3/4 cup of thin ringlets of lemongrass
1 pound chicken breasts or chicken thighs with skin, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper, plus more to taste
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic, divided (about 4 to 5 cloves)
1 large yellow onion, halved and cut into thin crescents along the grain
3 red Thai chilies, cut into rounds
2 teaspoons fish sauce, or to taste
Chopped cilantro leaves for garnish
Chopped green onions for garnish
In a medium bowl, season the chicken with salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and toss together with 3 tablespoons of lemongrass flakes. Set aside.
In a large skillet (if possible, use a pan with a light interior such as stainless steel so you can monitor changes in color), heat the oil over medium-high heat until it becomes runny and starts to shimmer. Add the sugar and stir continuously. After 1 to 2 minutes, the sugar will start to clump together then melt into syrup. After another 2 to 3 minutes, the clear syrup will thicken into a gooey caramel-brown liquid suspended in the oil. You will also smell a pleasant burnt sugar aroma. Watch the caramel closely during this process as it can burn very quickly. If the caramel starts to turn black and smell acrid, pull the skillet off the stove for a few seconds before continuing.
Stir in the remaining lemongrass, onions, and 1 tablespoon garlic, and cook and stir until the ingredients turn golden brown and fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes.
Add the chicken and raise the heat to high. Toss the chicken in the caramel sauce for about 1 1/2 minutes. If there isn’t enough sauce to evenly coat the chicken, carefully add water, 1 tablespoon at a time. If the mixture starts to sputter aggressively, pull the skillet off the stove until it ceases. Throw in the chilies and keep stirring until the chicken is no longer pink, about 2 to 3 minutes.
When the chicken is just cooked through, add the fish sauce and remaining garlic. Stir with a couple more flourishes to mix well. Taste and adjust seasonings if desired.
Remove from the heat and transfer to a serving platter. Sprinkle with black pepper to taste and garnish with chopped cilantro leaves and green onions. Serve with freshly steamed rice.