An ubiquitous street food in Taiwan, salt and pepper chicken is also known simply as Taiwanese fried chicken. Seasoned cubed chicken fillet coated with flour and deep fried until puffed, golden and crisp.
I was describing salt and pepper chicken in that last sentence although it might seem like I was defining popcorn chicken, eh? Well, they are the same, really. Salt and pepper chicken found its way to the West where it was re-christened “popcorn chicken”. It is street food in Taiwan; it is fast food in America. Seasoned differently but similarly cooked. And both are delicious.
- 400 grams skinless chicken thigh fillets (substituting breast is not a good idea)
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 egg white
- 1/2 teaspoon five-spice powder divided
- 2 teaspoons salt divided
- 1 teaspoon ground pepper divided (pepper powder is not a good idea)
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour mixed with 1/4 cup tapioca (or corn or potato) starch
- oil for deep frying
- handful basil leaves (I used lemon basil)
Pat the chicken thigh fillets dry. Cut into bite-size cubes. Place in a bowl, pour in the soy sauce, add the garlic and mix well. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, beat the egg white until frothy. Add half of the five-spice powder, salt, pepper and half of the flour-starch mixture. Beat until smooth. Pour into the chicken. Mix lightly but thoroughly. Cover the bowl and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for at least half an hour.
Bring the chicken to room temperature.
In an oil-free pan, lightly toast the remaining salt, pepper and five-spice powder. Set aside and cool.
Heat enough cooking oil to reach a depth of three inches in your frying pan. The temperature of the oil should be around 300F. MEDIUM heat, in other words.
Toss the chicken cubes in the remaining flour-starch mixture. Deep-fry the chicken (in batches, if necessary, if your frying pan is on the small side) for about three minutes. Scoop out and drain.
Turn up the heat of the stove so that the oil temperature rises to 350F. Without using a thermometer, that translates to HIGH heat.
Drop in the basil leaves and cook for a few seconds. Dump the partially cooked chicken back into the now very hot oil and cook with the basil leaves for another minute.
Scoop out the salt and pepper chicken (yes, with the basil leaves) and transfer to a serving platter. Sprinkle the toasted salt-pepper-five-spice powder mixture over the fried chicken and serve immediately.