THE PHYSICALLY AND FLAVOR-MASSIVE, BEIJING SUPERMARKET FRIED CHICKEN
SAVORY JUICES GREASED WITH RENDERED FAT RUSHED ARDENTLY OUT OF THE MEAT… A NOSTRIL FULL OF AROMA AS A MIXTURE OF CUMIN, CHILI, GARLIC, AND THE IRRESISTABLE SMELL OF CRISPED CHICKEN SKINS SENT ME INTO AN ANGRY SPIRAL OF REGRETS AND RESENTMENTS
In AA they say, there are twelve steps to recovery. Well, this fried chicken is my Step Nine.
Specifically, if you (hopefully) aren’t familiar, this is a stage where the recoveree make direct amends to people whom they had harmed, wherever possible, as a part of the process to obtain emotional balance and closure.
So here I stand, almost two years into my recovery from six traumatic years in Beijing, I am ready to talk about this fried chicken.
To start from the beginning, I first saw these fried chickens inside a supermarket a few blocks away from our apartment in Beijing. Calling that place a supermarket is a gross exaggeration whereas a glorified convenience store would be more appropriate, but for six long years, I passed by that supermarket about once a week on a conservative average, and I consistently dismissed the peculiar stall that was tucked in a dingy corner by the entrance with a sign that read, “Meixiang Fried Chicken“.
Peculiar indeed, not because there was a random fried chicken stall inside a suspicious convenience store, but that as ambiguous as it was, almost everyday around 3pm, there would be a line cued up at its greasy window, as long and meandering as my bafflement. Typically, a line exceeding 15% of the total crowd-size stretching the entire block, is a mathematic proof good enough to send me into investigation, but feeling prejudice towards this entire city in general, I thought either this fried chicken was an understated treasure, or these people were out of their minds.
For six years, I went firmly with the latter.
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But in the last week before our departure, with no foreseeable intention to ever return, I thought, fine, you know, might as well. Last chance to reaffirm, once and for all, that I was right.
So one afternoon, I stood in line, and ordered my fried chicken almost in a pique. The first impression that came to mind was the sheer massiveness of its round and flattened body. Instead of American-style fried chicken where the drumstick and thigh are two separate entities, this fried chicken was one entire chicken leg that was semi-butterflied and “opened up”. Its dramatic entrance and the subtle cracking sensation it made even against the light pressure of my fingers, began to instill a sense of fear and self-doubt as my hunger surged in betrayal. I took my first bite, and instantaneously, I succumbed. Savory juices greased with rendered fat rushed ardently out of the meat in between the very thin but inarguably crispy, almost lacy coating. Faster than I could say “Okay you win!“, a nostril full of aroma as a mixture of cumin, chili, garlic, and the irresistible smell of crisped chicken skins sent me into an angry spiral of regrets and resentments. Cumin!, a designated spice for lamb in this part of the world, who knew, could work so marvelously with fried chickens! Six years!, that it stood right under my nose and I had to have it right before I was going to lose it?
So a few days later when we packed up and left, I did what any emotionally imbalanced human being would do, I blocked it from my memory. Not only that Beijing was the last thing I wanted to recall after practically fleeing the place, but I certainly didn’t need any mix-signals to remind me of anything that was undeniably decent about it. Just like Batman does not need to accidentally see Joker picking up a garbage from the sidewalk and throwing it in the trashcan before he decisively pop a Batarang in his head. Heroes don’t need that shit.
But two years passed, and perhaps sensing my mental stability slowly wobbling back, the idea of this fried chicken returned. I retraced and recreated its magnificence based on memory and I was, once again, reminded how wrong I was to ignore it all these years. Oh what a succulent and mouth-watering closure. What a finger-licking Step Nine.
Dear Meixiang Fried Chicken, I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I shut you out for six years before introducing myself, then again neglected you for another two years. Would you forgive me? You taste magnificent.
