Taiwanese food is a great mix of local dishes with influences from China, Japan and Southeast Asia. Popcorn chicken – yan su ji – is a popular street food in Taipei, and once you try it you’ll see why. The crunchy texture of the sweet potato flour coating is incredible.
- 600 g boneless chicken thigh fillets, preferably skin-on, cut into 3cm pieces
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 1 tsp grated ginger
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp Shaoxing wine
- 2 tsp sugar
- ½ tsp Chinese five-spice
- 1 cup sweet potato flour (see Notes)
- 2 litres oil, for deep-frying
- 1 cup loosely packed Thai basil leaves
- 1 tbsp salt
- ¼ tsp Chinese five-spice
- ¼ tsp white pepper
- pinch chilli powder
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Combine the chicken with the garlic, ginger, soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, sugar and five-spice and set aside to marinate for at least 10 minutes.
Coat the chicken pieces in the sweet potato flour and shake off any excess.
Heat the oil in a wok or saucepan. When the oil reaches 150°C scatter the basil leaves into the wok and stir for about 20 seconds, or until the basil turns translucent. Remove the basil from the wok and drain on absorbent paper.
Increase the heat of the oil to 170°C and fry the chicken in batches for about 3 minutes, or until golden brown and cooked through, regularly skimming any floating flour bits from the oil (see Notes).
For the spiced salt, mix the ingredients together and toast in a dry frypan over low–medium heat for 2 minutes, or until fragrant. Toss the chicken with the fried basil leaves and season with a good pinch of the spice salt. Serve immediately.
• Sweet potato flour is sometimes sold as ‘tapioca flour’. It’s available from Asian grocers. The Taiwanese variety is a coarse-textured but light flour that gives the characteristic crumbly texture to this dish. You could substitute cornflour or rice flour but it won’t quite be the same.
• When deep-frying, skimming oil is a really important step that many people overlook. It preserves the oil by keeping it clear, and stops burnt flavours creeping in to later batches.
Recipe and images from Adam Liaw's Asian Cookery School (Hachette Australia, $49.99 hbk, $17.99 ebook).
View our Readable feasts review and more recipes from the book here.