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Popcorn Chicken with Taiwanese Basil

Popcorn Chicken with Taiwanese Basil

Every time I visit Quickly’s, I order a large mango green tea and Popcorn chicken. They are called chicken nuggets on the menu, but the nuggets aren’t the kind made with processed chicken found at fast food joints. They are actual chunks of chicken meat, fried with a special seasoning. I actually don’t know why Quickly’s renamed them as nuggets – maybe to appeal to the masses? The nuggets are actually a popular Taiwanese street food called Popcorn Chicken, or Salt and Pepper Chicken (yan su ji) and it’s cooked with basil leaves. They are highly addictive and we always order the spicy version for my husband and I, and a non-spicy order for the kids.

Scroll down to the end of this post for the printable recipe.

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Instead of constantly ordering the MSG-laden version at Quickly’s all the time, we also make this version at home. Ok, I’m lying. We order the Quickly’s version all the time and also make this at home all the time.

We’re pigs.

I’ve made adjustments to this recipe, such as frying in a smaller amount of oil instead of deep frying in order to save money. I also don’t deep fry the basil leaves first, because they tend to splatter a LOT and create a huge mess, since the leaves contain so much water. Instead, I stir fry the basil leaves with a bit of oil, then add the cooked chicken and spice salt together so the basil flavor infuses the chicken.

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If you have an Asian grocery store nearby, purchase Taiwanese basil for this recipe. It has a purple stem and a strong licorice scent, but doesn’t taste like licorice so don’t worry. If it did, it would be in my trash can right now instead of in my stomach.

There are two groups of people; people who hate licorice and people who love it.

But trust me, licorice haters. This will not taste like you stir fried chicken with a package of Twizzlers.

If you can’t find Taiwanese basil, regular basil will do as well. I’ve used whatever basil I can find, whether it’s from H-mart or the Italian basil from my backyard, and both work fine.

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Two other ingredients that you will need are spice salt and five spice powder. Spice salt is what Chinese cooks use for salt & pepper dishes such as salt and pepper shrimp, salt and pepper squid, or salt and pepper pork chops. It is a seasoned salt that has a slightly smoky taste. It also goes by salt and pepper seasoning. If you can’t find this you can use regular salt.

The five spice powder is sold at most Asian grocery stores and I am starting to see it at regular supermarkets like Kroger. The five spices are star anise, fennel seed, cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom. My brand of seasoning had misspelled all its ingredients; I’m guessing Loves means cloves.

The Taiwanese version of this recipe uses potato starch, but since it is hard to find in most stores, I use cornstarch instead. But if you can find potato starch, use it, as it gives the chicken the little crumbly bits that is typical of the original popcorn chicken.

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Popcorn Chicken with Taiwanese Basil

serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 4 chicken thighs, de-boned and skin removed, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 Tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. Chinese cooking wine
  • 1 tsp. 5 spice powder
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch (or potato starch) for dredging
  • 2 cups basil leaves, washed and dried
  • 1/2 tsp. spice salt
  • 1 cup oil for frying

Instructions:

  1. Combine the chicken, soy sauce, cooking wine, 5 spice powder and garlic in a bowl. Let marinate in the fridge for at least 10 minutes.
  2. In a large skillet, add 1 cup of oil and turn to medium high heat.
  3. Put the cornstarch in a large plate. Dredge the chicken pieces in the cornstarch. Test the oil by sprinkling a bit of the cornstarch in; if it bubbles and rises up it is ready to use. Gently place each piece of chicken in one at a time, being sure they don’t stick together so they cook evenly. Cook for 3-4 minutes on each side, then set aside on a plate lined with paper towels. Repeat the frying process until all the chicken is cooked. Turn heat off.
  4. Remove oil from the pan all except for 1 tablespoon’s worth. Heat to medium high heat again, and add basil leaves. Stir around and cook until the leaves start drying out and looking crispy. Add the chicken and the spice salt, stir together for another 3-4 minutes. Serve immediately.

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Instructions with photos:

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Combine the chicken, soy sauce, cooking wine, 5 spice powder and garlic in a bowl. Let marinate in the fridge for at least 10 minutes.

I know, I forgot the garlic until the last minute. But let’s pretend it’s there in the photo.

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Remove all the basil leaves from the stems.

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In a large skillet, add 1 cup of oil and turn to medium high heat.

Put the cornstarch in a large plate. Dredge the chicken pieces in the cornstarch. Test the oil by sprinkling a bit of the cornstarch in; if it bubbles and rises up it is ready to use. Gently place each piece of chicken in one at a time, being sure they don’t stick together so they cook evenly.

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Cook for 3-4 minutes on each side, then set aside on a plate lined with paper towels.

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Repeat the frying process until all the chicken is cooked. Turn heat off.

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But waaaaaaaaiiiitttt..there’s more (to this process)!

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Remove oil from the pan all except for 1 tablespoon’s worth. Heat to medium high again, and add basil leaves.

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Stir around and cook until the leaves start drying out and looking crispy.

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Add the chicken and the spice salt, stir together for another 3-4 minutes. Serve immediately.

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My kid’s grubby little fingers kept sneaking pieces of chicken.

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Luckily you can’t tell that pieces were disappearing every time I turned my back. I managed to take enough shots before my kids devoured it all.

Sorry dad, there probably won’t be any left when you get home from work.

taiwanesepopcorn

Popcorn Chicken with Taiwanese Basil

June 1, 2017
: 4
: Moderate

Popcorn Chicken, or Salt and Pepper Chicken (yan su ji) is a popular Taiwanese street food and also sold in a lot of American bubble tea chains. It is cooked with basil leaves and highly addictive.

By:

Ingredients
  • 4 chicken thighs, de-boned and skin removed, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 Tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. Chinese cooking wine
  • 1 tsp. 5 spice powder
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch (or potato starch) for dredging
  • 2 cups basil leaves, washed and dried
  • 1/2 tsp. spice salt
  • 1 cup oil for frying
Directions
  • Step 1 Combine the chicken, soy sauce, cooking wine, 5 spice powder and garlic in a bowl. Let marinate in the fridge for at least 10 minutes.
  • Step 2 In a large skillet, add 1 cup of oil and turn to medium high heat.
  • Step 3 Put the cornstarch in a large plate. Dredge the chicken pieces in the cornstarch. Test the oil by sprinkling a bit of the cornstarch in, if it bubbles and rises up it is ready to use. Gently place each piece of chicken in one at a time, being sure they don’t stick together so they cook evenly. Cook for 3-4 minutes on each side, then set aside on a plate lined with paper towels. Repeat the frying process until all the chicken is cooked. Turn heat off.
  • Step 4 Remove oil from the pan all except for 1 tablespoon’s worth. Heat to medium high heat again, and add basil leaves. Stir around and cook until the leaves start drying out and looking crispy. Add the chicken and the spice salt, stir together for another 3-4 minutes. Serve immediately.



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