Sticky Coconut Chicken

This easy sticky coconut chicken is one of our favorite meals ever! Coconut milk marinated chicken is brushed with a sweet and spicy sticky glaze. It’s amazing!

sticky coconut chicken on white plate with coconut rice and asparagus

You know a recipe is good when it stands the test of time for over a decade.

This sticky coconut chicken has been a family favorite for over ten years! My kids request it for birthday dinners, it’s a go-to meal for company (or for take-in meals), and it’s perfect for an easy weeknight dinner. 

The flavors are absolutely out of this world delicious. I can’t see us ever getting tired of this glazed chicken. Ever.

a couple bites cut off of the sticky coconut chicken with coconut rice

The flavor for this sticky coconut chicken is built in two ways:

  • the coconut milk marinade
  • the sticky sweet and just very lightly spicy glaze

For the marinade, we’re using ginger. Fresh ginger. It’s amazing in this dish. And I don’t want you to leave it out! 

Lately, the availability of ginger paste has become much more common (I find it in the produce section of my grocery store or at Trader Joe’s). It’s a great alternative to fresh ginger, and I highly recommend it, especially in something like a marinade. 

fresh ginger and a tube of ginger paste

How to deal with fresh ginger

Fresh ginger can seem a little intimidating. It’s an incredible ingredient. But it’s also a little weird-looking and knobby and “out there” to some people. 

Here’s a tip to make fresh ginger totally doable. 

Buy a knob of ginger and cut it into 1-inch pieces (I don’t peel it). Put the chunks of ginger in a resealable bag and toss in the freezer.

When it’s time to use fresh ginger, take a piece of ginger from the freezer and grate it (frozen) on the small holes of a box grater or on a rasp grater/zester. Again, no need to peel! 

It’s super easy to use fresh ginger this way, and it works great! I always have little nubbins of fresh ginger hanging out in the freezer for recipes that call for it.

sticky coconut chicken on white plate with rice and asparagus

Coconut Ginger Marinade

The coconut marinade for this sticky coconut chicken is super simple:

  • canned coconut milk, light or regular
  • fresh ginger
  • salt and pepper
  • red pepper flakes (use up to a teaspoon for a bit of heat, dial it down a bit for a more family-friendly vibe, but don’t leave it out!)

You can whisk all the ingredients together, especially if the ginger is finely grated, OR you can give everything a whirl in a blender. If I do that, I leave the ginger in larger chunks since it all gets blended up anyway. 

Marinate the chicken for at least an hour or up to eight hours. Any longer, and I’ve found, especially with chicken breasts and tenders, that the texture of the meat gets a little bit soft and mushy. 

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t have a super great love for chicken thighs. 

But they are amazing in this recipe, and my preference is to use them. However, chicken breasts or chicken tenders also work really well. If the chicken breasts are overly thick, I’d suggest slicing them into thinner pieces to maximize flavor. 

Toward the end of cooking time, mix the glaze ingredients together in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Sidenote: I almost always double or 1 1/2 the glaze so we have extra for drizzling over the chicken and rice.

Cook the glaze until it reduces by about half. It may not look super thick on the stove, but it will thicken as it cools. And you don’t want to cook it too long or you’ll end up with vinegar taffy. 

And that’s a little bit sketch. 

When the bubbles intensify and get super close together (like in the picture below on the right), it’s probably about time to pull it off the heat.

Grill or bake the chicken

This recipe is wonderful with grilled chicken – that’s my ultimate preference. But it also works great to cook the chicken in a hot skillet or bake in the oven. 

Either way, toward the end of cooking time, brush that tasty glaze over the chicken!

Since the syrupy glaze is coming into contact with heat, it will thin out and drip off a bit, so repeat often over the last few minutes for a thicker coating of glaze, if desired. 

brushing glaze on grilled coconut chicken

Any leftover glaze can be drizzled over the chicken and rice (if serving with rice). 

Quick Coconut Rice

I almost always use the other half of the coconut milk for a modified coconut rice recipe.

