken on the stick.
When putting the chicken on the stick, attempt to slide the the chicken up the stick rather than doing a "cross-hatch" pattern like you're weaving. The former will stay on the stick better and the latter may fall off.
You can fit two strips on each skewer.
In terms of the grill, I used my Grilla Grills Silverbac; I set the grill to PID mode at 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
I positioned the chicken skewers at the center of the grill, away from the hot zones. On a pellet grill, the hot zones can vary, however you can expect them to be at the front and the back. Meaning, avoid placing the skewers at these locations.
I allowed them to grill for 15 minutes before rotating and grilling for another 15 minutes. After 30 minutes I visually looked at the chicken to see if color had developed through the maillard reaction.
I personally like a bit of char on my chicken on a stick. On chicken that didn't have enough char I simply placed in the hot zones for 1-2 mins on each side until it developed.
After they visually looked good, I took the "biggest" piece of chicken on a stick off the grill and measured the internal temperature with my ThermoWorks Thermapen MK4. The biggest piece was over 165F meaning the chicken was entirely cooked and bacteria were no longer present.
Note: When taking an internal temperature, ensure you're only taking the temperature of the chicken and that you're not touching the wooden skewer.
Chicken on a stick is one of my favorite things to eat from Chinese take-away. However, this recipe tastes as good, if not better than most other spots.
The only other thing I'd add is a sauce, whether that be a duck sauce or sweet and sour sauce. A cheap but great sauce that pairs with these nicely is Frank's Sweet Chili sauce.