Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Taiwanese Chicken Two Ways With Thai Basil...


As a personal pledge this year to embark on discovering new cuisines and recreating favourites from home, I can't tell you how starstruck I've always been with Taiwanese cuisine. Salivating while viewing numerous Taiwan food romp shows over the years as the cute, quirky hungry wide-eyed host bounces from one specialized food stall to another devouring delectable edibles from many businesses operating for generations-- the story of humble beginnings to amassing infamous crowd-in-queue  frenzy always fascinate. Known for their sprawling swarming night food markets, you can find anything from grilled fish ball skewers, pork belly buns, braised offals, noodles, stinky tofu and all kinds of desserts (think bubble tapioca teas, shaved ice and mochi). Despite all the evolving food crazes, many traditional Taiwanese foods remain just as popular with the old and young alike. What is traditional Taiwanese cuisine? As with many cuisines, it is rooted in modest peasant country dishes. Inexpensive ingredients such as offal cuts and wild vegetables used in homey dishes can be a source of immense pride and adoration, making its way on celebration tables and banquets. With time, comfort dishes get refined, adapted and expanded in a wide variety of ways by fond cooks and become new beloved dishes.

Rifling through cookbooks, two dishes immediately sent me salivating, using chicken and fresh Thai basil-- Three Cup Chicken and "Popcorn" Chicken. Using condiments and starches already in my pantry, I couldn't wait to finally try my hands in recreating these beloved Taiwanese foods in my kitchen. As my love deepens, I look forward to enriching my appreciation of Taiwanese food and culture-- as I am discovering there's more than meets the eye in this distinct and universally-growing cuisine and bring more home-style created inspirations from this beautiful island to you.
  
"Popcorn" Chicken and Three Cup Chicken

Three Cup Chicken's name comes from its three equal parts measurement of soy sauce, sesame oil and rice wine. I've researched the recipe from various sources , and many have said to use one cup for the amounts, however for the same two pounds of bone-in chicken, I found 1/3 cup yield plenty of flavourful sauce so you don't have to overdo it. The signature savoury braise gets its rich flavours from the loaded garlic cloves, ginger and fresh basil. Picking up a few tips from my awesome Taiwanese friend Kate Chou's mom, it is such an irresistible and intoxicating dish to create at home simply. Touted as a quintessential Taiwanese home-style dish, you'll agree when you give it a try. 



Three Cup Chicken (San Bei Ji)
Makes 4 to 6 servings

1/3 cup sesame oil
1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced into 8 to 10 thick slices

12 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
4 green onions, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 red chilies (optional)
2 lb. bone-in chicken legs, thighs and/or wings, cut into roughly 2-inch pieces (see below)
1/3 cup rice wine
1/3 cup light soy sauce
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 bunch fresh Thai basil, leaves plucked


The Chinese meat cleaver is the "woman" for the job of hacking!  I used leg quarters, so first cut where the joint where drumstick and thigh meet. Then, cut the drumstick in half and the thigh in quarters; it may take a couple of good whacks to get through the bones, and if you miss the initial cut the next chop, make sure you remove any bone fragments before cooking.


Heat 2 Tbsp. sesame oil in a wok/skillet over medium-high heat; stir-fry the ginger, garlic, onions and chilies if using and cook until fragrant about one minute. Add remaining sesame oil and let heat to simmering.


Add chicken pieces and lightly brown, stirring occasionally for two to three minutes. Pour in the rice wine and soy sauce and bring to a boil (You can add 1/2 Tbsp. dark soy sauce to give the dish a deeper richer brown colour). Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until the chicken pieces are cooked through, and the sauce has slightly reduced about 15 minutes. Stir in the sugar. Turn off heat and stir in the basil leaves. Serve immediately. 



Ga-gorgeous and the aroma-- sweet savoury and garlicky with hints of anise basil fills the kitchen! 
Chicken, juicy succulent delicious in its potent, salty-sweet savoury braised sauce.


I forewent the hot chilies in the chicken dish as I was serving Hot and Sour Soup, alongside stir-fried bak choy, jellyfish and cucumber shreds and Stir-fried Fish-Fragrant Chicken and Eggplant. Leftovers even better the next day, as the flavours sit and meld...



This is probably the most recognized and delectable popular street food from Taiwan making head waves in the west. Meat is marinated with fragrant five-spice powder and deep-fried morsels sprinkled liberally with salt and white pepper once out of the hot oil that is served along attractive tasty crispy wispy fried Thai basil leaves. 

"Popcorn" Chicken (Yan Su Ji) (adapted from The Food of Taiwan by Cathy Erway)
Makes about 4 servings
1 lb. boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tsp. light soy sauce
1 tsp. Chinese cooking wine
1/4 tsp. five-spice powder
1/4 tsp. salt
 a couple of dashes ground white pepper
1/2 tsp. cornstarch
3 to 4 cups of canola or peanut oil for deep-frying

Breading:
1 large egg, beaten with 2 Tbsp. water
3/4 cup potato starch
1 bunch fresh Thai basil, leaves plucked
salt and ground white pepper to taste

Marinate the chicken in a medium bowl with all the ingredients up to oil. Refrigerate at least one hour or overnight (the flavours deepen the longer it melds).

Add the oil in a small saucepan (I like to cook mine in small batches, thus using and wasting less oil). Heat over medium-high heat until a wooden skewer inserted in the centre emits bubbles shooting up its sides. 


Just one egg for the breading will do. My recipe is modified as such.

Place egg and water mixture in one bowl and the potato starch in another. Dip each piece of chicken into the egg wash first, followed by the starch. Shake off excess. Drop the pieces one at a time into the oil; let fry turning them occasionally with tongs, until crispy and golden all over about two to three minutes. Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon and transfer on a rack over top a baking sheet/plate lined with paper towels (this will keep the bottom of chicken from getting soggy). 


Once the chicken are all fried, carefully drop in a small bunch of basil leaves and fry for a few seconds just until crisp and translucent otherwise it will brown and burn (BE CAREFUL, as some oil shot up once the leaves hit it-- so place some in gently and STAND BACK). Remove and transfer to rack or on paper towels. Sprinkle the chicken generously with sea/kosher salt and white pepper to taste, and serve with the fried basil leaves.


Jaw-dropping beautiful, deep-fried five-spice goodness fills the air teasing the salivation glands and each pop-in-the-mouth-- with crispy bite, salty and ever so tender! Darn gooood!


So flavourful on its own, popcorn chicken needs no dipping sauce! The basil are so-O good on its own too!


For more on Taiwanese foods, try my pal Kate Chou's family recipe for Taiwanese Pearly Meatballs-- ground pork mixed with other ingredients and seasoning, coated with rice and steamed to pearly ball-perfection. 

Pearly meatballs steaming to fluffy rice balls



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