Deep-Fry Fridays: Taiwanese Crispy Salty-Peppery Chicken Recipe

If you’ve ever visited Vancouver, you’ll know that the Taiwanese bubble tea houses are as ubiquitous as the sushi joints. The bubble tea houses serve a variety of drinks, desserts, Taiwanese snacks and mini meals into the wee night. Generally, the food at bubble tea places is cheap, fast and filling.Mike’s favourite thing to order is crispy-salty-peppery chicken. They’re deep-fried popcorn chicken nuggets with a thin, non-existent crispy skin tossed in white pepper and Chinese five-spice powder. They’re super delicious and very addictive.

Salty-peppery chicken is super simple to make, but there is a secret ingredient: sweet potato starch. Apparently sweet potato starch is what keeps the coating crispy. You can find sweet potato starch in most Asian groceries. Other than buying the sweet potato starch, making salty-peppery chicken is super simple. The chicken is marinated overnight in soy sauce, mirin, sugar, garlic and spices then the next day cornstarch and an egg yolk is added to the marinade and the chicken is tossed in the sweet potato starch and deep-fried.

Traditionally, the Taiwanese deep-fry a couple of Thai basil leaves to go with the chicken, but since I had regular basil, I threw that in the oil with some flat leaf parsley. I really love deep-fried herbs, the crisp-delicateness really brings out their flavour. Crispy-salty peppery chicken make a great snack, or you can make yourself a little set meal.

Taiwanese Crispy Salty Peppery Chicken Recipe adapted from Micky’s Fav. Taiwanese Recipes

4 boneless chicken thighs, diced into 1 inch pieces
1 egg yolk
1 cup sweet potato starch
1/4 cup corn starch
1/2 cup soy sauce (reduce this to 1 tablespoon, see note)
2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoons 5 spice powder
1 teaspoon white pepper
frying oil

In a large bowl, mix minced garlic, soy sauce, mirin, sugar, 1/2 tablespoon of 5 spice powder, and white pepper. Marinate the chicken overnight.

The next day, add the egg yolk and corn starch into the marinated chicken and mix it well.

In a bowl,  mix the sweet potato starch, the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of 5 spice powder, and garlic powder. This is the coating for the fried chicken.

Coat each piece of chicken completely with the mix. Let it sit for about 5 mins before frying so that the sweet potato starch has time to stick onto the chicken.

Heat a pot of frying oil over medium heat to 350˚F. Fry the chicken in batches until golden brown. Remove from the oil and drain on a cooling rack. Turn the heat to high so the oil reaches 375˚F.

Fry the chicken pieces for a second time in the oil for about 10 seconds to make it extra crispy.

Toss in any herbs you are deep frying.

Drain the chicken on a cooling rack and serve hot.

Note: My chicken turned out brown, too brown. I would recommend skipping the soy sauce, or reducing it to 1 tablespoon. I rinsed off some of my chicken pieces, but they were still too brown and burning quickly because of the soy sauce, so definitely reduce the soy sauce!

16 Comments add yours

  1. oooh, I’ve been obsessed with 5 spice powder lately. These are making my mouth water!

    I think 5 spice is the secret ingredient in so many dishes!

    steph on April 24th, 2010 at 1:40 pm
  2. Ahhh! This makes me want to run to Beefy Beef Noodle.

    Hahaha! I love Beefy Beef Noodle, if only for the name alone! There salty-peppery chicken is pretty good too.

    steph on April 24th, 2010 at 1:41 pm
  3. Will other types of starch work, or does it have to be sweet potato starch?
    I know where to get the stuff, but it is just another ingredient laying around that I don’t normally use.

    The chicken looks good to munch on.

    It’s super good to munch on.

