Vietnamese Lemongrass Tamarind Chicken

Vietnamese Lemongrass Tamarind Chicken

The Spruce / Ahlam Raffii

Prep: 15 mins
Cook: 15 mins
Marinate Time: 30 mins
Total: 60 mins
Servings: 4 servings
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
1133 Calories
73g Fat
26g Carbs
102g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4
Amount per serving
Calories 1133
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 73g 93%
Saturated Fat 19g 93%
Cholesterol 542mg 181%
Sodium 1930mg 84%
Total Carbohydrate 26g 10%
Dietary Fiber 2g 6%
Total Sugars 11g
Protein 102g
Vitamin C 67mg 337%
Calcium 110mg 8%
Iron 8mg 47%
Potassium 1584mg 34%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

It is curious how one finds the basic sweet and sour dish in the cuisine of every Southeast Asian country. Filipinos have escabeche; the Thai have their pad preow wan wai (they even have a name for their sweet and sour sauce—nam jim priao wan); the Malaysians have a cooking style known as masak blandah/belanda, and there’s this Vietnamese sweet and sour chicken dish with lemongrass and tamarind.

Unlike the basic Chinese sweet and sour sauce that is made by combining vinegar and sugar, the sweet and sour sauce of this chicken dish is made by mixing together sugar and tamarind juice. Yes, it is still sweet and sour but the tamarind gives the sauce a fruity and richer flavor that vinegar does not have.

"This was very good! The chicken was spicy, sour, and slightly sweet, and delicious with rice." —Diana Rattray

Vietnamese Lemongrass Tamarind Chicken Tester Image
A Note From Our Recipe Tester


  • 12 chicken thigh fillets, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes

  • 2 heaping tablespoons brown sugar

  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce

  • 2 red chile peppers, finely chopped

  • 2 green finger chiles, thinly sliced

  • 4 cloves garlic, minced

  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  • 2 stalks lemongrass, white parts only, finely sliced

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil

  • 1/2 cup chicken broth

  • 1 medium red bell pepper, cored and sliced, or 1 medium carrot, thinly sliced

  • 3 to 4 tablespoons tamarind extract or paste, or to taste

  • Fresh Vietnamese cilantro (sometimes called Vietnamese mint), or cilantro leaves, for garnish

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Vietnamese Lemongrass Tamarind Chicken ingredients

    The Spruce / Ahlam Raffii

  2. In a bowl or resealable plastic bag, place chicken, sugar, fish sauce, chiles, garlic, pepper, and lemongrass. Mix well and leave to marinate in fridge for at least 30 minutes.

    chicken pieces in a bowl with a marinade

    The Spruce / Ahlam Raffii

  3. Heat vegetable oil in a wok or frying pan over medium-high heat. Strain chicken, reserving any marinade, and lightly brown in the hot oil.

    chicken cooking in a pan

    The Spruce / Ahlam Raffii

  4. Add the carrot slices (or diced bell pepper) and cook for another 30 seconds.

    chicken and carrots cooking in a pan

    The Spruce / Ahlam Raffii

  5. Pour in marinade, broth, and tamarind extract (or paste). Stir well. Lower heat, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.

    Pour in the marinade, broth and tamarind extract into the chicken mixture in the pan

    The Spruce / Ahlam Raffii

  6. Transfer to a serving platter, sprinkle with cilantro, and serve hot with rice.

    Vietnamese Lemongrass Tamarind Chicken in a bowl

    The Spruce / Ahlam Raffii

Tamarind Extract

There are many ways to get the tamarind you'll need to make this dish.

  • If you have access to fresh tamarind, rinse them and boil in just enough water to cover until mushy. Mash the softened tamarinds, strain and use the extracted juice.
  • Dried tamarinds sold in Asian stores must be soaked in hot water to soften. Discard the water, mash the tamarinds and use the extract.
  • Conveniently, you can buy tamarind paste sold in jars in Asian stores. Note, however, that this prepared tamarind paste has sugar in it and is not as sour as tamarind extract. It is also darker. You may need to use a lot of tamarind paste to get the desired level of sourness and that means that the cooked dish will also be darker.
  • Tamarind concentrate is another way to buy tamarind. To reconstitute, add 2 tablespoons of water for each tablespoon of tamarind concentrate.

Recipe Variations

  • Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of minced shallot or green onion to the pan and sauté along with the chicken pieces.
  • Replace the brown sugar with honey or another sweetener.

Is There a Substitute for Lemongrass?

Lemongrass imparts lemony flavor with a hint of ginger and mint. You can try to use a combination of lemon and lime zest, but it will not truly replicate the flavors of lemongrass. If you can't find fresh lemongrass, look for it in frozen, paste or dried form.