It’s called five-spice fried chicken because it was seasoned with Chinese five-spice powder. That works? Sure, it does! It works darn well, in fact.
There is no singular way to season, cook and garnish fried chicken. If you think that dropping chicken in hot all is all there is to it, you probably haven’t heard of the twice-fried technique used in cooking Japanese and Korean fried chicken.
But as varied as the frying techniques may be, no one can beat the number of ways to season chicken meant for the frying pan from the basic salt-and-pepper seasoning to the most complex spice rubs. Chicken is just so versatile that it tastes good whether the seasonings are simple or not.
In this recipe, chicken leg quarters were rubbed with a mixture of salt, pepper and five-spice powder. There are variants of five-spice powder but the most usual combination has star anise, Sichuan pepper, cloves, fennel seeds and cinnamon. If you’ve cooked with these spices before, you’ll understand what I mean when I say that five-spice powder gives off a warm and earthy flavor.
To cook five-spice fried chicken, it is best to allow the chicken to marinate overnight in the fridge.
The recipe below specifies a tablespoon of five-spice powder but you can get away with twice as much if you prefer stronger flavors. Personally, I like subtlety — you know, the feeling that there’s more than salt and pepper in the marinade but you can’t make out exactly what else there is. Mystery is potent, if you haven’t figured it out.
Cut the chicken leg quarters into legs and thighs. Rub all over with salt, pepper and five-spice powder. Place in a covered container and keep in the fridge overnight.
Place the marinated chicken pieces in a resealable bag and add the starch. Shake thoroughly to lightly coat each piece with starch.
Heat enough cooking oil in a frying pan to reach a depth of at least three inches.
Fry the chicken over medium heat until nicely browned and cooked all the way through. Do this in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan. As each batch cooks, lift out and move to a rack.
When all the chicken pieces have been fried, place in a large bowl. Drizzle with sesame seed oil and lightly toss the chicken to distribute the sesame seed oil well.
Sprinkle the five-spice fried chicken with toasted sesame seeds and scallions. Serve at once.
For a sweeter version, see the recipe for five-spice chicken drumettes.