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Low sodium grilled lemongrass pork or chicken

Updated: Mar 29, 2021

A low sodium alternative to the Vietnamese grilled lemongrass pork I grew up eating. Lemongrass is an amazing addition to a low sodium diet because it is so flavorful. I prefer to use pork shoulder because that's more traditional and I like the flavor, but a leaner cut of pork, chicken thighs, or chicken breasts are great, too. Make a big batch and eat it with noodles, in a salad, a rice bowl, or a sandwich.

Servings: Makes about 8 three-ounce servings Sodium: See notes, below. Time: About 45 minutes, plus time for marinating

Marinade ingredients:

2 pounds pork shoulder, chicken thighs, or chicken breast

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon onion powder

1 tablespoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon ground dry mustard

2 tablespoons fresh ground lemongrass (see Tips below)

1 tablespoon chili garlic sauce or any fresh chopped chilis

3 tablespoons sesame oil

2 tablespoons molasses

2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar

2 tablespoons water

For the sautéed scallions:

1 bunch scallions, chopped

2 tablespoons cooking oil

1) Prepare the meat - if using pork shoulder, cut into 1/2 to 3/4 inch steaks. For chicken thighs, remove the bones and skin. For chicken breast, I find that pounding the breast to about 1/2 to 3/4 inches thick makes the meat more tender and helps promote even cooking. To pound the breasts, place the breasts in a plastic bag and pound using the flat side of a meat tenderizer mallet.

2) Prepare the marinade - in a large bowl, combine all marinade ingredients except the meat and whisk together until thoroughly mixed. Add the meat and toss to fully coat with the marinade. I use some disposable food prep gloves and do this by hand, it's much easier this way. Cover and refrigerate for 6-12 hours.

Here's the chicken, tenderized and marinating.

And the pork shoulder:

3) Preheat grill. Your cooking time will depend on so many things including the temperature of your grill, the type of meat, and the thickness of the meat. For pork shoulder, I grill for about 10 minutes on one side, then flip and grill for another 5 minutes. For chicken breasts, it's closer to about 4 minutes on the first side, and 3 minutes on the second side. Pork is cooked when it reaches an internal temperature of 145°F. Chicken needs to reach 160°F. Let the meat rest for about 15 minutes before cutting. See notes below for roasting in the oven.

3) For the sautéed scallions - sauté chopped scallions in 2 tablespoons of hot oil for about 3-4 minutes until soft. Top the grilled meat with the scallions.

Serve with rice or noodles. For a great dressing, see my lemongrass noodle salad recipe.


-Sodium: the sodium in this dish comes primarily from the meat you choose. The marinade is minimal sodium, about 35 mg and much of that is tossed out before grilling. Pork shoulder can have anywhere from about 65-85 mg/4 ounces with no salt added. Chicken thighs are about 75-85 mg/4 ounces with no salt added. And chicken breasts are lowest, around 50 mg/4 ounces with no salt added.

-These grilling directions work for me on my gas grill, but you know your grill best so modify as necessary. I start my grill hot, put the cover on, and turn it down low because the marinade has molasses and sugar in it so it will char too quickly if the heat is any higher. Pork is cooked when it reaches an internal temperature of 145°F, chicken 160°F.

-You can also roast the pork in the oven. If you're roasting, I like to cut the pork into longer strips about 2 inches thick all around. If you buy country style ribs, they're already cut in this manner. The thinner steaks are better for grilling, but for roasting the thicker strips work better. Roast at 425°F for 15-20 minutes, until the meat develops a nice crust, then turn the oven down to 375°F for another 15-20 minutes. Let rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing and serving. Pork is cooked when it reaches an internal temperature of 145 degrees F.

-If you use a leaner cut of pork like a center cut pork loin, grill on low for 5 minutes with the cover on, then flip and grill for an additional minute with the cover off.

-I use fresh or frozen ground lemongrass that I buy from my local Ranch 99 market. If you're using fresh lemongrass stalks, leave them whole but smash them with a meat tenderizer or the side of a large knife to release their flavor. Mincing them small gives you the most flavor but it can be pretty labor intensive.

Here's the frozen, minced lemongrass:

And the whole, fresh lemongrass:

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