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- 1 cup water
- 1 clove of garlic, smashed
- 1/4 cup chicken bouillon granules
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 cup ice water
- 2 whole large chicken legs
- 1 tbsp ground cumin
- 3/4 tsp ground white pepper
- 1/2 tsp ground sichuan peppercorns
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- chili flakes
- 1/2 cup potato starch (not cornstarch)
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup vodka, plus more if needed
- canola oil for frying
- BRINE THE CHICKEN: We're using chicken bouillon granules for the brine which may prompt you into thinking "Isn't that largely artificial flavorings and MSG?". Yes! Yes it is! Which is why this fried chicken is great! But if you have some sort of imaginary sensitivity towards MSG (FYI, your body reacts no differently towards artificial MSG than the naturals ones from, say, tomatoes), you can substitute with a brine made with 2 cups of chicken stock, 2 tbsp of salt and 2 tsp sugar.
- In a small pot, warm 1 cup of water with garlic, chicken bouillon granules and salt just enough that the salt is completely melted. Add 1 cup of ice water to cool down the brine, then set aside.
- With a small but sharp knife, place the chicken leg skin-side down then make a slit along the L-shape bones. Continue to peel the meat open with the knife to completely expose the bones, then completely sever the joints, any tissues and tendons connecting the drumstick-bone and thigh-bone (but do not cut through the skin). You can see the first photo for reference. This step "butterflies" the chicken leg and detach the connective tissues that make the leg contract during cooking, allowing it to stay as a large flat piece.
- In a container or plastic-bag that allow the chicken legs to be completely submerged in the brine, combine the brine and the legs and let marinate for at least 2 hour or overnight.
- PREPARE THE SPICE-MIX AND BREADING: In a small skillet, toast ground cumin, white pepper, sichuan peppercorns and garlic powder over medium heat until fragrant. Set aside until needed. In a sheet-pan, whisk together potato starch, flour, salt and ground black pepper. Set aside until needed.
- FRY THE CHICKEN: Pour vodka into a sheet-pan, set aside. Remove one chicken leg from the brine and rinse off any excess brine under cold water then pat dry. Coat the leg in vodka, drain slightly, then transfer into the potato starch-mixture. Gently press the breading onto the surfaces of the chicken leg until fully covered. Gently pat it to dust off any excess breading, then set aside. Repeat with the other leg.
- If you have a deep fryer with enough oil that will submerge the entire flattened chicken leg, great. Heat the oil to about 330 F/165 C, or until it bubbles up immediately around a wooden chopstick, then fry the leg until golden browned on both sides. Potato starch WILL NOT get as browned as regular flour-breading, so we are aiming for a MEDIUM golden brown. If you cook potato starch to the brownness as regular flour-breading, the meat will be overcooked.
- If you don't have a deep fryer and wants to conserve oil, pour enough canola oil into a wide NON-STICK pot or skillet that will fit the flattened chicken leg until the oil reaches 1 1/2" deep. Heat the oil to about 330 F/165 C or until it bubbles up immediately around an inserted wooden chopstick. Gently lower one leg into the oil, SKIN-SIDE UP first, then keep ladling the hot oil over skin-side to create a craggy blistered surface (I highly recommend wearing a kitchen mitt while doing this to avoid splatters). Do this for about 2 minutes, then flip the chicken and continue to cook, ladling the hot oil over the chicken periodically, for another 4~5 minutes until medium golden browned on both sides.
- Drain well, and while it's still hot, coat both sides of the chicken thoroughly with the spice-mix. Two extra large chicken leg should use up all the spice-mix. Serve immediately or never.
AimeeJanuary 26, 2018 at 7:42 PM
This looks I Amazing I’m gutted I didn’t get to try this In Beijing, so I’m excited thanks to you I can now make it at home xx
qJanuary 26, 2018 at 10:21 PM
drooolssss! as always, ingenious!!!! can’t wait to try this!! and can’t wait for your book!!!!!
