Taiwanese popcorn chicken 盐酥鸡 is one of the most famous street foods, which is extraordinarily crispy and sprinkled with sharp and biting spice seasoning.

I can assure you that it is still crackling crunchy even after frying for one hour. 

And the unusual spice mix has a slight numbing feeling on your tongue!

Even the accompanied basil leaves are uniquely deep-fried, adding a delightful texture that will shatter like a paper-thin glass. 

If that is enough to make you drooling profusely, get the recipe and detailed explanation that guides you to make it at home. 

Simple ingredients. Quick and easy. The secret: the chicken is double-fry to ensure that it is crispy.

Let me show you how to make popcorn chicken, Taiwanese style.

Two unique features make Taiwanese popcorn chicken one of the most famous street foods- extraordinarily crunchiness and the unique spice seasoning.

1. Marinade for the chicken meat 

Choice of the chicken meat 

You can either use chicken thigh or chicken breast meat for this popcorn chicken recipe. I use chicken thigh meat because it is tender and juicier. Remove the skin if you want to use the chicken thighs. Regardless of which one you choose, cut them into bite-size of about one-inch cube. 

The marinade for the popcorn chicken

The marinade ingredients are all popular items that are available in most of the Chinese kitchen pantry. They are light soy sauce, salt,  garlic, ginger, five-spice powder, egg white, all-purpose flour, and Shaoxing wine:

  • Light soy sauce and wine are for the umami and saltiness. 
  • Garlic and ginger are perfect ingredients to enhance the flavor of the chicken. 
  • Chinese five-spice powder (a mixture of star anise, cloves, cinnamon, Sichuan pepper, and fennel seeds) provides a broad foundation of flavor to the chicken. 
  • Egg white protects the chicken from the oil’s direct heat to keep it moist and tender. 
  • The flour holds the liquid seasoning to the chicken during marination. 

Mix the marinade with the chicken meat thoroughly. Keep it in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour before proceeding to coat with the potato starch. It is harmless if you set it aside, longer or even overnight. 

2. Coat the chicken with cornstarch

Coat the marinated chicken with starch in a large bowl in small batches to allow the starch to coat the chicken thoroughly. 

Let the chicken coated with starch rest for 15 minutes before deep frying. The moisture in the chicken will absorb the starch and hold it firmly on the surface. If you fry the chicken immediately after coated with the starch, the loose starch on the surface will fall into the oil and make the oil murky and dirty. 

Note: Sweet potato starch is used in authentic Taiwanese recipes. Look for those with a coarse texture instead of finely ground. However, it can be hard to get if you are outside of Asia. A good alternative is by using cornstarch or wheat starch to coat the chicken. 

3. Use basil leaves to enhance the flavor

Pluck, clean, and dry the basil leaves.  Make sure the leaves are dry before adding to the oil to deep-fry with the chicken. You will expect the oil will splatter, and the leaves will crackle during deep-frying due to the leaves’ moisture.  

Thai basil is what I used in this easy popcorn chicken recipe, as it is widely available in Asia. You can use other species of basil if it is not available.

4. Double fry the chicken 

I use the double-fry method to create an incredibly crispy popcorn chicken. Here is how it works:

The first round of frying is to cook the chicken and remove most of the moisture on the chicken’s surface. As such, it requires a lower temperature and a slightly longer duration. After the first frying, REST the chicken until it cools down, and allow sufficient time to let the moisture migrate from the inner part to the surface. Now the surface becomes wet again. Finally, deep-fry the second round over high heat for a short duration to remove all the moisture on the surface, turning it into a crispy crust without overcooking the chicken. 

First fry: Deep-fry at a lower heat 

  • Heat the oil to 150°C/300°F.
  • Drop the Chicken into the oil in small batches. If you crowd the oil with too many chicken pieces, they will stick together and not deep-fried evenly.
  • Deep-fry the first round at a lower temperature at 150°C/300°F until the chicken turns to pale yellow, which will take approximately 4 minutes. The popcorn chicken will become dry if you fry them for too long.
  • Remove the chicken from the oil and let it cool in a wire mesh strainer. Meanwhile, continue frying the remaining batches of the chicken. 

Note: If you do not have the kitchen thermometer, you can check the temperature by dipping a wooden or bamboo chopstick into the oil. The oil temperature is hot enough if you see bubbles rising from the surface of the chopstick. 

Second fry: Deep-fry at high heat 

  • Now crank up the heat to 190°C/375°F.
  • Deep-fry fry the chicken until it turns golden brown, which will take between one to two minutes. 
  • When the chicken pieces turn golden, throw a handful of basil leaves into the oil. Be careful as the oil will splatter considerably due to the water content in the basil leaves. 
  • The leaves will immediately crackle and cause the oil to splatter, so it is advisable to immediately cover the pan or the deep fryer to keep your kitchen away from the oil. 
  • It only needs about 10 seconds to turn the basil leaves crispy. Remove the basil and the chicken immediately and drain on a colander or wire mesh strainer. 

