Night Market Five-Spice Chicken

Though I’ve never been to Taiwan, there’s one thing I know for sure: I’m a huge fan of night market-style fried chicken. It’s one of a variety of xiaochi (aka “finger foods) found in Taiwanese night markets and is more or less popcorn chicken seasoned with garlic, soy, and a good amount of Chinese Five-Spice powder. I first tried it on last month’s Six Taste Taiwanese Food Tour and it has quickly become a staple in my house, earning the nickname, A.F.C. (aka Asian Fried Chicken).

There are many variations on this night market staple, but this is the recipe I’ve come up with that uses easier-to-find ingredients. The result is a barely breaded, headily-spiced, crisp-fried chicken, which is as good as a quick weeknight meal (with rice) as it is a New Year’s Eve cocktail party snack.

Night Market Five-Spice Chicken Recipe

  • Makes: 6 to 8 servings as an hors d’oeuvres
  • Total Time: 30 minutes plus marinating time
  • Hands-On Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken (dark or white meat), cut into bite-size pieces
  • 3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons sake or other rice wine
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese Five-Spice Powder, divided
  • 1 teaspoon ground white pepper, divided
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup brown rice flour, corn flour, or potato flour
  • Canola, Grapeseed, or Peanut oil, for frying
  • 1 bunch (about 1/4 ounce) Thai Basil leaves (optional)

Instructions

Mix the chicken with the soy, sake, sesame oil, sugar, half of each the Five-Spice powder and white pepper, and all the garlic. Cover and refrigerate for 2 to 24 hours.

When ready to cook, stir cornstarch and egg yolk into the chicken mixture. Put 1 cup of the flour and the remaining 5 spice and white pepper on a large, flat plate and mix. Add the chicken to the flour, toss to coat evenly, then knock off any excess flour. Let the chicken rest at least 10 minutes while the oil heats up — this will help the coating adhere better.

Fill a heavy-bottomed pan or wok with 1-inch of oil and heat to 375°F over medium-high heat. (Use a deep frying thermometer to check the oil is properly heated. Alternatively, dip the handle of a wooden spoon into the oil. If the oil bubbles around the handle, it is hot enough to fry the chicken.)

Add enough of the chicken to form a single layer in the pan (about half) and cook until it is golden brown on all sides (you’ll need to do this in multiple batches), about 3 to 5 minutes per batch. Transfer the fried chicken out on a plate lined with paper towels to soak up the excess oil. Repeat with remaining chicken.

As desired, carefully add half of the basil leaves (it will sputter so cover with a splatter guard or stand back) and fry until crisp, about 30 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and repeat with remaining basil. Toss fried basil with chicken and serve immediately.


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