If you’re old enough to remember “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” or even if you’re you’re younger and have watched the show in reruns, you’ll remember the opening credits where Mary is in the supermarket looking in the meat case, picks up a package, rolls her eyes when she sees the price and dejectedly throws it in her grocery cart.
Well almost 50 years later, meat prices are still causing eyes to roll. And back in 1970 while Mary Tyler Moore was rolling her eyes and mothers across America were buying this weird stuff that was supposed to make ground beef go further, and was no doubt, little more than bread crumbs and chemicals, today we have another option.
Chicken remains well-priced. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts (usually the spendiest part of the chicken) are almost always less than $2 a pound, no matter where you shop. Problem is, it gets boring. Chicken breast is not the most flavorful piece of animal flesh you can put in your mouth and thinking of new ways to make it taste good can be an ongoing problem.
Enter Korean fried chicken. It’s different enough from regular fried chicken to be interesting, and it has the advantage of being novel. But that’s about to change. Korean Fried Chicken is already known as KFC to its biggest fans, and it’s only going to get more popular.
Preparation can be as close as possible to authentic Korean food or fully Americanized. Recipes for one of each follow along with two variations of kimchi, the fermented Korean condiment/side dish that is a staple of every Korean meal. For those not familiar with it, kimchi is kind of like if sauerkraut got together with the spiciest chowchow your granny ever made, and they ran off into the sunset lighting fires in tummies all along the way. There’s also white kimchi if you don’t care for so much heat. The fact that there is so much rep peppers in kimchi that leaving them out literally changes the color of the finished product gives a hint to its firepower. But even white kimchi is certainly not bland.
And remember that kimchi is supposed to be fermented. If it tastes a little fizzy, sweet, sour, and/or nutty, don’t worry. It’s supposed to taste like that. And like sauerkraut and chowchow, kimchi is available already prepared in jars. Which was not the case just a few years ago. If you just can’t see yourself dipping into kimchi, Niki’s Pickles in Pilot Mountain makes excellent pickled radishes that could accompany Korean fried chicken well.
Warm Kimchi-Bacon Ranch Dip is a great way to experience kimchi for the first time, and the Korean chicken nuggets it accompanies are a nice Americanized version of a Korean classic, which solves the age-old problem of a breading or coating for chicken that tastes good either hot or at room temperature.
Dakgangjeong is more the way it’s done in Korea with a sauce that clings to the chicken which is simultaneously spicy and sweet, and the chicken stays crisp and crunchy. Which is a lot of flavor excitement for $2 meat.
Dakgangjeong (Crispy and Crunchy Korean fried chicken)
This take on Korean fried chicken is crispy and crunchy, crunchy like candy, because it’s also sweet.
3½ lb. chicken wings, washed and drained
½ tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. minced ginger
2/3 cup potato starch or corn starch
1/3 cup peanuts (optional)
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 to 4 large dried red chili peppers, seeded, cut crosswise into 1/3 inch pieces (optional)
¼ cup soy sauce
½ cup rice syrup or corn syrup
1 tbsp. white vinegar
1 tbsp. mustard (optional)
1 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tbsp. sesame seeds
Grapeseed oil (or vegetable oil, peanut oil)
Cut off the tip of each wing and chop the wing in half. After this is done you should have about 3 pounds of chicken, with 24 to 26 pieces. Put the chicken in a bowl and mix by hand with salt, ginger, and ground black pepper. Put 2/3 cup potato starch in a bowl and dip each wing in the powder to coat it, one by one. Squeeze each wing to press the coating to it tightly.
Make the sweet, spicy, and sticky sauce: Heat a large non-stick skillet or wok over medium high heat. Add 2 tablespoons cooking oil, minced garlic, and the dried red chili pepper. Stir with a wooden spoon until fragrant for about 30 seconds. Add soy sauce, rice syrup, vinegar, and mustard sauce (optional). Stir with a wooden spoon and let it bubble for a few minutes. Add the brown sugar and continue stirring. Remove from the heat. Set aside.
Fry the chicken: Put 4 cups of cooking oil in a frying pan or pot and heat it up for 7 to 8 minutes over high heat. See if the oil’s ready by dipping a test wing into it. If the oil bubbles, it’s hot enough to start frying. Slide the coated wings one by one into the hot oil and cook for about 12 to 13 minutes, turning over a few times with tongs. Take the wings out of the oil and shake them off in a strainer. Turn off the heat, and let the wings sit for a few minutes. Reheat the oil and fry the wings again for another 12 to 15 minutes until they all look golden brown and feel super crunchy through the tongs. If your frying pan or pot is not large enough to fry all the chicken at once, divide it into batches. If you use a larger frying pot to cook them all at once, you’ll have to use more cooking oil.
