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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Thai-marinated fried chicken

Thai fried chicken

If you've been to Thailand, you've seen those fried chicken carts at practically every street corner, with the giant wok smoldering like a witch's cauldron filled with dark, smelly oil that seems as ancient as the broken down cart itself.  What those carts produce are the bright, bright gold, impossibly crisp, mind-blowingly flavorful pieces of fried chickens, so good you willingly suspend all your hygienic concerns.  Who cares how long those chickens lingered in the tropical heat with only the dodgiest "refrigeration", who gives a damn about how many times the oil has been re-used.  I'm going to take a big bite and let that crisp, garlicky, chicken-y goodness shatter into a million little pieces in my mouth and just die happy.  Wouldn't you?

Luckily, you won't need to hop on a plane - or get a special dispensation from your doctor - before you can eat one.  I've figured out how they're made.  And it's so very simple.  The trick is, let me just come out and tell you, rice flour.  You dredge the chicken pieces in rice flour, that's what give them the crispiest skin.  I also marinate them in a paste made with garlic, oyster sauce, and fish sauce to give them a bit extra kick in the flavor department.

I just made a batch of this for lunch on the boat yesterday.  They were still a little crisp (and still dee-lish) even after a few hours in a cold box.  I'd show you a picture but we devoured them all before I could get the camera out from the cabin...

Thai fried chicken, or, the crispiest fried chicken ever

8-10 pieces of chicken, drumsticks or thighs, or both (a little over 2lbs or 1kg)
4-6 cloves of garlic, peeled
about 1 tbsp of chopped cilantro roots (or just the bottom part of the stalks)
about 1/2 tbsp ground black pepper
1 tsp kosher or (large-grained) sea salt (If all you have is fine salt, skip it.)
3tbsp oyster sauce
1/4 cup fish sauce
Enough canola oil or other high-temp oil to fill about 2-inch from the bottom of your cast iron pan (or a deep frying pan)

Marinatedlegs

In a mortar or a small food processor, pound or chop the garlic, cilantro roots, kosher salt into a rough paste.  Transfer the paste into a large bowl, add the oyster sauce and fish sauce and stir to mix well.  Rinse and dry the chicken pieces thoroughly, then place them into the bowl.  With your hands, toss and rub the chicken pieces all over with the marinate mixture.  Cover the bowl with plastic and let marinade in the fridge for at least 3 hours.

Dredgedandready

When you are ready to cook the chicken, place your pan over medium-low heat, fill it with enough oil (I used Canola) to cover about 2inches from the bottom of the pan, or about half way up the side.  Let the oil come up to frying temperature, about 360F or 180C.  Meanwhile, put about 2 cups of rice flour into a large plate (a pyrex pie plate works very well for this.)  When the oil is ready, take the chicken pieces, one at a time, drop it into the flour plate and coat well with the rice flour.  Shake each piece once or twice to remove excess flour and place them, gently, into the hot oil.

Frying

If you don't have a thermometer, make sure your chicken pieces only gently sizzle in the hot oil.  Just listen to it, you should hear the oil just softly sizzling.  You should also see small bubbles around the chickens as they cook.  If the oil is too hot, you'll be able to see and hear it too.  There will be a lot of large bubbles blowing up and spitting viciously.  It will make a lot of violent noises and your chicken will brown up in just a few minutes, but the inside will be rare.  That's no good.  Just keep the flame low, and, when in doubt, turn the heat down just a little bit.

Cook the chickens until brown and crisp all around.  If you're not so sure if they are cooked perfectly, cut one up and see if it's cooked all the way through.  If you see a little blood, no big deal.  Just warm up the oven to about 225F or 100C, place your fried chickens on a cake rack over a cookie sheet and let them sit for 10 minutes to finish cooking.  (Don't forget to lower the heat on your frying pan so the rest of your chickens take a bit longer to cook!)  It's a good idea to heat up your oven to that temperature before you begin frying anyway, you can put your cooked chicken pieces in there while you fry the rest.  The oven will keep everything nice and warm, not to mention super crispy.

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