These recipes are for chicken dishes that I loved as a child. They are not sophisticated, but they are delicious and easy to make. The first I've been trying for many years to reproduce from taste memory while the second is something I make as comfort food.
Chinese-American fried chicken
When I was growing up in California, my family belonged to an association made up of people who hailed from the same village in China that my grandfather was from. Twice a year, everyone would gather in our Los Angeles Chinatown village hall to eat, drink and socialise (and the grandmothers would try to matchmake their grandchildren, which was embarrassing). The menu was always the same: chow mein, which my father made (and continues to do so) and delicious fried chicken cooked by one of the older "uncles". He made everyone (including my father) leave the kitchen when he was mixing the batter so we never figured out how he made it so good. I've been trying for years to reproduce it, and this is very close, although not as oily as his version. The batter is firm and crunchy, even when cold - not crisp and delicate like tempura. I make the coating in large batches and store it in an airtight container. Every time you use it, give the container a good shake, to remix the ingredients and add water (or other liquids) as needed.
Because the marinade has soy sauce, the batter looks very dark and, when cooked, can look burnt, even if it's not. I fry the chicken at a lower temperature than I would normally, so the batter doesn't brown as much, then I increase the heat for the brief second frying, to crisp up the coating.
For the chicken:
1 fresh chicken, about 1.5kg
60ml soy sauce
60ml rice wine
15ml sesame oil
2-3 garlic cloves, sliced
2-3 3mm-thick slices of ginger, peeled and cut into fine strips
For the coating:
450 grams plain (all-purpose) flour
30 grams tapioca starch
15 grams baking powder
5 grams salt
Cut the chicken into parts: two wings (drumette and middle joint), two thighs, two drumsticks, two breasts (bone-in or off the bone, whichever you prefer) and one lower back. (Discard the head; reserve the wing tip, upper back and other boney pieces to make broth.) Put the meaty chicken parts into a bowl, add the soy sauce, rice wine, garlic and ginger and mix thoroughly. Cover with cling-film and refrigerate for at least eight hours.
Use a whisk to thoroughly combine the flour with the tapioca starch, baking powder and salt (or mix it in a food processor, which is more efficient).
Spoon 100 grams of the flour mixture into the bowl holding the chicken and marinade and mix well. A sticky, medium-thick batter should cling to the meat; if the batter is too thin, mix in more of the flour mixture.
Heat cooking oil to the depth of 1.5cm in a wide skillet set over a medium flame. When the oil is 160 degrees Celsius, add the chicken pieces and fry them until they're fully cooked: about eight to 10 minutes (for thighs, drumsticks and back), less time for the breasts and wings. Turn the pieces over halfway through. Drain them on paper towels. Turn the flame to medium high and when the oil is 180 degrees, fry the chicken pieces for about 45 seconds on each side. Drain the chicken on paper towels, then serve.
Cantonese-style chicken curry
This is the way my grandmother made ka lei gai. It's delicious with a bowl of steamed rice.
1 fresh chicken
About 70ml cooking oil
1 onion, minced
2-3 3mm-thick slices of fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced
2-3 tsp curry powder, or to taste
Cornstarch, as needed
350 grams potatoes (I use the smooth-skinned local variety), peeled and cut into 2cm chunks
200ml canned coconut milk or evaporated milk (do not use condensed milk)
Fine sea salt
A little granulated sugar, if needed
Cut up the chicken as in the first recipe, discarding the head and reserving the bony pieces to make broth.
Heat about 50ml of cooking oil in a skillet. Sprinkle the meaty chicken pieces with salt. Dredge the chicken in cornstarch and shake off the excess. Lightly fry the chicken pieces in batches, cooking them over a medium-high flame until they're pale golden but not fully cooked. Drain the chicken on paper towels.
Heat about 20ml of cooking oil in a pan that's about 20cm in diameter. Add the onion, sprinkle lightly with salt, then cook over a low flame until the onion is soft. Increase the heat to medium, then add the ginger and curry powder and stir constantly for 30 seconds. Put the chicken and potato into the pan and add 150ml of water. Bring to the boil then lower the flame, cover partially with the lid and simmer for about 20 minutes. If the mixture seems dry, stir in a little more water. When the potato is tender and the chicken is cooked, add the coconut milk or evaporated milk and bring to the simmer. Taste for seasonings and add sugar (if the sauce is too spicy) and salt, if needed. Cook for several minutes then serve.
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