I had always thought of shrimp paste chicken as a Cantonese dish, until I tasted it at hawker centres in Singapore and Malaysia. The Cantonese version typically uses a whole chicken cut into small pieces while in Malaysia and Singapore it tends to be made with the wings only.
This recipe uses the Cantonese flavours I love in the dish, but with wings. There are also two styles of coating – a plain starch one, which I prefer, or a thicker, airier one incorporating baking soda and egg white, like the versions available at the hawker centres.
Shrimp paste varies depending on where it is produced. The Chinese version is soft and spreadable, and comes in jars, while the variety usually found in Malaysia and Singapore is sun-dried and comes as a hard brick. Use the Chinese style for this dish.
There’s no getting around the fact that shrimp paste is pungent, but the flavour is much milder than the smell. Be sure to wear latex or rubber gloves when mixing the wings with the marinade, or the odour will linger on your hands.
I like to mix starches for the coating. If you can’t find sweet potato flour, add another 10 grams of plain flour. You won’t need all the coating mixture; the remainder can be stored in an airtight container for at least a month, and used to coat other fried dishes.
As with most other fried dishes, I double-fry the wings. The first frying cooks the meat, and can be done in advance; the second frying crisps up the coating just before serving.
If using whole wings, separate the drumette and middle portion at the joint, and reserve the tips to make stock for another dish. (Or you can use just middle joints or just drumettes.) Put the pieces in a bowl.
Put the shrimp paste in a small bowl and add the sugar, fish sauce, rice wine, white pepper, sesame oil and chilli flakes and mix until smooth. Crush or grate the garlic and mix it into the other ingredients.
Pour the shrimp paste mixture over the chicken wings and mix well so they are evenly coated. Leave at room temperature for about two hours, or refrigerate for up to six hours, mixing occasionally.
For the hawker centre coating, put the plain flour in a bowl and add the sweet potato flour, cornstarch, salt and baking soda and stir until thoroughly combined. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg white until frothy.
For the plain coating, thoroughly combine all the ingredients.
Before cooking the wings, if using the hawker coating, pour the egg white into the bowl and mix thoroughly.
For both coatings, sprinkle about half of the starch mixture over the wings and mix well. Add more flour mixture as necessary, so the marinade turns into a slightly pasty mixture that thickly covers the wings.
Pour oil to a depth of about 8cm (3in) in a wide pot and heat until the oil reaches 170°C (340°F).
Add the wings to the hot oil, giving them space to “swim”. Do not crowd the pan; cook the wings in batches. Fry them for about five minutes or until done, turning them over halfway through. Drain them on paper towels.
After frying all the wings, leave them at room temperature for up to three hours, or re-fry them immediately.
Heat the oil to 180°C (350°F). When it is hot, add the wings to the pan and fry briefly for about a minute, turning them over halfway through.
Drain the wings on paper towels then pile onto a plate before serving with the optional ingredients.