Food, Wine

Up Your Summer Grilling Game

Are you ready for a summer of long-delayed gatherings and leisurely shared meals? We all have a lot of catching up to do with family and friends. These meetups will be sweet, for sure—not an occasion for the same ol’ same ol’. Fire up the grill and make your menu memorable by exploring some of the culinary traditions from around the world that inspire California cooks, from the Yucatan’s achiote-rubbed snapper to succulent Korean short ribs.

summer grilled chicken cucumber salad

One of the tastiest and easiest grilled-chicken dishes comes from the Vietnamese kitchen—the famous five-spice chicken. Can you name the five spices? (Hint: Try star anise, cloves, cinnamon, Sichuan peppercorns and fennel seed.) This aromatic blend elevates inexpensive chicken thighs and would rock a pork chop or duck breast, too. Five-spice chicken is delicious hot or cold, so you can grill it ahead and pack it on a wine-country picnic. 

A lime-dressed cucumber and peanut salad makes a refreshing foil for the crispy chicken. There’s not a drop of oil in the dressing so the salad is super light. Next time, pair it with grilled salmon or tofu. Let the coming long days and warm nights be your excuse for many dinners al fresco. Put some California wine on the table and raise a toast to summer days ahead.  

certified sustainable vineyard tasting


If sustainability is important to you, you should know that many California wineries and vineyards are Certified Sustainable. Their practices may not be obvious to the eye when you visit, but these businesses are taking steps to save energy and water, and to farm in a way that’s good for the planet and for people. A third-party audit confirms what they do, so you can feel good about spending your wine dollars on businesses committed to a more sustainable future.

Click here for more reasons to love California wine country this summer!

The Pour

The charred flavor of grilled chicken works best with red wine, and preferably a younger one. If you’re eating outdoors, the delicate aromas of an older wine might be diminished, so choose something fresh and fruity.

California winemakers produce Pinot Noir in a range of styles from bright and light, with cherry and raspberry aromas, to brooding and smoky. Look for a lighter-styled version from a cooler region, such as Anderson ValleySanta Cruz Mountains or Los Carneros. A medium-bodied Merlot, which has softer tannins than Cabernet Sauvignon, is another good option with this dish. Ask your merchant for a cool-climate bottling; the Oak Knoll District is one place to look.

Meet the Grapes: Explore more wine pairings.

Grilled Five-Spice Chicken with Cucumber Peanut Salad

Vietnamese chefs introduced Californians to the delights of five-spice chicken, and the dish is now entrenched in the Golden State repertoire. A cool, crunchy, lime-laced cucumber salad provides a refreshing contrast to the highly seasoned chicken. The marinade makes the chicken skin extra-crisp and tasty, so purchase skin-on thighs if possible.

Grilled Five-Spice Chicken with Cucumber Peanut Salad


For the Marinade:

  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce 
  • 2 teaspoons Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce  
  • ¼ teaspoon five-spice powder 
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced 
  • 1 small shallot, finely minced 
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 4 chicken thighs, bone in, skin on, about 1-1/2 pounds (680 g)

For the Cucumber Peanut Salad:

  • 1 English cucumber, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced 
  • 1 large carrot, coarsely grated 
  • ½ small sweet red onion, thinly sliced 
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice with some pulp 
  • 2 tablespoons water 
  • 1 tablespoon Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce  
  • 1 tablespoon sugar 
  • 1 small clove garlic, finely minced 
  • ½ small jalapeño chili, minced (remove seeds first, if desired) 
  • ¼ cup (10 g) coarsely chopped cilantro 
  • ¼ cup (30 g) chopped roasted unsalted peanuts  
  • Lime wedges 



  • Prepare the marinade: Combine the soy sauce, fish sauce, five-spice powder, garlic, shallot, and sugar and whisk until the sugar dissolves. Put the chicken thighs in a glass baking dish or other container just large enough to hold them. Pour the marinade over the thighs and turn them to coat all over. Cover and refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours, turning once halfway through. 
  • Prepare the cucumber salad: Put the cucumber, carrot, and onion in a bowl and toss gently to mix. In a small bowl, combine the lime juice, water, fish sauce, sugar, garlic, and chili. Whisk until the sugar dissolves, then pour the dressing over the salad and toss gently. Add the cilantro and peanuts and toss again. Taste and adjust the seasoning. 
  • Prepare a hot charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill to high. Remove the chicken from the marinade and place skin side down on the grill. Brush the flesh side with any marinade in the baking dish. Cook on both sides until the skin has browned and crisped and the chicken juices run clear, not pink, when probed at the bone, about 20 minutes. 
  • Divide the cucumber salad and the chicken among 4 dinner plates. Garnish with lime wedges.

Recommended Pairings

California Merlot or California Pinot Noir

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