Sunday Spring Cleaning: Sweet & Soy Asian Grilled Chicken

Suppose you made some jam. And suppose that jam was way, way too sweet for you.  But, it took three days to make, and used the Last Fall Pumpkin, and you’re a Yankee, so, you can’t just get rid of it.  You can give some away; but since the jam is way (way) too sweet for you, and the people who like your jams mostly like the ones that you usually make (which are way, way less sweet), well… the options are slim.  Worst of all, because you don’t trust the level of acidity in the recipe, the jam is taking up valuable real estate in the fridge.  Find yourself in this position? Have I got the recipe for you!

I was lamenting to my friend Nadine that I had spent all this time (not to mention money on 2-freakin-pounds-worth of organic sugar) on a Christine Ferber pumpkin jam recipe only to have it turn out way (wait for it… way) too sweet, and basically it would only be good as the base of a marinade. And while I had tried it out as a glaze for my standard roasted turkey breast, I wasn’t all that happy with the results; the skin of the turkey did not crisp well and the glaze was still too sweet (although Tai loved it).  The other night, however, the weather was lovely, so I pulled some chicken breasts out of the freezer and determined to make a more concentrated effort on transforming my too-sweet jam into a delicious marinade.  Once I hit on the Asian flavors: soy, sesame, chile; I knew I was on the right track.

This glaze was way (way) too delicious for its own good.  It was a glaze more than a marinade; syrupy rather than thick like a barbecue sauce; the chicken sat in the glaze at room temperature for about 30 minutes prior to grilling, but I’m sure most of the flavor came from the interaction of flame & glaze, while the chicken was on the grill.  It was quite simply perfect: tender, juicy chicken, with just the right hint of char about the edges; thick, syrupy glaze that was not-too-sweet, not-too-spicy, just the right balance of soy, heat and sweet.  Altogether satisfying.  Almost as good as the flavor is the fact that this recipe is a pantry-clearing special: in addition to the two, 4-oz jars of pumpkin jam, I used up the last of a bottle of sesame oil and a good bit of rice vinegar (which usually languishes at the back of the pantry, ignored). Will I make more of Christine Ferber’s pumpkin jam just so I can make this glaze? No. But will I lament, just the teeniest bit, when the last jar falls?  I think I might.

The best part about this glaze is that it is endlessly customizable; you don’t need to have Christine Ferber’s jam sitting in your fridge (or maybe if you do, the thought of using it to grill chicken is a sacrilege); you don’t have to have the dregs of a tiny bottle of toasted sesame oil or the little red Trader Joe’s chile oil.  You simply need to have taste buds, and something sweet, something sour, and something soy.  Taste, taste, and taste again as you are mixing up your glaze; add the tail-ends of jars of jam, marmalade or preserves that have been hiding in the back of the fridge; use up a commercial marinade that you bought and found too sweet; rout out that bottle of sake that’s been in the liquor cabinet since the ’90s; add the last couple of tablespoons of sesame seeds, or a few dried hot Thai chiles, that have been rattling around the spice cabinet for too long.  Let your imagination go.  I would guess that, for the nice glaze flavor & texture, you need a good bit of sugar, soy and the rice wine vinegar (which really pepped it up; I originally started with white wine vinegar).  Start with small amounts then adjust & adjust until it tastes great to you.  Then plop in your chicken, fire up the grill, and away you go!


Sweet & Soy Asian Grilled Chicken


  • 1 cup (8 oz) sweet preserve, like Pumpkin Jam with Vanilla Bean
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce (I use low-sodium)
  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tsp hot chile oil
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • about 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced thinly into equal-sized portions (for even cooking)


  1. In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients except chicken. Whisk well to incorporate jam/preserves into marinade (if jam is very stiff, like a marmalade, about 20 seconds in the microwave will loosen it up).  Taste and adjust amounts of spice, oil, or vinegar.  Add chicken, stir, and marinate for 30 minutes to several hours.  Return to room temperature for at least 30 minutes prior to grilling.
  2. Light grill (we use charcoal; it takes about 1 hour to be ready to cook on).  Clean grate and coat with canola or other oil just prior to adding chicken.
  3. Using long tongs, add chicken over medium-hot heat (you should be able to hold your hand about 1 foot over the coals). Do not turn for the first couple of minutes; allow the grill to nicely sear the outsides of the chicken.  When you start to see the edges of the chicken turning white, flip the pieces, trying to keep the thickest part of any individual piece over the hottest flame.  Watch the chicken like a hawk; at this point it goes from ‘perfectly done’ to ‘charcoal briquet’ in a matter of moments.  Because I’m always paranoid of over-cooking chicken, I use an instant thermometer (and a heat-proof oven mitt) to test doneness: look for a temperature of 165 to 170 degrees F.  Otherwise you can test the chicken by feel (it should not feel spongey, but still pliant; if you get to rubbery or firm, it is overcooked), or by pulling a piece off, early, and cutting it open; there should be no hint of pink inside.
  4. Remove the cooked chicken to a clean plate; cover to keep warm.
  5. Meanwhile, your loving husband (or wife) can be reducing the marinade for serving.  Transfer the remaining marinade to a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat.  Boil briskly, stirring frequently to prevent scorching, until marinade is reduced by half (at this point the sauce should have boiled for several minutes, making it safe to eat even though it once contained raw chicken.  Make sure you keep the sauce boiling for at least 5 minutes prior to serving.). Serve the chicken hot, with the reduction sauce on the side.  Also fantastic cold, straight from the fridge, the next day.

Serves 4.


  1. As noted above, the marinade recipe itself is very adapatable; use what you have in the pantry and keep tasting until it tastes good.
  2. I bet this would be equally good on turkey burgers, pork cutlets or grilled shrimp.


Store cooked chicken for up to 5 days refrigerated (I can nearly guarantee it won’t last that long).  The marinade can be made in advance and stored refrigerated for several weeks.


Grilling season!

One comment

  1. Stumbled across your site while searching for a good whole wheat pasta recipe and I am so glad I did. Always exciting to “meet” a like minded person!
    The added bonus is the bit of encouragement I needed to use my too syrupy grape jelly as a marinade for chicken.

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