Taiwanese Fried Chicken
Adapted from BAO by Erchen Chang, Shing Tat Chung, and Wai Ting Chung (Phaidon, US $39.95, 2023)
Excerpted from BAO © 2023 by Erchen Chang, Shing Tat Chung, and Wai Ting Chung. Photography © 2023 by Pelle Crépin, Fangyu Cho, Ash James, Pascal Grob, Sirui Ma, and Roberto Pansolli. Reproduced by permission of Phaidon. All rights reserved.
Taiwanese fried chicken! I have so many childhood memories of eating this with friends at night markets, and it was one of the three items we sold when we first started BAO as a market stall, along with the Classic Pork BAO and the Daikon BAO. These memories of fried chicken have now been replaced with memories and stories involving our pursuit of perfecting BAO’s fried chicken over the years. Right from the beginning we had spreadsheets full of marinade timings and frying stages that we tested to get the juiciness and crispiness we wanted. We discovered that there was a certain amount of time you could keep the flour on the meat and a specific way to coat the chicken with the flour using a flick of your palm. This journey made us very protective of the recipe.
So many people would quiz us, trying to find out the flour and the spice mix we used, especially in our market days. There weren’t many Taiwanese restaurants back then, so it wasn’t readily available information. The lengths we went to keep the fried chicken coating a secret … we would have the flour delivered to another location or beat the staff to the delivery so we could hide it and empty the small packets into clear containers when everyone had left. The spice and marinade mix were the hardest to keep doing in secret – it was only a couple of years ago that we had that moment, looking at each other, lab coats on, rubber gloves on, masks on, on a hot summer day in an unventilated office, when we asked ourselves, Why are we still doing this every week? That powder in large volumes really gets up your nose! At that, we decided we had had enough and eventually moved the process to an external producer with a signed NDA. But now, after all that secrecy, it is here for you to see.
- vegetable oil, for deep-frying
- Hot Sauce, to serve
For the marinated chicken
- 200 ml soy milk, plus extra if needed
- 1 clove garlic, grated
- 2.5 cm (1 inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
- 2 teaspoons cornflour (cornstarch)
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon five spice powder
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
- 300 g skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 10 equal pieces
For the spiced flour mix
- 200 g tapioca flour (starch)
- 1 teaspoon red Sichuan peppercorns, ground to a powder
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1⁄4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1⁄2 teaspoon five spice powder
- 1 tablespoon salt
The double-fry technique for the chicken pieces gives the coating extra crispiness while ensuring that the centre remains incredibly juicy. If you are feeling lazy, then just deep-fry the chicken once for 4 minutes at 180°C/350°F, or until a cube of ginger sizzles and browns in 10 seconds. It won’t have quite the same super-crispy texture but it will still be juicy.
Toss a piece of chicken straight from the marinade into the flour mix. Roll it around lightly with your fingers to form a nugget shape. Do not flatten it or try to press more of the mix onto it. If you want more spiced flour on the chicken, roll it in the bowl of flour mix a few times and dust extra spiced flour mix on top. Make sure the piece is fully coated, then transfer to a plate or tray. Repeat the process with the remaining chicken pieces.
Heat the oil in a deep, heavy-based saucepan to 160°C/325°F, or until a cube of ginger sizzles and browns in 20 seconds. Very lightly shake off any excess flour mix, then – in 2 batches – carefully hold the chicken and slowly drop it away from you into the hot oil and deep-fry for 3 minutes until cooked through, lightly golden and crisp. Remove with the tongs or slotted spoon, drain on paper towels and leave to cool completely.
When cool, reheat the oil to 190°C/375°F and deep-fry again for 2 minutes. Place the chicken pieces in a shallow bowl and drizzle with hot sauce to serve.
Erchen Chang, Shing Tat Chung, and Wai Ting Chung are the brains behind BAO. Brother and sister Shing Tat and Wai Ting were born in Nottingham to parents from Hong Kong, who operated Cantonese restaurants in the city, while Erchen spent her childhood in Taipei, before moving to the UK aged 14. The trio dreamed up BAO in 2013 when they traveled across Taiwan together and were inspired by the informal street food culture and culinary traditions they discovered.
Photography by: Pelle Crépin, Fangyu Cho, Ash James, Pascal Grob, Sirui Ma, and Roberto Pansolli