Taiwanese popcorn chicken is one of many must-try street foods for those visiting Taiwan. When I took a trip to Taiwan back in 2014, every night market I went to have at least 3-4 stalls selling these popular treats, each with a long line of hungry customers.
If you have never tried popcorn chicken before and a trip to Taiwan is nowhere in your horizon, fear not, you can now recreate this delicious snack right in your own kitchen.
Chicken thigh, marinade sauce, and breading mix
You need three components to make delicious popcorn chicken: chicken thigh meat, marinade, and breading mix.
1. Chicken thigh meat
Make sure to use chicken thigh meat and not chicken breast. Chicken thigh has a higher fat content to chicken breast, and for this popcorn chicken, it is essential to use thigh meat.
You can use breast meat in a pinch, but I strongly suggest using that beautiful breast meat to prepare other recipes and wait until you get some thigh meat before making popcorn chicken.
The marinade for Taiwanese popcorn chicken is a mix of soy sauce, five-spice powder, ground pepper, and garlic.
Cut thigh meat into bite-size pieces, and marinate with the sauce for at least 15 minutes.
3. Breading mix
While the chicken is marinating, prepare a breading mix by placing tapioca starch, ground pepper, garlic powder, and salt in a large gallon-size ziplock bag. Shake to make a uniform breading mix.
After 15 minutes of marinating time, add one egg to the chicken and stir to coat all the pieces with egg. Transfer the chicken into the ziplock bag with the breading mix and shake well to coat the chicken.
Arrange the coated chicken pieces on a wire rack. Rest for 30 minutes to 1 hour to let extra moisture dry out. This will yield a crispier fried chicken and reduce the amount of splattering when we fry the chicken.
Tapioca starch is essential. Other starch, such as cornstarch or potato starch, will create a different texture. Please don’t substitute tapioca starch if you want to recreate Taiwanese popcorn chicken.
Frying and serving Taiwanese popcorn chicken
1. Fry popcorn chicken
Heat enough oil for deep frying. Once the oil is hot (~ 180 Celsius / 350 Fahrenheit), gently drop the chicken pieces into hot oil and fry until golden brown. About 2 minutes per batch.
Drain excess oil from fried chicken by placing them on a wire rack. Never do this on paper towels as the chicken will steam and become soggy, which is not something we want after all the work.
2. Fry Thai basil leaves
After frying the chicken, fry some fresh Thai basil leaves to serve with the popcorn chicken.
Drop Thai basil leaves into the hot oil, and quickly cover the pot with a lid since they will splatter. Open the lid once the sizzling sound dies down, and the leaves should be crispy and ready. Remove fried basil leaves with a slotted spoon and place on a wire rack to remove excess oil.
3. Serve popcorn chicken
Prepare a spice mix for Taiwanese popcorn chicken by combining salt, ground pepper, five-spice powder, Sichuan peppercorn, and sugar/chicken bouillon granules.
Toss fried popcorn chicken with the spice mix, then add the crispy fried Thai basil leaves. Enjoy immediately while the chicken is still piping hot.
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