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 Myanmar (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, "The 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, reports 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 can 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, marinade the chicken as directed; coat where applicable; then fry following the directions below. 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, like 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.
One 3-pound chicken (or 2 to 2 1/2 pounds breasts, legs, wings), chopped into small pieces
Rub 2 teaspoons salt and 1/4 teaspoon turmeric into chicken. Pour on 3 to 4 tablespoons fish sauce. Cover, marinate, refrigerated, 2-3 hours.
Place 1/4 cup tamarind pulp in a small bowl. Add 1/2 cup hot water; soak, 10 minutes. Mash the tamarind with a fork to separate seeds and fibers from the pulp. Press the tamarind through the 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 1/2 teaspoon each sugar and salt. Best when served freshly made.
Adapted from the "Just Hungry" blog (justhungry.com) of Makiko Itoh.