On a windy December afternoon, I drove to the far side of Oahu to take my first surfing lesson. I rented a board with a purple floral design and lathered on the sunscreen despite the clouds.
The waves in December are famously intense on the north shore, but our beach was sheltered, and the waves were tame enough for a beginner. My instructor went through positions and safety protocols with me on the dry sand, and I was feeling confident that I would stand and ride the waves straight away — I was wrong. It turns out to be much more difficult than I anticipated, and I fell off my board over and over and over.
The experience was equally exhilarating and frustrating, and by the end of the two-hour lesson I was exhausted, bruised and starving.
I decided to get an early dinner by myself at the Vietnamese restaurant I remembered seeing as I drove through the small town near the beach. The dining room was filled with locals sporting damp, salty hair and sandy flip flops, and smelled of fragrant broth and charred meat. Usually, I would order pho at a Vietnamese restaurant, but that day I was so beat and wobbly I decided some meat would be more satisfying, so I ordered lemon grass chicken skewers for my meal.
The chicken paired so well with my sore muscles it became my traditional dinner after a workout in the waves. I went to a few more surfing lessons before deciding the hobby just wasn’t for me. I am too timid to go for the good waves, and too afraid of sharks to really enjoy my time on the water. But I was proud of myself for being brave enough to try something I knew would scare me.
Lemon grass chicken skewers
These are best made on a grill, but I made them in the oven.
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
3 tablespoons lemon grass chicken skewers lemon grass paste (or 2 stalks fresh lemon grass, crushed and chopped into a paste)
2 teaspoons fish sauce
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon minced garlic
¼ cup fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons brown sugar
Black pepper and salt to taste
Fresno pepper slices for garnish
Cut your chicken into bite-sized pieces and place in a large mixing bowl.
In a separate bowl, mix the lemon grass, fish sauce, lime juice, soy sauce, garlic, brown sugar salt and pepper.
Toss the chicken in the seasoning mix, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
Arrange your chicken pieces on the skewers. Do not crowd them or pack them too tightly or they will not cook evenly.
Use any remaining sauce to coat the chicken before cooking.
If you are grilling, cook the skewers over flame or coals until the outside is slightly charred and the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.
If you are using the oven, lightly grease a baking tray and cook under the broiler on high heat. You want to flip them over halfway through cooking so both sides get time under direct heat. This will help the chicken to cook evenly and will give both sides a slightly crispy texture. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before removing from the skewers, or you can serve them as-is on the skewer.
I prepared a cold rice noodle salad for the side dish, but sticky rice or noodle soup would be delicious as well.
Tressa Dale is a culinary and pastry school graduate and U.S. Navy veteran from Anchorage, Alaska. She lives in Nikiski, Alaska, with her husband, 2-year-old son and two black cats.