Taiwanese Fried Chicken

This month’s Let’s Lunch theme is food that bridges cultures.

Indulge me for one more reflection on my recent trip to New Orleans…

 

Jackson Square New Orleans

 

I headed to New Orleans with visions of dirty rice, crawdads and chess pie in my head. You see, I love Southern food, which is in many ways the opposite of California cuisine: there is nothing gluten-free or low-carb, nothing in mousse or gel form. And with its emphasis on seafood (with shells and tails!), deep frying, and cooked greens — simple ingredients prepared with traditional techniques — Southern food is sort of like… Chinese food.

When my parents first arrived in America over 40 years ago, my mother found Midwestern cooking oddly bland and unsatisfying. The food that saved her was fried chicken. Which meant that during my childhood, eating out often meant red and white striped buckets and those little packets with a wet wipe, napkin and spork. I didn’t realize until much, much later in my life that many Americans regarded fried chicken as Southern fare or soul food. Even when my family later moved to California, the yearly Taiwanese American Lunar New Year’s parties served banquet fare for the adults, while us youngsters were given boxes of crispy drumsticks and corn on the cob. To me, fried chicken was simply our food.

Cafe du Monde

Cafe du Monde, and yes I am fascinated with old bicycles

 

Usually, after traveling for any period of time, I return with a craving for home cooking, usually Chinese. This time, however, my official duties kept me in the conference center most of the time, dining on hotel catered meals. While I did manage to sneak out to Cafe du Monde and partake of beignets on more than one occasion, I returned to the West Coast in an odd state of mind. I was eager to sleep in my own bed, yet I still hungry for the South.

This was a job that called for fried chicken. Not just any old fried chicken, but the Taiwanese kind. When my mother discovered the eleven secret herbs and spices, I think what she was really longing for were the original five spices of her childhood. You see, fried chicken — along with pork chops and squid — is a staple of Taiwanese cooking. Not buckets full of oversized breasts and thighs, but smaller pieces of meat cut off the bone, and dipped in a fragrant, extra crispy batter. Sometimes called popcorn chicken or salt and pepper chicken, these bite-sized morsels are often dished up as snacks at boba cafes in cities like Cupertino or San Gabriel, where there are large numbers of  immigrants from Taiwan.

I’m not a fan of deep-frying. During my childhood, I watched too many times as my mom quickly dropped egg rolls or battered smelt into a pot only to get red welts on her forearms from the splattering oil. But sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

Taiwanese food is not always a hit with my children and husband. Somehow the bracing pungency of stinky tofu is lost on the American palate. But they gobbled this down. Just like Colonel Sanders helped my mother adjust to American food, maybe this fried chicken will help my kids maintain the connection with their Taiwanese roots.

 

Taiwanese Fried Chicken Wings

Taiwanese Fried Chicken

 

In this recipe, I’ve used wings and drummettes instead of the traditional pieces of thigh meat. Fried chicken, Taiwanese-style, involves marinating the meat first. Instead of buttermilk as is often used for American recipes, this chicken is soaked in a mixture of soy sauce, rice wine and spices. I used five-spice and white pepper in both the brine and the coating for a little extra kick. Taiwanese batter gets its crispiness not from wheat flour, but from sweet potato flour and corn starch. Contrary to what you might expect, sweet potato flour is not orange. It is produced from white sweet potatoes, hence it’s gluten-free (I told you I’m from California!) and somewhat coarser than wheat flour, which allows it to hold up to moisture and frying.