Coat the fried chicken with the sauce: When the chicken is done, reheat the sauce until it bubbles. Add the hot chicken and mix well with a wooden spoon to coat. Remove from the heat and transfer the coated chicken to a large platter. Sprinkle some sesame seeds over top and serve immediately. This chicken won’t lose its crunchiness, even by the next day. You don’t need any dipping sauce, but it goes well with Baek-kimchi.
Baek-kimchi (White Kimchi)
This is a vegetarian recipe because no fish sauce is used. fish sauce. But you could replace 1 teaspoon of the salt with 1 to 2 teaspoons of salted fermented shrimp.
1 large napa cabbage (about 3 pounds)
1/3 cup, 2 tbsp. plus 2 tsp. salt
1/2 pound Korean radish (or daikon) cut into matchsticks
1/4 cup carrot, cut into matchsticks
3/4 cup buchu (Asian chives), cut into 1 inch pieces
3 jujubes, seeded, cut into thin strips
2 fresh chestnuts, peeled and cut into thin strips
2 tbsp. pine nuts
1/2 of red bell pepper (1/3 cup), cored, seeded, and cut into thin strips
1 medium Korean pear (2 cups), peeled and cored
4 garlic cloves
1/2 cup onion
1 tsp. ginger
Salt the cabbage: Cut the cabbage in half, then cut a slit through the core 2 inches above the stem, so the leaves are loosened but still attached. Rinse the halves under running water, or soak them in a basin for a few seconds until all the leaves are wet. Put the halves in a large basin and sprinkle ⅓ cup of salt evenly between the leaves. Let them sit for 1½ to 2 hours, turning them over every 20 minutes. Rinse the cabbage under cold running water a couple of times to get rid of any dirt or salt. Split each half under the running water, to divide the cabbage into quarters. Cut out the remainder of the core. Drain and set aside.
Make the vegetable fillings: Combine radish, carrot, jujubes, chives, chestnuts, and red bell pepper in a bowl. Set aside.
Make seasoning mix for brine: Blend pear, garlic, onion, and ginger in a food processor until creamy. Set aside.
Make brine: Mix 4 cups of water and 2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons of salt in a bowl with a wooden spoon. Stir it well until the salt is thoroughly dissolved. Put the blended seasoning mix into a cotton pouch, or wrap it a couple times in cheesecloth, and put it into the bowl of brine. Press it down with a spoon so the delicious blended flavors seep through. Squeeze it a bit and stir the brine for a while. Remove the pouch.
Make kimchi: Spread the vegetable fillings between each leaf of the cabbage. Fold the stuffed cabbage quarters over and put them into a container, glass jar, or Korean earthenware pot. Pour the brine over the kimchi so it’s submerged. Cover and let sit at room temperature until it starts fermenting, which should be between 1½ to 3 days depending on how warm your room is. A warmer room will ferment faster. Just keep an eye on the kimchi and taste it now and then: when the brine turns sour, it’s fermenting. Move it to the fridge, which will slow down the fermentation process. It will keep for about 1 month. Serve cold.
Korean Chicken Nuggets with Warm Kimchi-Bacon Ranch Dip
Fried Chicken Nuggets (regular and spicy)
1 tbsp. dijon mustard
1/4 cup pickle juice (or substitute: 1/4 c. vinegar, 1 tbsp. honey, 1 tbsp. Kosher salt, and 2 tsp. black pepper)
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 lb. boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
5 ounces Napa cabbage kimchi (for spicy nuggets only)
1 cup rice flour (+ 1/2 cup for first coating)
1 tbsp. Kosher salt
1 tbsp. black pepper
1 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup onion powder
3 tbsp. garlic powder
1/2 tbsp. smoked paprika
1 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. gochugaru, Korean red pepper flakes (for spicy nuggets only)
1/4 tsp. ground cayenne pepper (for spicy nuggets only)
1 cup vegetable oil
In a small bowl, mix together the mustard, pickle juice, and extra virgin olive oil to make a marinade. Take your cut chicken pieces and place them in a resealable plastic storage bag. Pour the marinade on top, seal the bag, and massage the meat to fully coat the chicken pieces. Store in the refrigerator overnight, or for at least 6-hours.
