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The most common recipe question I get and the most common request I find on forums, “How do you make Korean fried chicken?”

It’s a great mystery, even in Korea.  With my cultural background and family history, along with a lot of experimentation, I’ve become pretty good in the fried chicken arts–at least in the Southern fried chicken territory.  In the past, I have also succeeded in mimicking the flavor of my favorite Korean chicken brand, Two Two Chicken, which is the classic fried chicken hof style.  The hard part is getting the texture right.

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The real Two Two Chicken

Eun Jeong and I went on the internet.  We also checked out a TV program that quickly went behind the scenes of a chicken joint but didn’t divulge the secrets.  I found a few recipes for Korean fried chicken, like this one in The New York Times from the cookbook Quick and Easy Korean Cooking (Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee), but none of them sounded like what we have in Korea.  Eun Jeong checked Korean sites, and none of them sounded definitive.  We then had a little pow wow about what we’ve heard over the years in Korean fried chicken techniques.

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We decided to try three different approaches from our research to mimic the Two Two style.

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Starch Only

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Starch and Flour (3:2 ratio)

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Starch and Water (thick slurry)

We used potato starch, but corn starch is more available in American kitchens.  To each of them, I added the flavorings.

  • 2 tsp. Chinese Five Spice
  • 1 tsp. Garlic Powder
  • 1/2 tsp. Ginger Powder
  • 1 tsp. Salt
  • 1/2 tsp. Ground Cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. Black Pepper

Two Two has a distinctive Chinese five spice scent, particularly star anise, with a touch of cinnamon.  You can smell it whenever you’re in the vicinity of a chicken hof.

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For an added bonus, I also experimented with making the Kyochon Chicken style.  Kyochon is batter-based and has a deep garlic flavor with a little sweetness.

  • 1/4 c. Starch
  • 1/4 c. Flour
  • 1 Tbsp. Garlic Powder
  • 2 cloves Garlic, crushed
  • 2 tsp. Sugar
  • 1 tsp. Ginger Powder
  • 1/2 tsp. Black Pepper
  • 1 tsp. Salt
  • 1 tsp. Baking Soda
  • Water (enough to make a thick batter)

Since my primary goal was hitting the right texture, I didn’t bother to marinate the chicken.  You can do that step if you want to.  A diluted solution of raspberry vinegar is my preferred choice, but use any acidic marinade you want.

Chicken in this part of the world isn’t cut on the joints like western chicken.  It’s hacked into bite-sized pieces with a Chinese cleaver or shears.  It turns it into a challenge when trying to distinguish white and dark meat.  But keeping it small helps it fry more quickly and evenly and works well for group eating.  I should also note that a lot of restaurants fry chicken halves or quarters and hack them up after frying.

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Breaking out my candy thermometer, I heated some vegetable oil between 300 to 350 degrees F.  I had two or three pieces for each style and fried them separately for around five minutes each, draining them in a colander before putting them in their own little bowls.  Here we go.

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When they had all finished, I pumped up the oil to 375 degrees F.  I then fried them a second time for around 2-3 minutes.

FINISHED.  Now for judging.

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Starch Only

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This one looked very close to the Two Two style.  The skin was papery and crinkled.  The breading was light.  Eun Jeong and I tasted it.  Our conclusion–it was light but not crispy enough.  In fact, it was a little rubbery and powdery.  But it was close.

Starch and Flour

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This looked heavier than what we got at the restaurants.  Eun Jeong thought it looked the same.  When we bit into them, we felt they were just about right.  Just needed a little more salt.

Starch and Water

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Scary looking.  Eun Jeong liked this a little bit.  I spit it out into the sink.

Kyochon Batter

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We hit this one on the target.  Glassy shatter on the crust.  The inside exploded with juice.  The taste was strong in garlic with a hint of sweet.  In hindsight, I don’t think double frying was necessary.

So the winners were the Kyochon Batter and the Starch-and-Flour mixture.  Here are the formal recipes.

Two Two Chicken (TTC)

INGREDIENTS

  • Chicken, cut up
  • 2/3 cup Corn Starch (or Potato Starch)
  • 1/3 cup All-purpose Flour
  • 1 Tbsp. Chinese Five Spice
  • 2 tsp. Garlic Powder
  • 1 tsp. Ginger Powder
  • 1 Tbsp. Salt
  • 1 tsp. Ground Cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. Black Pepper
  • Oil, for frying

METHOD

1. Rinse and dry the chicken.

2. Combine all the dry ingredients.  Heat the oil to 300 degrees F, not going over 350 degrees F.

3. Dredge the chicken pieces in the dry mixture and dust off so that there is just a light dusting on the chicken.

4. Fry just a few pieces at a time for around 5 minutes.

5. Drain the chicken and increase the oil temperature to 375 degrees F.

6. Fry the chicken a second time for 2-3 minutes to get a crispy texture.

7. Drain and serve immediately.

Kyochon Fried Chicken

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 Chicken, cut up
  • 1/4 c. Starch
  • 1/4 c. Flour
  • 1 Tbsp. Garlic Powder
  • 2 cloves Garlic, crushed
  • 2 tsp. Sugar
  • 1 tsp. Ginger Powder
  • 1/2 tsp. Black Pepper
  • 1 tsp. Salt
  • 1 tsp. Baking Soda
  • Water (enough to make a thick batter)
  • Oil, for frying

1. Rinse and dry the chicken.

2. Combine all the dry ingredients.  Add water a little at a time until it becomes a thick batter, like pancake batter.

3. Heat the oil to 350 degrees F.

4. Dip the chicken pieces, one at a time, in the batter.  Let the excess drip off and fry them in the oil for around five minutes.  Don’t overcrowd.  Fry just a few at a time.

5. Drain and serve immediately.

BONUS: Yangnyeom Sauce

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The reason a lot of people love Korean fried chicken is the garlicky pepper sauce.  You can glaze the chicken with this or use it as a dipping sauce.  I’ve seen many versions of this on the internet, and I’ve broken it down to its essential components.  You can add anything extra you want, such as pureed pineapple, apple or kiwi, which some restaurants do.  Replace the corn syrup with honey.  My version is very peppery.  What you’re trying to accomplish is a shimmering glaze that’s fruity, garlicky, slightly salty and smooth with a good pepper kick.  I’ve seen recipes that dilute it with ketchup, but no ketchup dares go near my fried chicken, bubba.

Yangnyeom Sauce

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 cup Gochujang (Korean red pepper paste)
  • 1/4 cup Corn Syrup
  • 1 Tbsp. Sesame Oil
  • 4 cloves Garlic, crushed
  • 1 Tbsp. Soy Sauce
  • 2 tsp. Rice Vinegar

METHOD

1. Mix all the ingredients in a saucepan.

2. Heat slowly until it bubbles and the garlic has time to soften and steep.  Be careful not to burn.

3. Drench the chicken in the sauce and garnish with sesame seeds.

So here we finally have Korean fried chicken recipes on the internet from Korea itself, based on the flavors of real Korean chicken hofs.  Try this at home and add any techniques, observations or critiques in the comments.  Like all restaurant copycat recipes, these aren’t exact but pretty close.

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