Char Siu Chicken Sandwiches


Every culture has its own uniquely delicious BBQ sauce, but Chinese char siu sauce is one of our favorites. Classically used to marinate pork belly for steamed buns, this sticky-sweet, umami-packed sauce is absolutely irresistible, no matter what you pour it over. Here, we’re using it to marinate grilled chicken thighs, which we then sandwich inside soft buns and top with pickled veg, fresh chiles, and herbs. The results? A sandwich unlike anything you’ve ever seen or tasted before, but one that you won’t be able to stop eating.

Read on for more tips and information on this addictive sauce and sandwich. Got leftover chicken thighs? Check out some of our favorite chicken thigh recipes.

What is char siu sauce?

Char siu sauce is a classic Chinese BBQ sauce that’s typically used to marinate pork belly before it’s slow-roasted. Ingredients may vary slightly between recipes, but most contain hoisin sauce, soy sauce, rice vinegar (or dry sherry), honey, and Chinese five-spice powder. The Chinese five-spice is key to getting that signature char siu flavor, and it’s available in many grocery stores and online. If you’re having trouble finding it, you can sub in 1/4 teaspoon finely chopped fennel seeds, 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and a pinch of cloves. It won’t taste quite the same as it would if you used traditional five-spice powder, but it’ll still be tasty! 

How long can I marinade the chicken for?

We suggest letting the chicken marinate, covered, in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. If you want, you can leave the chicken in the marinade overnight, but we wouldn’t recommend any longer. While there’s no super high-acid ingredient in the marinade that will start breaking down your chicken, how long do you really want raw chicken hanging out in your refrigerator?

Once cooked, should I slice the chicken for the sandwich?

You can. We like building the sandwich with the whole chicken thigh so we don’t have to worry about the pieces falling out as we eat it. But we also recognize that sandwich construction is a very personal and individual thing, and at the end of the day, it’s YOUR sandwich. So make it the way you want!

What are Vietnamese pickles?

Vietnamese pickles, or do chua, are a sweet and sour condiment used in the classic Vietnamese bahn mi sandwich. Unlike American pickles, which are usually made with cucumber, this Vietnamese version is made from daikon radish and carrots that are cut into matchsticks and massaged briefly with sugar and salt before being submerged in the pickling liquid. We call them “quick-pickled” because they’re ready to eat after an hour, although of course the longer they sit in the solution, the softer and more pickled they become. If you like, you can make them up to 2 weeks in advance and store them in the refrigerator, submerged in the brine, until you’re ready to eat them.

Confused as to why we’re putting a Vietnamese pickle on chicken thighs that have been glazed with a Chinese sauce? Don’t be! We realize that we’re mixing and matching cuisines here, but we really love the way the slightly crunchy sweet and sour veg complements the juicy, sticky-sweet chicken. They’re just really tasty together—we’ll leave it at that.

What’s with all the fresh toppings?

This sandwich is all about different textures and flavors coming together! While the pickles bring the crunch and the tang, and the chicken has that sticky-sweetness, the chiles offer bursts of heat, and the cilantro brings freshness that brightens everything up. Don’t worry—a few slices of chile won’t make your whole sandwich super spicy. Also, if you don’t like cilantro, feel free to substitute it for fresh mint.

Made this? Let us know how it went in the comments below!

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char siu chicken sandwich


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