For spicy nuggets: Drop the Napa cabbage kimchi into the resealable plastic storage bag with the chicken pieces, seal the bag, massage the meat together with the kimchi. Store in the refrigerator overnight, or for at least 6 hours. Once the nuggets have marinated, take out a medium-sized bowl and drop in 1/2 cup of rice flour. Season it well with salt and pepper, and whisk it together. Transfer the nuggets to the bowl and coat them lightly. (For spicy nuggets, separate the kimchi from the chicken and discard kimchi.) In a food processor, combine the rice flour mix, rolled oats, onion powder, garlic powder, smoked paprika, brown sugar, Kosher salt, and pepper. For spicy nuggets, add in the gochugaru and cayenne pepper as well.) Pulse until the mixture is very fine and combined. Transfer the oat-rice flour mixture into a bowl (or rimmed plate), and set aside. In another medium-size bowl, whisk together the eggs with a splash of water to create your egg wash, and set aside. Set up your dredging stations, and dredge in this order: rice flour-coated chicken — egg wash — seasoned oat-rice flour — clean plate. Remove a few pieces of chicken at a time from the flour, dip each into the egg wash, then the oat-rice flour, gently pressing the crumbs into the chicken, and set on a clean plate. Repeat steps with the remaining chicken pieces. In a large frying pan, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat for approximately 8-minutes. To test and see if the oil is hot enough, you can take a speck of leftover egged-breading and put it in the oil. If it sizzles / bubbles, it should be ready for frying. Carefully add the chicken nuggets to the pan in batches. Don’t crowd them. Cook the nuggets on each side for about 3-4 minutes each or flipping as the edges look crisped up, using a spatula or chopsticks to flip them. Once the nuggets are cooked, transfer the chicken nuggets to a paper-towel-lined plate, drop them to cool on a cooling rack with paper towels underneath. Season with a little salt on top while the nuggets are still hot, let them cool for a few minutes. Serve with Kimchi Bacon Ranch Dip.
Kimchi Bacon Ranch Dip
5 ounces napa cabbage kimchi
4 strips of bacon, cooked and broken-up
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tbsp. fresh chives, minced
1 tsp. white vinegar
1 tsp. runny honey or agave nectar
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. mustard powder
1 pinch fresh dill or parsley, chopped (optional)
Lightly coat a small frying pan with olive oil, and set it over medium heat. Sauté the Napa cabbage kimchi for about 5-minutes, or until the kimchi is softened and the liquid reduced by at least half. Lower the heat, and mix in about a teaspoon of the sour cream to the sautéed kimchi, letting it continue to cook for about another minute. Turn the heat off, transfer the sautéed kimchi to a plate and let it cool for about 10-minutes. In a food processor, combine the kimchi, cooked bacon pieces, sour cream, mayonnaise, chives, onion powder, honey or agave nectar, vinegar (and chopped parsley and /or dill, if you decided to use them) and season with salt and pepper. Blitz the mixture until it reaches a smooth texture, remembering to stop and taste frequently and adjusting seasonings however you’d like them to be. Serve with your fresh-made chicken nuggets, or however you’d like it.
Traditional Napa Cabbage Kimchi
Makes enough kimchi to fill a 1-gallon jar.
1 cup plus 1 tbsp. coarse sea salt or kosher salt
2 heads Napa cabbage, cut into quarters or 2-inch wedges, depending on size of cabbage
1 bulb garlic, cloves separated and peeled
1 (2-inch) piece of ginger root
1/4 cup fish sauce or Korean salted shrimp
1 Asian radish, peeled and grated
1 bunch of green onions, cut into 1-inch lengths
1/2 cup Korean chili powder
1 tsp. sugar (optional)
Sesame oil (optional)
Sesame seeds (optional)
Dissolve 1 cup salt in 1/2 gallon water. Soak cabbage in the salt water for 3 to 4 hours. Combine garlic, ginger, and fish sauce or shrimp in food processor or blender until finely minced. In large bowl, combine radish, green onions, mustard greens, garlic mixture, chili powder, 1 tablespoon salt and optional sugar. Toss gently but thoroughly. (If mixing with your hands, be sure to wear rubber gloves to avoid chili burn.) Remove cabbage from water and rinse thoroughly. Drain cabbage in colander, squeezing as much water from the leaves as possible. Take cabbage and stuff radish mixture between leaves, working from outside in, starting with largest leaf to smallest. Do not overstuff, but make sure radish mixture adequately fills leaves. When entire cabbage is stuffed, take one of the larger leaves and wrap tightly around the rest of the cabbage. Divide cabbage among 4 (1-quart) jars or 1-gallon jar, pressing down firmly to remove any air bubbles. Let sit for 2 to 3 days in a cool place before serving. Remove kimchi from jar and slice into 1-inch-length pieces. If serving before kimchi is fermented, sprinkle with a little bit of sesame oil and sesame seeds. Refrigerate after opening. Kimchi will be good enough to eat straight for up to about 3 weeks. After about 4 weeks, once the kimchi gets too fermented to eat by itself, use it to make hot pots, flatcakes, dumplings or just plain fried rice.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.