Monday, March 26, 2018

Taiwanese crunchy fried chicken legs

Just up the block from our wonderful little home in North Beitou was a fried chicken lady whose legs were worth dreaming about. 

Her chicken legs, of course. 

Like most Taiwanese joints, her chicken was seasoned within an inch of its life with spices and aromatics and lots of friendly liquids before being given a dry coating and fried up into crunchy lusciousness.

I know, you probably think that nothing really could ever improve on fried chicken legs once you got someone or other’s basic recipe. I would disagree. You definitely want these. 

Your serving suggestion
They are marinated in a heady mixture of soy sauce, rice wine, five-spice, and a dash of ground chile peppers along with a jumble of minced green onions, garlic, and ginger. 

This is so perfectly seasoned that you won’t be wanting or needing a sauce for the end product, as that would be overkill, plus it would tamp down the crunchiness. And crunchiness must be preserved at all times.

If you want to know the secrets to perfect Taiwanese fried legs, it’s these: The first thing is, you remove the bones. This is not at all difficult, and I’ve included a little tutorial below to help you through this, which should take all of two minutes per leg. 

Cut away the thighbone
And second, since you are now faced with a flat piece of meat, you should whack it with the back of your knife to both flatten it out and also break up the tendons, because those legs are chock full of tendons. I mean, something has to keep the bird upright, right?

Because no bones are in there, the meat cooks quickly and has no chance to dry out. Plus, since it has been turned into a virtual patty, eating becomes sybaritic because you get to munch your meal unimpeded by anything hard. Just turn your mind off and eat away, my friend. 

If the idea of removing the bones sounds scary or too much of a bother, you still can use this recipe to make some excellent fried chicken legs, no argument there. But this is a skill you should master. It’s not only easy, but it makes you look incredibly competent.

Release the whole bone
Two other little things I’m going to whisper to you here that will make this dish even better: Slip a little bit of baking soda into the marinade to tenderize the meat, and then combine the usual sweet potato starch with an equal amount of panko (dried bread crumbs) to offer yet another layer of crunch.

I’ll stop here. I know you want to get started…

Taiwan-Style Fried Chicken Legs
Táishì zhá jītuí  台式炸雞腿
Serves 2 as a main dish over rice, 4 as an entrée

1 teaspoon minced or grated ginger
1 large (or 2 small) clove garlic, minced
Original leg vs. boned
1 green onion, trimmed and minced
⅛ teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
1 teaspoon five-spice powder
1 teaspoon finely ground chiles, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
1½ teaspoons regular soy sauce
¼ cup | 60 ml mild rice wine (Taiwan Mijiu)
2 whole chicken legs (thighs and legs attached) with skin on
6 tablespoons | 12 g panko (Japanese dried bread crumbs)
6 tablespoons | 70 g sweet potato starch (sweet potato flour)
Frying oil
Pickles of some sort, like dakuan (Japanese pickled yellow radish) or these mustard pickles
Steamed rice
Whacked-up meat side

1. Get out a medium work bowl and mix together the ginger, garlic, green onion, baking soda, five-spice, chile pepper, black pepper, soy sauce, and rice wine.

2. Pat your chicken legs dry with a paper towel and set them skin-side down on a plastic cutting board. (You want to be able to really get this clean afterwards, so use plastic instead of wood for cutting up poultry.) Working on one leg at a time, use a long, thin knife to slit open the meat over the thighbone. Remove as much flesh as possible as you scrape up and down the bone, then go around the top of the bone to release it. Now cut around the knee joint. Finally, cut down the length of the leg bone to the ankle, and then clear the meat off the bone. Cut around the ankle, and you are done. Repeat with the other leg.
Dredge the legs

3. Lay the legs skin-side down on the cutting board. Use the back of a heavy knife to whack away at them for a minute or two, as this will flatten the meat and tenderize the tendons. Pull out any enormous white tendons you run across while you’re doing this. Place the meat in the work bowl, toss around to darken each piece, and then refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to a day or so.

4. Just before serving, combine the panko and sweet potato starch in a clean work bowl. Dredge one of the thighs in the panko mixture, turning it over and lightly patting the dry coating into all the nooks and crannies. It should be a solid white. 

Fried to a deep brown
5. Set your wok over medium-high heat and add an inch | 2 cm or so of frying oil. When the oil is almost smoking, slide the chicken patty into the oil and over with a spatter screen, if you like. Fry the chicken until it is golden brown, and then turn it over. Fry it again on both sides to achieve a deep brown color. Remove from the wok and let the chicken rest on a plate while you repeat this step with the remaining leg. Cut the legs crosswise into strips and serve hot, preferably with some pickles and hot rice.

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