OwenJanuary 26, 2018 at 11:00 PM
Is the vodka have anything to do with the crispiness? Or just for taste?
mandy@ladyandpupsJanuary 26, 2018 at 11:46 PM
Owen, the vodka is for crispiness! It acts as a binder to pick up the breading, but it evaporates more thoroughly than water or, say, egg or buttermilk.
jilleJanuary 27, 2018 at 3:58 AM
“Its dramatic entrance and the subtle cracking sensation it made even against the light pressure of my fingers, began to instill a sense of fear and self-doubt as my hunger surged in betrayal. I took my first bite, and instantaneously, I succumbed. Savory juices greased with rendered fat rushed ardently out of the meat in between the very thin but inarguably crispy, almost lacy coating. Faster than I could say “Okay you win!“, a nostril full of aroma as a mixture of cumin, chili, garlic, and the irresistible smell of crisped chicken skins sent me into an angry spiral of regrets and resentments. Cumin!, a designated spice for lamb in this part of the world, who knew, could work so marvelously with fried chickens! Six years!, that it stood right under my nose and I had to have it right before I was going to lose it?”
I mean…girl. You can write. This paragraph is why I, a vegan, ha, read your blog.
mJanuary 27, 2018 at 4:10 AM
I love your blog but I’ve got to add my two cents to the misguided insistence that people only imagine reactions to msg. There is great evolutionary diversity in the world and it turns out, a great deal of people are in fact, sensitive to artificial ingredients. They aren’t “imagining” it. Regardless of what science has to say, artificial is not ‘exactly’ like natural. Some people’s bodies are sensitive to fake. It is a superpower, yes, and it does exist. Please don’t negate it. After all, not to put too fine a point on it but you did suffer a mysterious hair condition, etc and these are the types of things that often happen when our body tries to live with man-made chemicals. I love you and I am saying this with all due respect. Please at least just let people make their own choice about it without judging them as delusional…thank you!
mandy@ladyandpupsJanuary 27, 2018 at 12:51 PM
M, I completely hear you and stand corrected :) Thanks for your input!
EJanuary 5, 2020 at 2:59 PM
MSG is not a “manmade” chemical, it was invented by isolating the dust that coats seaweed. No more “manmade” or “artificial” than seasalt. No one is saying that it’s impossible for any range of ingredient sensitivity to exist in humans, but if you’re “sensitive” to MSG in this context, you would also be sensitive to naturally occurring MSG in tomatoes or cheese, because they are identical. These are not a matter of opinions. Especially given the racist history of MSG hysteria, if you claim to only be “sensitive” to MSG in asian cuisine, you are being ignorant.
mandy@ladyandpupsJanuary 6, 2020 at 12:58 AM
JoeNovember 15, 2020 at 12:31 AM
With all due respect, the MSG molecule is the same, whether it’s “naturally” occurring in kale or tomatoes, or whether it’s cooked up in a lab. It has the same chemical structure.
Abbe@This is How I CookJanuary 27, 2018 at 7:07 AM
Well…at least there was one good thing about Beijing.
EnlightenmentJanuary 28, 2018 at 10:15 PM
I don’t eat chicken (iow a heretic) but I love your writing. I was just thinking “I haven’t seen an Angry Mandy notification awhile” when soon enough one arrived. Reading the opening lines, I knew I had to follow it to this blog post – a psychological thriller spanning several countries and eras. The voyeuristic thrill of living through your rollercoaster ride of ups and downs and happy endings (but it’s more than just food porn) reminds me of my own first food loves.
sabrinaJanuary 29, 2018 at 3:37 AM
love trying new versions of fried chicken, at least new to me, thank you for this recipe!
Diana LopesJanuary 31, 2018 at 9:09 AM
Wow, this looks massive! I’m definitely going to give it a try. Thanks for sharing!
OleFebruary 1, 2018 at 6:48 AM
Just to be clear, you leave the bones attached to the meat but separate them from the tendons?
mandy@ladyandpupsFebruary 1, 2018 at 12:29 PM
Ole, that’s correct. You just want to expose the bones so you can separate the tendons that connects the drumstick and thigh bones :)
MayaFebruary 1, 2018 at 10:45 PM
holy shit, this looks exactly like the best darn chicken in the world, the famous Taiwanese “Hot Star” fried chicken!!! it is a huge flattened chicken breast fried to crispy perfection, dusted with an addictive, mysterious crack-like seasoning powder, and served up hot and crackly to a crowd of drunken passerbys. it is pure bliss. i highly suggest you try it if you get the chance. Except the OG branch in Teipei, i’ve also tried the one in Sydney and it was just as perfect. They might even have one in HK! (see my nick-link for pic)
James in NZFebruary 14, 2018 at 9:05 AM
I used to live near a Jing Ke Long convenience store in Beijing that served something like this but, like you, I never partook. I have now made this recipe three times in less than a week and wish I had! The flavour is amazing and it even works pretty well using cubes of chicken meat (no skin, but it’s still OK) and serving them as a snack.
