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Asian flair: Golden, crunchy fried chicken

Far East-style marinades and sauces transform chicken

By Bill Daley
Chicago Tribune

Southern fried chicken has long preened in the cultural spotlight, thanks in part to such notables as chef Edna Lewis, TV’s Paula Deen and one Kentucky colonel named Harland Sanders. But a new bird is rising out of the East – the Far East – that is capturing some of that shine: fried chicken, Asian-style.

From Myanmar (also known as Burma) in the southeast to Korea in the north, Asia is home to many variations on the fried-chicken theme. All are golden and crunchy, but the flavorings change from country to country.

“Marination gives extra flavor to the chicken,” says Makiko Itoh, a Tokyo-born food writer and blogger living in France, as she explains why Asian-style fried chicken is so popular. Marinating also ensures the chicken stays moist and juicy, she says.

Marja Vongerichten makes a similar point in her cookbook, “The Kimchi Chronicles” (Rodale, 2011).

“Unlike American fried chicken, which tends toward the salty end of the spectrum, Korean fried chicken is sweet and sticky but no less addictive,” writes the New York-based host of “Kimchi Chronicles,” a public TV show. “Now, Korean-style chicken (KFC anyone?), full of great flavor and tremendous crunch, has been exported back to the States, where it’s become all the rage.”

Hard numbers are hard to come by, but there appears to be a growing hunger for, at the very least, Asian-style chicken wings, reports Darren Tristano, executive vice president for Technomic Inc., a Chicago-based food industry research and consulting company.

“Wings are becoming a canvas for innovation and flavor,” he says, noting that the range of flavors keys in to the consumer appetite for customization.

That customization is easy to do at home. You can use various marinades, coatings and dipping sauces to create your own flavors and textures. Proper frying is the same whatever the cuisine. All you need is a sturdy pot filled with hot oil, some tongs or chopsticks for retrieving the fried chicken pieces, and a rack or paper-lined plate to blot off extra grease.

MAKING THE CHICKEN

To prepare any of the variations here, marinate the chicken as directed, coat where applicable, then fry following these directions. Serve with the sauce.

1. Pour 1 to 2 inches oil in a deep skillet, deep fryer or flat-bottomed wok. Use an oil with a high smoking temperature – peanut, safflower or corn.

2. Heat to 350 degrees. Use a deep-fat thermometer to check temperature or drop a small piece of bread or green onion into the oil. If the item bubbles vigorously, the oil is ready.

3. Don’t crowd the pan; fry the chicken in batches to keep the oil temperature from dropping too low.

Burmese-style Fried Chicken

Adapted from “Burma: Rivers of Flavor,” by Naomi Duguid (Artisan, 2012). Look for tamarind pulp in Asian markets.

1 (3-pound) chicken, or 2 to 2 1/2 pounds breasts, legs, wings, chopped into small pieces

Marinade:

2 3/4 teaspoons salt, divided

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

3 to 4 tablespoons Asian fish sauce

1/4 tamarind pulp

1/2 cup hot water

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 green cayenne peppers

1/2 teaspoon sugar

MARINADE: Rub 2 teaspoons salt and turmeric into the chicken pieces and pour the fish sauce over it. Cover and refrigerate 2 to 3 hours.

SAUCE: Place tamarind pulp in a small bowl. Add hot water and soak for 10 minutes. Mash the tamarind with a fork to separate seeds and fibers from the pulp. Press through the sieve over a bowl, using the back of a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible.

POUND garlic and chile peppers into a rough paste with a pinch of salt in a mortar (or process to a coarse paste in a food processor). Stir the paste into the tamarind liquid; add 1/2 teaspoon each sugar and salt. Best when served freshly made.

Japanese-Style Fried Chicken

Adapted from the blog justhungry.com by Makiko Itoh.

10 ounces boneless chicken thighs

Marinade:

1 1/2-inch piece fresh ginger, plus 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger

4 tablespoons soy sauce, divided

1 tablespoon sake (rice wine)

1/2 cup potato starch or cornstarch

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1 tablespoon finely chopped green onion

1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger

Pinch of sugar

About 1/8 teaspoon sesame oil

Lemon wedges for serving

MINCE whole ginger and mix with 3 tablespoons soy sauce and sake. Toss with chicken and let stand 30 minutes.

DREDGE chicken pieces in potato starch (katakuriko) or cornstarch. Cook according to directions for frying chicken.

Make the sauce by combining rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon soy sauce and green onion in a small skillet. Add 1 teaspoon grated ginger, a pinch of sugar and a few drops of sesame oil. Place over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves.

SERVE sauce and chicken with lemon wedges on the side. If serving the chicken later at room temperature, make the sauce and then put the cooked chicken pieces in the pan and toss to coat each with the hot sauce. Let chicken and sauce cool completely.

Korean Fried Chicken

Developed by chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten for “The Kimchi Chronicles,” written by his wife, Marja. Gochujang is also sold as chili bean paste in Asian markets.

2 pounds chicken wings

About 1 cup all-purpose flour for dredging

Marinade:

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

1 tablespoon gochujang (red pepper paste)

3 cloves garlic, finely minced

1 1/2-inch piece of fresh ginger, minced

Sauce:

3 tablespoons gochujang

3 tablespoons gochugaru (Korean red pepper powder)

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

2 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

WHISK together the marinade ingredients (lime juice, soy sauce, sugar, fish sauce, sesame oil, gochujang, garlic and ginger). Add chicken wings, toss to coat, cover and let stand at room temperature for 20 minutes.

DREDGE wings in about 1 cup flour. Tap off excess. Fry according to frying instructions.

WHISK together sauce ingredients (gochujang, gochugaru, rice vinegar, honey and sesame oil). Add the hot, crispy cooked wings to the sauce and toss to coat. Pile wings onto a platter; season with salt.

Malaysian-Style Fried Chicken

Adapted from “Flavors of Malaysia,” by Susheela Raghavan (Hippocrene, 2010). Sambal oelek is a chili sauce. It is available at Asian markets.

1 pound chicken thighs, breasts, drumsticks, chopped into 2 to 2 1/2-inch pieces (leave drumsticks whole)

Marinade:

1/4 cup sliced shallots or onions

1 teaspoon sliced fresh ginger

3/4 to 1 teaspoon sambal oelek

1/4 cup water

1 tablespoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground fennel seeds

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground paprika

Sauce:

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon fresh lime juice

1/2 teaspoon sugar (or 1 tablespoon honey

1/4 teaspoon sambal oelek

1/4 teaspoon salt

PUREE shallots or onions, ginger, sambal oelek and 1/4 cup water. Stir in coriander, cumin, fennel, dry mustard, black pepper, turmeric, sugar, salt; cinnamon and paprika. Rub chicken with marinade and refrigerate 3 to 5 hours or overnight.

WHISK together the sauce ingredients. Fry the chicken according to the frying directions and serve with the sauce.

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