Taiwanese Popcorn Chicken
Taiwanese Popcorn Chicken
Fried chicken is one of my guilty pleasures and I love exploring new recipes for the various versions of this beloved dish from around the world. So far in this column I’ve shared two of my favorite fried chicken recipes, from Korea and Thailand. But how can I forget the most delicious street food from my home country? So this week, it’s “yien su ji” (aka Taiwanese popcorn chicken).

The iconic fried chicken stand is ubiquitous in street markets across Taiwan. In addition to the little cubes of fried chicken thighs, yen su ji stands also feature a variety of meat and veggies like taro, bok choy, sweet potato fries, blood sausage, tofu, squid and fish cakes, as well as chicken hearts, livers, kidneys, anuses, gizzards, necks and feet. The vendor will fry the food and toss it in garlic, basil and a delicious blend of spices. For the sake of sensitive American palates, we’ll just stick to fried chicken for this recipe.

Ingredients:

(serves 2 to 3 people)
For the marinade:
2 cloves garlic
12 Tbsp. finely grated ginger
3-4 boneless chicken thighs
1 tsp. sugar
14 tsp. Chinese five spice
12 tsp. white pepper
1 Tbsp. cooking wine
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
For the spice blend:
34 tsp. salt
12 tsp. white pepper
12 tsp. Chinese five spice
18 tsp. ground cinnamon
18 tsp. curry powder
For toppings:
1 handful fresh basil
2 cloves garlic
1 egg
14 tsp. baking soda
1 cup sweet potato starch
2 cups vegetable oil for frying

Directions:

Start by finely grating 2 cloves of garlic and ginger. Then cut the chicken thighs into bite-size pieces. In a bowl, mix in all of the marinade ingredients. Cover it up and let it marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes (photo 1).

While you are waiting for the chicken to marinate, mix up the spice blend. You can also usually find the Taiwanese fried chicken spice blend at the Asian grocery store. For years I’ve been trying to make the spice myself and it always seemed to be missing something, but I’ve finally figured out the secret ingredient: curry powder (photo 2).

Prep the toppings by washing and drying the basil and mince 2 cloves of garlic and set aside (photo 3).

Once the chicken has been marinated, combine one egg with 14 tsp. baking soda and the marinated chicken thighs; mix well until combined.

Bread the chicken thighs in sweet potato starch. Try to find the coarse sweet potato starch, as most Taiwanese fried food is breaded in that for its distinctive texture. You can find coarse sweet potato starch in Asian grocery stores and possibly the local specialty food store. If you can’t find it, regular sweet potato starch or corn starch will work fine (photo 4).

Preheat the vegetable oil to 350°F. To test if the oil is hot enough, here’s a little trick most Taiwanese do before frying food: Stick a chopstick in the pan and if the tip of the chopstick starts bubbling, that means the oil is hot enough to fry (photo 5).

Fry the chicken in batches for 3 minutes for each batch. Set it on a cooling rack or paper towel (photo 6).

Once all the chicken has been fried, now fry half of the basil and all the minced garlic for 15 seconds, quickly remove from the oil, or else they can burn really quickly. They may also splatter, so please be very cautious doing this step (photo 7).

Now put all of the fried chicken back in the pan for the final frying. This will give the chicken an extra-crispy texture. Let it cook for a minute. Drain the excess oil and toss it in a bowl along with the remaining fresh basil as well as the fried basil, garlic and the spice blend (photo 8).

Serve it while it’s warm. If you’d like to try these with a meatless option, fried tofu or mushrooms and even green beans are also really popular in Taiwan.

For more recipes, visit www.thewayriceshouldbe.blogspot.com.