Taiwanese Popcorn Chicken / Kiâm-soo-ke (Air Fryer version)

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Difficulty Level: Medium

Hands-on Time: 25 minutes

Total Time: 8 hours (mostly for marinating time)

Introduction and History of the Dish

Taiwanese “popcorn” chicken (also called salted crispy chicken, or salt and pepper chicken) originated from the northern part of old Tainan City, the culinary center of Taiwan, around 1979. A newly married couple, surnamed Yeh, who worked during the day at the family’s chicken farm, opened a food stand at the well-known An-pin night market, selling KFC style fried chicken, which was very popular in Taiwan at that time. Seeing that it was difficult to eat the American style fried chicken in a convenient and elegant way due to the large size of the pieces, Ms. Yeh cleverly improved the recipe by using mostly boneless meat, cut into smaller pieces, marinated in a sauce, and then coating them in sweet potato flour before frying. Customers were then able to pick up the bite-sized chicken chunks with thin bamboo sticks (similar to longer toothpicks), and enjoy the delicious snack while keeping their fingers clean. Also different from the American style fried chicken, Ms. Yeh added pepper salt and chili powder to give the chicken an extra kick of flavor. Because of this special salt and pepper taste, Yeh named the dish “salted crispy chicken” (鹽酥雞 | kiâm-soo-ke in Taiwanese | yán-sū-jī in Mandarin). This special snack soon became popular throughout Taiwan, and remains one of the country’s must-have street foods today.

Air fryers have become quite popular over the past few years; they allow a pseudo deep fried food feel without using near as much oil. We decided to try the air fryer with a very popular Taiwanese street food / tea shop snack, popcorn chicken, that traditionally has been deep fried. We think you will agree it was a success, with a nice crispy exterior, juicy interior, without the greasiness that sometimes plagues the true deep fried version.

Optional Pairings

Taiwan Beer, or a good local beer. Or of course bubble tea.

Gear

  • Air fryer (we used a Philips HD9220/26 AirFryer, but any air fryer should work)
  • Chef's knife
  • 2 Medium or large mixing bowls
  • Plastic wrap (or something to cover the bowl)
  • Chopsticks
  • Measuring spoons

Ingredients

Measure Ingredient name Notes
4 Pounds Boneless chicken thighs Thighs work better due to being more moist and better chicken flavor
2   Eggs  
16 Oz. Sweet potato flour  
6 Oz. Fresh basil Preferably Thai basil
1 Clove Garlic Remove the outer hard skin
3 Tbsp. Ginger When buying, look for fresher, less wrinkled hands
3 Tbsp. Rice wine (Taiwanese cooking michiu) Use sake as an alternate
9 Tbsp. Soy sauce Regular or low sodium
6 Tbsp. Oil Use your favorite oil; olive, coconut, or bacon drippings all work
3 Tbsp. Sugar (white or brown)  
¾ Tsp. Sea salt  
1 Tsp. Pepper salt for fried chicken (optional)  
2 Tsp. White pepper powder  
2 Tsp. Five spice powder  
3 Tsp. Dashi seasoning (optional) Look for the ones with no MSG

 

Instructions

Prep
Marinate the Chicken (15 minutes preparation; marinate 6-8 hours or overnight)
  1. Peel the skin of the ginger, then grate or chop finely, place in a medium to large mixing bowl.
  2. Grate or finely chop and add the clove of garlic.IMG_0827.jpg
  3. Add in the dry ingredients and mix: 3 tablespoons sugar, ¾ teaspoon sea salt, 1 teaspoon white pepper, 1 teaspoon five spice powder, 3 teaspoons Dashi.
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  4. Now add the wet ingredients: 3 tablespoons rice wine (or sake), 9 tablespoons soy sauce.IMG_0835.jpgIMG_0836.jpg
  5. Add in the 2 eggs and mix everything together.
  6. Cut chicken into approximately 1.5” pieces, then mix well into the marinate.
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  7. Cover and marinate for 6-8 hours or overnight in the fridge.
Coating and Pickup Prep (5 minutes)
  1. In a mixing bowl, place 16 oz. of Sweet Potato flour.IMG_0829.jpg
  2. Mix in 1 teaspoon each of five spice powder, ground white pepper, and (optional) pepper salt for fried chicken.IMG_0837.jpg
  3. Clean the basil and remove the bigger or thicker stalks.IMG_0856.jpg
Pick Up
  1. Coat about a quarter of the chicken pieces with Sweet Potato Powder coating mix, then take out the coated chicken and place on a plate to rest for 10 minutes (for more consistency, we did about one pound of chicken per time in the air fryer; you could do more and adjust the cooking time).
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  2. Re-coat the same chicken pieces a second time in the Sweet Potato Powder coating mix.IMG_0838.jpg
  3. Place the coated chicken pieces into the air fryer, sprinkle about 1 tablespoon of oil over the chicken and mix it in. IMG_0848.jpg
  4. Cook for 6 minutes at 360°F.
  5. Add a quarter of the basil and sprinkle another teaspoon of oil, then mix into the chicken, place back into the air fryer.IMG_0865.jpgIMG_0866.jpg
  6. Cook for 2 more minutes at 360°F.
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  7. Remove the chicken and toss with several shakes of paper salt, enjoy!
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Serve

Let it rest a minute before enjoying, don't burn your mouth!

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