” relentlessly speckled with pale, large-sized granules that crunch much more enthusiastically than its homogenous peers “
You’ve been doing it all wrong.
Ok, sorry, I’m being rude. Let me be specific. If you live outside of Taiwan and have been trying to mimic any number of Taiwanese-style fried street foods like crispy chicken poppers, cutlets, or pork chops, chances are, you’ve been doing it all wrong. But, it’s not your fault.
Truth is, you’ve been misled. And in fact, among others, I’ve been one of the guilties who have mislead you. So please, today, let me correct my wrongs.
To explain, one must start with what exactly is so specific about “Taiwanese-style” fried… well, everything. Aside from seasonings which is not of today’s focus, what sets these crispy morsels apart from others is a very, very distinct crust. One that predominantly shares the same laced textural surface of a fried crust that is made of tapioca or potato starch, but in a closer look, is relentlessly speckled with pale, large-sized granules that crunch much more enthusiastically than its homogenous peers. It is these “white sparkles” that gives Taiwanese-style fried dishes their unique edge. And it is also, where things go wrong for you.
You see, in order to achieve such meticulously defined texture, one must use an ingredient that I have only seen being used in Taiwan, called sweet potato starch. It is the only starch that I know of that come in this kind of grainy texture instead of a fine powder. But what complicates things is that sweet potato starch is rarely seen in supermarkets or even Asian groceries, except maybe in stores that specializes in Taiwanese exports. Which is why, regretfully, it is often times replaced with tapioca starch or cornstarch that completely lack this unique characteristics. I too have been guilty of doing it that way.
But, not until I’ve found a solution.
You see, again, sweet potato starch behaves the same way almost in any other ways (as a thickener or in batters and etc) as a much more common ingredient, tapioca starch (made from cassava instead of sweet potato), except that tapioca starch comes in fine powder form without granules. But, ah-ha, there is something made of tapioca starch that does comes in “granules”, if you will, and equally important, is much much easier to get your hands on. Do you see where I’m going with this?
Yes that, my friends, is sago pearls.
How could I not have thought about this in my twenty years of hunting for sweet potato starch to no avail? How could I not have known that, duh, when sago pearls are put through the pulsing magic of a spice grinder, it resembles almost perfectly the exact same niche texture as the elusive sweet potato starch? And how could I, after having unearthed this revelation for months, took my sweet-ass time to finally bring it to your attention just now? Bad blogger… bad.
But well, now you know. Whether you’re thinking about making Taiwanese crispy salty chicken poppers, or something more like this, a classic Taiwanese spiced pork chop that is often served with rice, or whatever deep-fried fantasies your hungry mind is taking you where a crust with starry speckles of salty and crunchy pops glimmers above the horizon, now you know.
It’s better late than never.