I add the leftover coconut milk to the liquid needed for the rice. It’s amazing! (More thorough details are in the recipe notes below.)

pieces of sticky coconut chicken on white platter

If you haven’t made this sticky coconut chicken yet, don’t wait! 

So many people have fallen in love with it over the years: 

Keri: My go-to grilled chicken dish. I’ve made it so many times over the years and we all still love it. We love to have it with grilled veggies!

Erica: We had this for dinner tonight and it may just be the best thing that I’ve ever eaten! Yum!

Rebecca: Thank you so much for posting! My husband said it is the best chicken he has ever had, my 3yo like any other 3yo usually picks at her plate but she licked the plate clean and asked for more, defiantly going to be a usual in our house!

I hope you love it, too! It’s seriously one of my favorite meals in the history of ever. 

sticky coconut chicken on white plate with coconut rice and asparagus

What To ServeRice (or better yet, Coconut Rice)
Grilled Pineapple or fresh pineapple/fruit
5-Minute Skillet Broccoli

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Six Years Ago: Grilled Asian Chicken with Peanut Noodles and Cucumber Sambal 
Seven Years Ago: Tex-Mex Enchilada Casserole
Eight Years Ago: Brown Sugar Crackle Cookies 

Sticky Coconut Chicken

Yield: 6 servings
Prep Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Additional Time: 8 hours
Total Time: 9 hours 25 minutes
sticky coconut chicken on white plate with coconut rice and asparagus

Ingredients

  • 6-8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, breasts or tenders (about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds)

Marinade:

  • 1 cup canned coconut milk, light or regular
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger or ginger paste (see note)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (I use coarse, kosher salt)
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper (I use coarsely ground)
  • 1/4 to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (see note)

Glaze (see note about doubling):

  • 3/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Instructions

  1. Whisk together the marinade ingredients (or blend until smooth).
  2. Pour the marinade over the chicken, tossing to coat evenly. Cover and refrigerate at least one hour or up to eight hours (any longer and the texture of the chicken can soften and get a little mushy).
  3. Toward the end of marinading time, bring the vinegar, sugar, soy sauce and red pepper flakes to a boil over medium heat. Simmer vigorously until the mixture is reduced by about half and is slightly thickened, about 10-15 minutes. Remove from the heat. If it doesn't seem to be thickening, just keep an eye on the reduction level, and keep in mind that it may still look a bit thin on the stove but will thicken as it cools.
  4. Grill the chicken over medium heat (or bake in the oven at 375 degrees on a greased, foil-lined pan), 4-5 minutes per side. The exact time will depend on type of chicken and thickness of the pieces - chicken thighs will take longer to cook than chicken breasts.
  5. The last few minutes of grilling or baking, brush the chicken with the glaze (repeat if you want a thicker coating). Serve with leftover glaze and rice, if desired.

Notes

Coconut Rice: I often use the leftover coconut milk from the can for a modified coconut rice recipe (cook 1 cup of long grain basmati or jasmine rice with 2 cups liquid - a combination of broth or water and the leftover coconut milk + a pinch of salt).

Ginger: ginger paste OR fresh ginger works great in this recipe. Fresh ginger is super easy to work with. I buy a knob, cut it into 1-inch pieces, store in a freezer ziploc in the freezer. When I want to use it, I pull a piece out of the bag and grate it frozen on the small holes of a box grater or on a rasp grater/zester. No need to peel the ginger!

Red Pepper: a full teaspoon of red pepper flakes will give a bit of heat to this recipe. I use between 1/4 and 1/2 teaspoon for a more family-friendly vibe (but it's delicious with the full teaspoon).

Glaze: I almost always double the glaze or at least 1 1/2 the recipe because we like to drizzle leftover glaze over the rice and chicken. A single batch will be fine just for glazing, but you might consider increasing the amount if you want leftover for drizzling.

Vinegar: the mild flavor of rice vinegar is perfect for this dish; I haven't tried subbing in another type of vinegar, but you could experiment.

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Recipe Source: from Leigh Anne with my slight adaptations
Originally published June 2008; updated April 2020 with new photos, recipe notes, etc.