Note: If you do not intend to deep fry the chicken as it may cause your kitchen to become too oily, you can air fry the popcorn chicken for a healthier version. The final texture after chicken will be slightly different, and it will be less crunchy than the double-fried method.

Deep fryer versus frying with a pan

The electric deep fryer is undoubtedly the best equipment because the chicken pieces are suspended in the frying basket. Therefore, they are free from any debris which will sink to the bottom. The cooking is more even and can control the temperature with its inbuilt thermometer.

However, it may not be practical if you do it at home, as you need a large amount of oil.  Therefore, I use a pan to deep-fry the chicken in this recipe. The downside is you have to control the temperature manually and continuously stir the chicken to avoid sticking together, particularly during the first minute.

Two unique features make Taiwanese popcorn chicken one of the most famous street foods- extraordinarily crunchiness and the unique spice seasoning.

5. Season the chicken with Szechuan peppercorns and salt 

The Taiwanese popcorn chicken tastes significantly different from the KFC popcorn chicken due to the unique blend of the spice mix.

I used two types of peppercorns in this recipe: Szechuan peppercorns and white peppercorns. Szechuan peppercorns are not spicy but leave a numbering feeling on your tongue. White peppercorns are spicier than black peppercorns, and the aroma will last longer after grounding. If you are not used to Szechuan peppercorns’ numbering effect, you can start with half of the amount in this recipe. 

Prepare the Szechuan peppercorns and salt seasoning:

  • Toast the Szechuan peppercorns and white peppercorns in a frying pan over low heat until they become aromatic. 
  • Ground the peppercorns with the spice grinder. 
  • Sieve the ground peppercorns to remove any large pieces.
  • Combine the ground peppercorns with salt and chili powder. 
  • Now add the peppercorn spice mix to the freshly fried chicken and mix well. The amount is flexible as it should follow your preference. 

You can add some chili powder if you like hot and spicy. I like to use cayenne pepper for the spiciness, but if you only want to have a beautiful red color, you can use paprika. Another ingredient you can add is Chinese five-spice powder.  

Other recipes related to popcorn chicken 

If you like this Taiwanese popcorn chicken or other Asian chicken recipes, you will be interested in checking out the following recipe recipes:

Taiwanese chicken steak: You will be fascinated by the insane size, which the locals described by comparing it to the face’s dimension. It is a thin and large, look-alike schnitzel snack with a crumbly, crispy, and crunchy coating.

Taiwanese pineapple cake is a favorite bakery delicacy all year round.  It is a crumbly and nearly melt-in-the-mouth pastry with the pineapple jam as the filling encased inside.

Three cups chicken is prepared by a cup of rice wine, lard, and soy sauce, hence the name ‘three cups.’ Eventually, it has become the de facto national dish of Taiwan.

Yield: 3 portions

Taiwanese Popcorn Chicken

popcorn chicken thumbnail

Two unique features make Taiwanese popcorn chicken one of the most famous street foods- extraordinarily crunchiness and the unique spice seasoning. 

How crispy is it? It is still crackling crunchy when you bite into it after frying for one hour. 

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes

Ingredients

Ingredients A (Chinese salt and pepper)

Ingredients B (marinade & chicken)

Ingredients C (Others)

Instructions

The spice mix:

  1. Toast the Szechuan peppercorns and white peppercorns in a frying pan over low heat until they become aromatic. 
  2. Ground the peppercorns with the spice grinder. 
  3. Sieve the ground peppercorns to remove any large pieces.
  4. Combine the ground peppercorns with salt and chili powder. 

The chicken:

  1. Cut the chicken meat, skinless, into bite-size.
  2. Combine with all the ingredients in B.
  3. Marinate for at least one hour.
  4. Coat the marinated chicken with plenty of cornstarch.
  5. Remove the excess and let it rest for 15 minutes.
  6. Heat the oil to 150°C/300°F.
  7. Drop the chicken into the oil in small batches until pale yellow, which will take approximately 4 minutes. 
  8. Remove the chicken, let it cool in a wire mesh strainer.
  9. Now increase the heat to 190°C/375°F.
  10. Deep-fry fry the chicken (the second time) until golden, which will take between one to two minutes. 
  11. Throw a handful of basil leaves into the oil. Cover the pan with a lid to prevent the oil from splattering.
  12. After ten seconds, remove the basil and the chicken immediately and drain on a colander or wire mesh strainer. 
  13. Sprinkle half a teaspoon of the spice mix A and mix well.  Serve.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

3

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 568Total Fat: 26gSaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 18gCholesterol: 184mgSodium: 1264mgCarbohydrates: 43gFiber: 1gSugar: 0gProtein: 40g

This data was provided and calculated by Nutritionix on 1/12/2021

    1 Response to "Popcorn chicken (Taiwanese style) – How to make it at home"

    • KP Kwan

      Hi, this is KP Kwan. I am happy to see you in this comment area, as you have read through my recipe. I am pleased to reply to any questions and comments as soon as possible.

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