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 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 can change from country to country.
"Marination gives extra flavor to the chicken," says Makiko Itoh, a Tokyo-born food writer and blogger living in Vaison-la-Romaine, 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 he Kimchi Chronicles.
"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 television 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, says 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.
Such customization is easy to do at home. You may 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 beyond that is a sturdy pot filled with hot oil, some tongs or chopsticks for retrieving the various bits of fried bird, and a rack or paper-lined plate to blot off any extra grease.
Making the chicken
To prepare any of the ethnic variations here, marinate the chicken as directed; coat where applicable; then fry following the directions. Serve with the sauce as described.
Pour 1 to 2 inches oil in a deep skillet, deep fryer or flat-bottomed wok. Use an oil with a high smoking temperature, such as peanut, safflower or corn.
Heat to 350 degrees. Use a deep-fat thermometer to check temperature. Alternatively, drop a small piece of bread or green onion into the oil. If the item bubbles vigorously, the oil is ready.
Don't crowd the pan; fry the chicken in batches to keep the oil temperature from dropping too low.
Adapted from Burma: Rivers of Flavor by Naomi Duguid. Look for tamarind pulp in Asian markets.
Chicken: One 3-pound chicken (or 2 to 2 ½ pounds breasts, legs, wings), chopped into small pieces.
Marinade: Rub 2 teaspoons salt and ¼ teaspoon turmeric into chicken. Pour on 3 to 4 tablespoons fish sauce. Cover, marinate, refrigerated, 2 to 3 hours.
Sauce: Place ¼ cup tamarind pulp in a small bowl. Add ½ cup hot water; soak, 10 minutes. Mash tamarind with a fork to separate seeds and fibers from the pulp. Press the tamarind through a sieve over a bowl, using the back of a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible from the pulp. Pound 2 minced cloves garlic and 3 minced green cayenne chilies 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 ½ teaspoon each sugar and salt. Best when served freshly made.
Adapted from the Just Hungry blog ( justhungry.com) of Makiko Itoh.
Chicken: 10 ounces boneless thighs
Marinade: Mince one 1 ½ -inch piece ginger; mix with 3 tablespoons soy sauce and 1 tablespoon sake. Marinate chicken in sauce, 30 minutes.
Coating: Dredge chicken pieces in about ½ cup potato starch (katakuriko) or cornstarch.
Sauce: Combine in a small skillet 1 tablespoon each rice vinegar, soy sauce and finely chopped green onion. Add 1 teaspoon grated ginger, a pinch of sugar and a few drops sesame oil. Heat on medium heat, stirring, until sugar dissolves. Serve sauce 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.
This recipe was developed by chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten for The Kimchi Chronicles, a cookbook written by his wife, Marja. Gochujang is sold as chili bean paste in Asian markets.
Chicken: 2 pounds wings
Marinade: Whisk in a large bowl 2 tablespoons each fresh lime juice and soy sauce; 1 tablespoon each sugar, fish sauce, toasted sesame oil and gochujang (red pepper paste); 3 finely minced garlic cloves, 1 ½ -inch piece ginger, minced. Add wings, marinate covered for 20 minutes at room temperature.
Coating: Dredge wings in flour; tap off excess.
Sauce: Whisk in a large bowl: 3 tablespoons each gochujang and gochugaru (Korean red pepper powder), 2 tablespoons rice vinegar and honey, and 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil. Add crispy cooked wings to bowl with sauce and toss to coat. Pile wings onto a platter; season with salt.
Adapted from Flavors of Malaysia by Susheela Raghavan. Sambal oelek is a chili sauce. It is available at Asian markets.
Chicken: 1 pound thighs, breasts, drumsticks, chopped into 2 to 2½ -inch pieces (leave drumsticks whole)
Marinade: Purée ¼ cup sliced shallots or onions, 1 teaspoon sliced fresh ginger, ¾ to 1 teaspoon sambal oelek and ¼ cup water. Stir into the paste 1 tablespoon ground coriander; 1 teaspoon each ground cumin, ground fennel seeds and ground mustard; ½ teaspoon each black pepper, turmeric powder, sugar and salt; ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon and ground paprika. Rub chicken with marinade, refrigerate 3 to 5 hours or overnight.
Sauce: Combine 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce; 1 teaspoon soy sauce, ½ teaspoon each fresh lime juice and sugar (or 1 tablespoon honey), ¼ teaspoon sambal oelek and ¼ teaspoon salt.