Our guide to Korean fried chicken (with recipe)
Korean fried chicken is essentially crispy fried chicken in a sweet chilli sauce. There are actually several variations of this popular snack yet outside of Korea we tend to focus on the sticky sweet/spicy version.
What is the difference between Korean fried chicken and regular fried chicken?
Korean fried chicken is known for its light and crunchy crust with soft tender meat and moreish seasoning. It is the polar opposite of the thick (often greasy) crust and heavy handed approach of its southern counterpart. Everything about Korean fried chicken has a lighter touch, right down to its side serving of pickled radish and cold frosted beer.
So, what makes Korean fried chicken so different?
Korean fried chicken is best made with small chickens, for soft tender meat. The whole bird is used, cut into small pieces that are left on the bone. The best place to get chicken like this is actually your local halal butcher; ask for whole baby chicken, skin on, in pieces.
Any marinade is kept to a minimum, and the chicken is dipped in a thin batter then double fried at a relatively low temperature. Any bits of batter and bubbles in the crust are shaken off, for a smooth crackly crust.
Although it can be served plain, there are sauced varieties. The sauce is brushed, like a thin glaze, onto the hot crust. Think subtle seasoning as opposed to soaking.
Considered a snack, rather than a meal (karaoke and chicken lounge, anyone?) Korean fried chicken is a thing of glorious contrasts. Served with cold beer and crisp cubes of pickled radish, it is both hot and cold, sharp and sweet, crunchy yet soft. Salty and spicy, it really is finger licking good.
How Korean fried chicken is made
Outside of Korean communities, when we talk about Korean fried chicken we generally mean the sticky sweet chilli version known as ‘yangnyeom’. We’ve tried dozens of the best recipes (each one of them different) and come up with what we feel is the definitive Korean fried chicken recipe.
The best and most authentic way of cooking, as we saw earlier, is with a small chicken cut into pieces of no bigger than a few inches. This is not however the most accessible route so most people stick with wings. Skin is non-negotiable, and breast is pretty much a no-no unless it part of the whole bird approach that remains on the bone. Wings work well because they have the bone inside that helps them cook, and a complete covering of skin. If only wings had a slightly larger ratio of meat. You could also use chicken thigh with the skin intact but the bone removed.
Simple is the way forward here. Subtle enhancement if you will. You don’t want the whole buttermilk/entire spice rack combo that southern fried chicken demands. Some recipes go for a dry seasoning, whilst others prefer a wet marinade. In Korea, they may brine the whole chicken for a couple of days first. The common denominator is ginger. Salt and pepper. Possibly a touch of rice wine, or a little vinegar.
Our favourite was a dry (ish) rub of fresh ginger, salt and pepper. However, rubbing the grated ginger from the chicken after the marinade time was up was a bit of a chore to say the least. We decided to use our organic ginger powder instead. You don’t get the sharp citrus bite of fresh ginger, yet it plays its part in the recipe well.
Then there’s the coating. Many recipes use a wet marinade followed by a dry coat of seasoned flour. In Korea they use a wet batter, which needs a very fine dry coat first in order to stick. This approach naturally lends itself to a dry seasoning. The sweet spot for the batter seems to be a mix of cornflour and plain wheat flour, with a touch of baking powder. Some like to add a touch of garlic powder, but we prefer to leave this out.
It goes without saying that deep frying requires several inches of oil in a large sturdy pan. A good quality wok is ideal. Groundnut oil is ideal for deep frying, or corn oil works well. Vegetable oil is fine.
The general consensus is an initial fry, then a final fry, with the latter at a slightly higher temperature. Feel free to ‘wing’ it but a thermometer or guage for accuracy is preferable. Temperatures varied widely, but a 15C difference between the two was standard. We think that 170C for the initial fry, increased to 185C for the second fry is ideal.
In between cook A and cook B, put the wings in a sieve or fryer basket and give them a vigorous shake. This gets rid of unwanted gnarly bits and gives that all important smooth glass-like shatter on the crust.
Again, variation abounds. Chilli paste is the defining factor. Gochujang is a Korean fermented chilli paste but you can use an alternative. Ketchup featured heavily in many of the recipes, largely for its sharp sweet flavour profile that we feel can be best achieved in other ways. Soy sauce is a must. As are sugar and honey (brown sugar for its caramel, almost bitter, depth and honey for its nuances). Garlic also appears in every recipe we tried. The aim is a balance of sweet, sour, hot and savoury. A touch of sesame oil seems like an excellent addition.
For our sauce we use a few simple ingredients from our Asian organics range.
Recipe for Korean fried chicken
1 small chicken (as described) or 1kg of wings
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp white pepper
1 tsp organic dried ginger
For the batter (and dredge)
1/2 cup cornflour
1 cup plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup water
For the sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp organic chilli paste
3 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
- Rub the chicken with the salt, pepper and ginger powder. Leave to marinade overnight.
- Mix the dry ingredients for the batter together and set aside half. Mix the remaining half with the water to make a thin batter.
- Pat the chicken dry and toss in the dry mix, shaking well to remove any excess.
- Add all of the sauce ingredients to a small pan and heat gently to combine.
- Heat the oil to 170C.
- Working in small batches, dip the chicken in the batter and fry for 6 mins. Remove from the oil, transfer to a wire sieve, and shake vigorously to smooth away any lumps and bumps. Place on a wire rack. Make sure the oil reaches 170C before moving on to the next batch.
- Once all of the chicken is fried, increase the temperature to 185C and fry again for 5 mins. Again, work in small batches so as not to overcrowd the pan.
- Place all of the chicken on a wire rack to cool slightly, brushing lightly with the sauce to serve.
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This article was reproduced on this site with permission from operafoods.com.au the “Asian Sauces suppliers”.
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