Taiwanese Popcorn Chicken

The 19th February 2015 marked the arrival of the most celebrated holiday in the Chinese calendar: Chinese New Year. Whilst the majority of celebrations may initiate in China, roughly a sixth of the world takes part in the festivities – so why don’t you join them?

Embrace the new ‘year of the goat’ and indulge in a portion of these succulent Taiwanese Popcorn Chicken slices for a satisfying blend of sweet and savory, complete with a seasoning bursting with spice! Combining a crispy texture with a sensational umami essence, one taste will activate your addiction and leave you craving more.


For marinating and frying:

1 ½ to 2 pounds chicken thighs
3 garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon minced ginger
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine (or sake)
½ teaspoon white pepper
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
1 cup sweet potato flour (look for coarse sweet potato flour with flakes for better crunch, but if you can’t find flour, 2/3 cup sweet potato starch, cornstarch, or sweet rice flour mixed with 1/3 cup cornmeal or panko will work)
½ teaspoon baking powder
2 cups neutral-flavored oil, or enough to fill a deep-sided pot or wok 1-inch deep
1 cup basil leaves

To serve:

1 teaspoon Taiwanese white pepper salt (or ½ teaspoon salt mixed with 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and 1/4 teaspoon white pepper)
Paprika, to taste
Chinese five-spice powder, to taste


Slice chicken thighs into bite-sized pieces. In a medium bowl, toss the chicken with the garlic, ginger, soy sauce, rice wine, white and black peppers, salt, sugar, and five-spice powder until well-coated. Let marinate in the refrigerator for at least one hour or, ideally, overnight.

When you’re ready to fry, mix sweet potato flour and baking powder in a medium bowl. Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour mixture until well-coated. If needed, dredge a few times to build up a coating. Let the chicken sit for a few minutes so that the coating can adhere. You can do this while the oil is heating — 5 to 10 minutes of rest time is ideal.

To fry, heat a generous quantity of oil in a heavy-bottomed pot or a wok to about 350 to 375° F. If you don’t have a deep-fry thermometer, drop one piece of chicken into the oil to test. If it bubbles steadily, like a gentle simmer, and browns in about a minute, it’s exactly right. If it boils vigorously, it’s too hot, and if only a few bubbles appear, it’s too cold. Fry about a cup or so of the chicken at a time. (I like to fry it in a large metal strainer so that I can lift all the chicken out at once and don’t have to worry about burning. Do not overcrowd the chicken.) When the chicken is golden-brown, remove it from the oil and drain it on paper towels.

Turn the heat off and let the oil cool briefly. Pat the basil very dry and lower it gently into the oil using a metal strainer — be very careful, as it’s likely to splatter. When the basil is crisp, use the strainer to remove it, drain the basil of excess oil, and toss the leaves with the chicken.

Finally, powder the chicken with Taiwanese white pepper salt, paprika, and five-spice powder to taste, and serve immediately.

Happy Chinese New Year!

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