    Apparently the sweet potato starch is the key to the crispiness because of it’s big flakes, but I have seen recipes floating around with a flour coating. I guess I’ll have to do an experiment!

    steph on April 24th, 2010 at 1:43 pm
  4. I always thought the texture of this dish was ruined by the excessive powdery-ness of it. But this recipe looks extremely authentic! All the bubble tea places in Ontario serve this too ahah

    Hmm, I’ve never found the dish powdery, I wonder if the chicken’s different out in Ontario?

    steph on April 24th, 2010 at 1:43 pm
  5. Om nom nom, this looks so yum! I’m a vegetarian and achillies heel is salt and pepper tofu, you make me want to try this recipe with tofu! Do you think you could do an instructional post on deep frying? Deep frying makes me ‘break out in hives’ anxious, but the idea that tofu and I could one day live in deep fried happiness gives me the craving to conquer, thanks.

    An instructional deep-fry post is a great idea, I’ll look into it. I love deep-fried tofu!

    steph on April 24th, 2010 at 1:45 pm

    It is the potential mess or the fear of hot oil?

    The pot with the oil should be 1/2 to 2/3 full. Food goes in and will “boil”, so you need space for that.

    I prefer a dutch oven or something with similar dimensions. A stockpot is too vertical. The higher sides of a stockpot compared to a braiser or some saucepans helps contain the splatter.
    A dutch oven, having a lot of mass, will also maintain temperature better, leading to better results.

    Make sure the surface of the food is dry. Very important – oil and water do not play nice. Obviously with something batter coated this isn’t possible, but a batter seals off quickly. Pat your food dry with a paper towel shortly before putting it into the oil. Very important with french fries, especially if you had soaked them to wash off surface starch and to plump up the interior starch.
    This is also a purpose of a flour/starch/breadcrumb/panko coating. It isn’t just delicious when golden brown, but also forms a dry exterior that protects you from the moist interior.

    Place the food into the oil, don’t drop it from a height. Dropping will only lead to hot oil splattering. place one end into the oil and then drop the rest away from you, to control the direction of any splatter.

    Don’t over crowd your oil. It causes a drop in temperature, leading to soggy/oily food.

    Use an candy/oil thermometer. Fry to cook at 350-375 F. French fries get a pre-cook if you do it the Belgian way at 325. The temperature of the oil will drop about 50 degrees, but don’t try to raise it up to the original temperature.
    Having a high enough temperature when you start frying is important to limiting the amount of oil absorbed. Too high a temperature leads to a burned exterior and raw interior.

    You can re-use the oil a couple of times. Let it cool down to room temperature and strain off the oil from any particulate matter, re-bottle, and refrigerate. The food particles only make the oil break down faster. The increasingly darker color, lower smoke point, and smell will tell you when you have used it enough.
    You will find that reused oil browns food better. Chemically soaps have formed, bringing oil and food closer. A restaurant will even save a bit of old oil to put into a new batch of the fryer.

    Get a splatter guard. This is a flat mesh cover with a handle. It allows steam to leave while limiting the amount of small oil droplets that drop through.

    Clean up with a hot soapy cloth or sponge.

    Andy on April 25th, 2010 at 2:54 pm
    Phoebe Reid on April 24, 2010 at 2:27 am
  6. Oh my goodness, THANKYOU, that is incredibly helpful and kind of you, it must have taken you a while to write and I really appreciate it! You Rule! now if you’ll scuse’ me I think a trip to the store is in order, cheers!

  7. Wooww! :O
    I love Beefy Beef Noodle.
    I will follow up to your step. (next dinner)

  8. your picture of the Taiwanese fried chicken nuggets don’t look like anything I’ve had either here or in Taiwan. Yours looks too powdery and uncooked and not very appetizing. Sweet potato flour is better than sweet potato starch, as authentic Taiwanese chicken nuggets have some granular deep fried bits of the sweet potato flour over the starch, which has no granular texture to it. I would skip the soy sauce all together. It also does not have to be refried either. This technique is only used by restaurants which need to fry up batches of this stuff in a hurry – they quick fry or re-heat up the pre cooked nuggets in order to save on pre time.

  9. … And on that note… Thanks for the post! Love your blog!

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