Sweet Potato Flour

 Ingredients:

1 1/2 lbs. chicken wings and drummets

1/4 c. soy sauce

1 Tbs rice wine

1 clove garlic, minced

2 tsp. five-spice powder

2 tsp. white pepper

1 tsp. salt

1 c. sweet potato flour (found in Asian markets)

1/4 c. corn starch

a few basil leaves, julienned

oil for frying

 

Directions:
  1. Blend soy sauce, wine, garlic and half of the spices in a mixing bowl.
  2. Add chicken pieces and marinate for several hours or overnight.
  3. Mix the sweet potato flour, corn starch and remaining dry spices in a shallow bowl
  4. Heat an inch or two of oil in a wok or Dutch oven over medium-high heat
  5. Test if the oil is hot enough by dropping in a cube of bread. If it bubbles and fries quickly, the oil is ready. (Sorry, no temperatures. Like I said, I’m not a big deep-frying person!)
  6. Gently lower the chicken, a few pieces of time into the hot oil. Turn the pieces as they begin to look golden around the edges.
  7. Remove the finished chicken pieces to a plate lined with a paper towel, and repeat with remaining chicken.
  8. Garnish with julienned basil leaves. The traditional way is to flash fry the basil leaves, so they get translucent and crispy. But I felt like keeping things a little fresher and simpler.
  9. Break out the wet wipes and enjoy!

 

 

Our fearless lunch leader, Cheryl Tan will be making a San Francisco appearance on Saturday, May 20 to present her book A Tiger in the Kitchen. Check the Omnivore Books website for details.

Until then, you can check out more great fusion recipes from my lunching buddies below, or follow #LetsLunch on Twitter.

Cheryl’s Goan Pork Curry Tacos on A Tiger in the Kitchen

Lisa’s Jewish-Chinese Brisket on Monday Morning Cooking Club

Lucy’s Coconut Rice Pudding with Mango on A Cook and Her Books

Emma’s Bulgogi Kimchi Nachos on Dreaming of Pots and Pans

Renee’s Asian Spiced Quick Pickles on My Kitchen and I

Nancie’s Chili-Cheese Biscuits from Sandra Gutierrez

Joe’s Grilled Kimcheese Sandwich

Pat’s Buttery Tofu, Pasta and Peas on The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook

Vivian’s Funky Fusion Linguini at Vivian Pei

Linda’s Project Runway Pelau on Spicebox Travels

 

Comments

    • says

      Thank you, Cheryl! I was telling Linda that I didn’t really like beignets that much… oh, who am I kidding? When in New Orleans. I think my fried chicken is more friendly to the home cook ;)

  1. says

    Yum! Taiwanese Friend Chicken!! Now I am hungry and it is past 10pm. I can only dream about it. Your picture reminds me of a food vendor in Taipei with such wonderful fried chicken and noddles with meat sauce.

  2. says

    Love this…what a nice way to connect your family to your roots. I love Five Spice Powder and will definitely have to try this! Thanks for sharing :)

  3. says

    Wonderful story of food connection, cross connections, reconnections, diversions, all of which warms my heart, but it’s the new-to-me way with fried chicken that makes me wild to get back to my kitchen and cook this recipe. I love wings the best, and I like crispy chicken but hadn’t a clue how exactly to make it, since my grandmother’s NC fried chicken is the shallow-fried luscious-skin kind, wonderful but plain-flavored and not crispy. Love your osbservation re: “Seafood, deep frying, greens…” Southern/Chinese culinary waters do flow in the same direction. Love your blog, food and non-food.

  4. says

    I just couldn’t resist reading this post “Taiwanese fried chicken”. You had me at Taiwanese but then you took it one step further with fried chicken. I remember seeing those large (yet thin) fried chicken all over Taiwan night markets. It’s an obsession. I think Taiwanese fry the best. Jus sayin :) I’m pinning it!

  5. says

    I occasionallys sacrifice my kitchen to the mess and stink of chicken frying, and now I must try your Taiwanese variation. Love the story, love the recipe.

  6. says

    A lovely essay Grace! Mochiko chicken uses sweet rice flour and cornstarch and I love it. I definitely have to try this recipe too. Like you, I hate deep frying but yeah sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do!

  7. says

    I made the dish with chicken thighs and they were delicious. It was my 2 year-old’s first time eating Taiwanese fried chicken and he ate a ton. Thanks for posting the recipe!

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