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Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Taiwanese Popcorn Chicken

Taiwanese Popcorn Chicken 1

I've said it before many times that I have so many sets of photos that I could not cook or dine out for an entire year and still have something to blog every day. My photos were alphabetized since I tend to blog thematically, but too many posts got buried that way. Recipes languished and restaurants closed before I ever got around to blogging them. So I recently sorted my photos again, this time by date. And lo and behold, this Taiwanese Popcorn Chicken recipe from February 2008 popped up.

I had made this around the same time that I made and blogged my Taiwanese Popcorn Tofu and Japanese Chicken Karaage recipes, but wasn't quite satisfied with the recipe for some reason. But these photos, even taken with the old point and shoot camera, don't look half bad. The texture was fine, I just couldn't figure out exactly the right spices to make it taste like what I get at the tea houses. But here you go anyway, my almost forgotten Taiwanese Popcorn Chicken recipe.

Taiwanese Popcorn Chicken 2

Taiwanese Popcorn Chicken

For two servings as a snack or four servings as a side dish, you'll need:
2 boneless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into 1-inch chunks
1/2 tsp salt
2 tblsp soy sauce
1 tblsp xiao hsing rice wine or mirin
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 to 3/4 cup or so of cornstarch
Oil for deep-frying

For sprinkling on top:
1/2 tsp Chinese 5-spice powder
1/2 tsp chili powder or paprika

Optional: Fry Thai basil leaves for garnishing.

Add all the marinade ingredients together and leave the chicken pieces at room temperature for about half an hour to absorb.

Drain off marinade. Pour cornstarch into a shallow pan or dish. Take each chicken piece out of the marinade and roll it with the cornstarch until covered. Add more cornstarch if needed until the chicken pieces are completely covered.

Heat wok to medium-high and deep fry until lightly golden. Fry up some basil leaves if you wish.

Taiwanese Popcorn Chicken 3

When all the popcorn chicken has been fried, sprinkle Chinese 5-spice powder or chili powder if you wish.

Taiwanese Popcorn Chicken 4

Toss until the chicken pieces are evenly covered in chili powder and 5-spice powder.

Taiwanese Popcorn Chicken 5

Toss again.

Taiwanese Popcorn Chicken 6

Eat this as a snack or serve with rice for a meal.

Taiwanese Popcorn Chicken 7


Similar recipes:
Chicken Fingers
Dau Hu Chien (Vietnamese Fried Tofu)
Japanese Chicken Karaage
Taiwanese Popcorn Tofu

1 year ago today, How to Make a Homemade Cake Stand.
2 years ago today, Banh Mi Thit Kho Trung (Vietnamese Braised Pork and Eggs Sandwich).
3 years ago today, spicy Sichuan cuisine at Chung King Restaurant - San Gabriel.
4 years ago today, one of my most popular recipes, Bo Luc Lac (Vietnamese Shaking Beef).


  1. These look entirely too addictive! Do you find a big difference in using thigh versus breast meat?

  2. Thigh meat is preferred by my bf because it is juicy and does not end up dry like breast meat. I usually have five spice in my marinade, that way the flavor just pops in your mouth. I don't usually sprinkle on the outside so I will try that today. The recipe that I once learned also called for sweet potato starch to get the texture correct, I just use potato starch.

  3. Mine came out kind of close to the tea house but for the topping I added one part season salt and one part chili powder and a hint of 5 spice. Not spicy enough for me I can't figure it out...

  4. Nikki,
    Thigh meat is always juicier, but I used breast meat for my chicken karaage and didn't have any problems.

    I added five-spice in the marinade too and it made the frying oil so messy. Hmm. Must try sweet potato starch then.

    I can't either! The texture was fine, but the taste wasn't quite there yet.

  5. I've recently discovered that I'm addicted to Taiwanese popcorn chicken. The combination of the texture and spices always hits the spot and I can't seem to control myself when I'm eating it. My local joint is a Taiwanese wonton soup restaurant that seems to make this dish (and wonton soup) better than any place I've tried it. You can imagine my horror when they told me their plans of moving to a new location. My goal was to master this recipe and these are the problems/solutions I've found:

    Chicken: Thighs are a must. There's too much moisture in chicken breasts that is retained and will only ruin the outer texture after you pull it from the oil (unless you fry the living daylights out of it). I think the picture of the frying above is with chicken breast and you can see some juices coming through the outer coating.

    Pre-Fry Seasoning: I've tried a few recipes and found that less is more. I like that this recipe's approach to seasoning is minimal and the combination works. I found recipes that used too much soy sauce/paste were overseasoned and had a negative impact on the texture inside and out. My most successful batch had about 1 tbs of light soy, soy paste, garlic powder, chinese rice wine and grated ginger. It was a light coating so there was no real marinade to pour off.

    Post-Fry Seasoning: I tried the five spice/paprika combination but it doesn't have the same "POP" that the chicken at my local joint has. My local joint definitely has five spice in its post-fry seasoning. I found at my Asian market this Taiwanese product called "White Pepper Salt." It has a sort of beach sand appearance that resembled the seasoning that my local joint uses and when I tasted it I knew I was on the right track. My current post-fry seasoning mix: 1 part kosher salt, 1 part five spice and 1 part white pepper salt. I'll usually sprinkle the salt/five spice mixture on the just fried pieces and then blast them with the white pepper salt to taste.

    Coating: I first tried using sweet potato starch but found that the texture wasn't the same as the restaurants. I then found a product called SWEET POTATO FLOUR. Unlike the starch, which is completely pulverized into a fine powder, sweet potato flour is a mixture of fine flour mixed with tiny clumps of powder. After frying the chicken using this flour, the texture was spot on to what I got in the restaurants.

    NOTE: It's tempting to buy de-boned and de-skinned chicken thighs but I strongly urge against it. Not to get onto a soapbox, but buying chicken thighs with the bone in and skin on is better for the following reasons: 1) you pay less per pound, 2) you can save the bones for stock and 3) COAT THOSE SKINS IN FLOUR AND FRY THEM UP!!! The skins when fried and given the same treatment are a little slice of heaven. Anyway, I hope that my trial and error can help you guys in your culinary endeavors.

  6. I tried your recipe and it resemble Uncle Bob Chicken (famous in Malaysia). I will remake it again. Thanks!

  7. Harry,
    Awesome! I have to search for this sweet potato flour. I usually buy bone-in chicken and slice off the meat myself. I just save the bones to make soup. So I get two uses out of it.

    Glad it worked for you. The recipe is still not quite perfect, but better than nothing.


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