LisaFebruary 21, 2018 at 5:50 AM
Sweet Mother of All That is Beautiful and Holy! This was the best thing I have eaten as far back as I can remember! I could no longer avert my eyes from that photograph on your home page, the one of the hands holding that spice-dusty, flat, crispy, golden crunch-bomb: I had to make it. One leg-thigh fed the two of us (with rice and garlicky smacked cucumber), so I got two nights of heavenly, spicy crispiness. Thank you. Thank you, Mandy.
RZoolanderFebruary 25, 2018 at 1:21 AM
Mandy your writing is as awesome as your recipes. Made this last night. Everyone agreed this was one of the best fried chicken recipes ever. Last month I made your MALAYSIAN MAMAK FRIED CHICKEN and again it was a rave hit. Thank you for this blog!
Monica in OzMarch 9, 2018 at 6:36 PM
I’m a married, hetero girl but I’ve decided I’m desperately in love with you and want to marry you.
mandy@ladyandpupsMarch 10, 2018 at 2:22 AM
Katerina from PragueMarch 14, 2018 at 4:22 PM
Amazing recipe, thank you Mandy! What would you say to different poultry – say duck or goose? Maybe too much fat?
mandy@ladyandpupsMarch 15, 2018 at 12:13 PM
Katerina, hey sorry about the late reply! Aside from the fat, duck and goose has tougher meat than chicken. So the whole thing might be a bit chewy and stringy. If you mind that then give it a go :)
KaterinaApril 24, 2018 at 12:16 AM
Mandy, it’s me who should sorry for replying late… I tried both, duck was fine, goose was exactly as you wrote… but pork (I tried pork shoulder blade steak) was good too. But chicken leg is definitely a winner! Thank you and huge congratulations to your book, I hope to have it soon
Jill AnnMarch 19, 2018 at 12:17 AM
Thank You for all the great recipes. It’s not easy getting hold of potato starch here in India. Any substitute you recommend for it? Cornstarch is very easy to come by & tapioca starch can be found by luck. I would really love to make this but haven’t attempted it as yet.
MikeApril 24, 2018 at 4:40 AM
Made this last night and it was amazing. Very unique taste the cumin adds to the the other spices. Will certainly make this again.
JennMay 25, 2018 at 1:37 AM
Made it, loved it, everything smells like cumin now, but will definitely make it again. I especially like the shallow-fry method with spooning the hot oil on top of the chicken. I think my bouillon granules were pretty salty though – the chicken was a tad salty – so I might try adding less salt next time. Maybe I missed it but where does the chili flakes fit in? Do I toast it along with the spice mix? Thanks!
zona lirikJune 28, 2018 at 11:52 PM
This is not an ordinary fried chicken. It looks really good. Thank you Mandy, I will make this chicken recipe.
supermarche37August 27, 2018 at 5:45 PM
You are so cool! I do not believe I have read through anything like that before.So wonderful to find someone with some unique thoughts on this topic.
Seriously.. thank you for starting this up.
Sam CAugust 17, 2020 at 9:58 PM
I’ve had a thing for fried chicken since I was a kid, and generally make it at least once a week for as many people as want to come and eat it. I tripped across this a while ago and hadn’t made it, but finally did so last night. Man, what a delicious explosion of flavors. Rave reviews from all eaters, this is undoubtedly, excellent. Makes me wish I’d found it and stood in line so I could have had the original when I was in Beijing, but I will definitely be making this regularly. Absolutely delicious, thank you for writing and sharing it.
AngelaNovember 23, 2020 at 7:55 PM
Hot damn. This was delicious. Thanks to your detailed instructions, it was also easy to make. The only thing I changed was adding gochugaru and some sugar to the spice mix.