What is it exactly? It’s popcorn chicken the way it’s understood in the West. Bite-size pieces of chicken coated in flour (starch in this case) and deep fried until a crispy crust forms on the surface.
The catch is that it doesn’t taste like Western popcorn chicken because it is seasoned with Asian spices. It is much crispier than Western popcorn chicken too because it is double fried.
Marinating the chicken in seasonings, spices, starch and egg white for at least half an hour gives the meat better flavor and texture. I much prefer marinating overnight but, with chicken pieces this small, half an hour is quite enough. The marinated chicken is then tossed in more starch seasoned with five-spice powder, salt, Sichuan peppercorns and white pepper.
The frying consists of two parts. The chicken is first fried at a lower temperature and allowed to rest before they go back into the hot oil at a higher temperature.
During the second frying, basil leaves are added and they fry with the chicken until the leaves turn crisp. The popcorn chicken and fried basil are scooped out, drained and transferred to a mixing bowl where are they sprinkled with more seasonings before serving.
Full recipe below
Taiwanese popcorn chicken
- 500 grams chicken fillets
- 1 teaspoon oyster sauce
- 1 tablespoon rice wine
- 1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder - divided
- 1 ½ tablespoons salt - divided
- ½ teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns - toasted and ground (measure after grinding), divided
- ½ teaspoon ground white pepper - divided
- 1 egg white
- 6 tablespoons tapioca starch - divided
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- cooking oil
- 1 generous handful Thai basil leaves
- Wipe the chicken fillets dry with paper towels and cut into bite-size pieces.
- Place the chicken in a bowl. Add the oyster sauce, rice wine, half of the five-spice powder, half of the salt, half of the Sichuan peppercorns and half of the ground white pepper. Mix well.
- Add the egg white and two tablespoons tapioca starch, and mix.
- Cover the bowl and leave the chicken to marinate in the fridge for 30 minutes.
- In a wok or frying pan, heat enough cooking oil to reach a depth of at least three inches.
- In a small bowl, stir together the remaining five-spice powder, salt, Sichuan peppercorns, white pepper and baking powder.
- Take the chicken out of the fridge and toss with the remaining tapioca starch. Shake off the excess.
- Over medium heat (about 300F), fry the chicken for three to four minutes, or just until a crust forms on the surface.
- Scoop out the chicken, dump into a strainer and allow to reast for a couple of minutes.
- Turn up the heat to high (350F) and fry the chicken a second time for about a minute.
- Add the Thai basil leaves to the chicken and continue frying for a minute or until the Thai basil leaves start to turn crisp.
- Scoop out the chicken and Thai basil and dump into a clean bowl.
- Sprinkle in a bit of five-spice powder, a few pinches of rock salt and Sichuan peppercorns over the chicken and Thai basil, and toss a few times.
- Transfer the Taiwanese popcorn chicken to a plate and serve at once.