Taiwanese Popcorn Chicken

Popcorn Chicken image

In order to have good fried chicken, you should wash and season the bird the morning you’re preparing it for dinner. Don’t wait and do it right before you start cooking. Throw it in the refrigerator, seasoned, that morning, and give it a chance to soak up all the salt and pepper and goodness.  ~ Paula Deen


Taiwanese Chicken is a popular street food. Flattened, marinated, battered and deep fried, it’s a large piece of chicken served with a variety of spicy condiments. On the other hand, Japanese Chicken Karaage (sometimes referred to as ‘popcorn chicken’) is similar but delivered in bite-sized pieces with slices of lime and mayo.  The lovely thing about popcorn chicken is that it’s great for sharing. A large bowl passed between friends sharing their lives or binge-watching ‘Downton Abbey’ together is a crowd pleaser. [PSA alert: If you liked ‘Downton Abbey’, the Spanish TV series, ‘Gran Hotel’, directed by Carlos Sedes and set in an aristocratic luxury hotel at the turn of the 20th century, is filled with more upstairs-downstairs drama than you can imagine. The creative plot twists and illicit romances, occasional cheesy dialogue and beautiful Castilian language will keep you on the edge of your seat and best accompanied by a large bowl of Taiwanese Popcorn Chicken!]

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However, I was neither watching the English aristocracy face the changes of the new century nor marvelling at the Spanish aristocracy’s coolness in the face of multiple murders (not a spoiler) when I set about to combine the best of both worlds, or cuisines, as the case may be.  The English and Spanish can be a feast for thePopcorn Chicken image eyes and brain, but I was bringing together Taiwanese and Japanese as a feast for the palate. I adapted elements from each one’s typical recipes and after several attempts, settled on this one as one for the family annals. The chicken is tender, moist and not as salty as what we get from restaurants. Basil makes a nice counterpoint to the spicy chicken and also a lively pop of color. Best of all, I can fry up a large bucket and feed a large happy crowd. Judging from a number of pieces that mysteriously seemed to disappear when my back was turned, I’d say it was a success. And that was before the chicken made it to the table.

Most of my earlier attempts could also be considered successes in their own right, but I’ve found what works best for my family and friends.  Here are some of my substitutions:
Chicken: To compensate for the juicier thigh meat that is best used for this recipe, I used healthier breast meat that was liberally pierced and marinated overnight to let the chicken soak up all the flavors. The marinate is also particularly important because I’m not adding any salt.
Oil: Instead of deep frying, I chose to use just a little oil and tossing the pieces quickly.
Batter: I used sweet potato flour for its lighter and crispier texture.  If a thicker batter is your preference, use corn starch instead. Potato starch (not potato flour) is what’s traditionally used for Japanese Chicken Karaage and I’m told it also gives a nice crispy texture, but I have not tried it myself.

Taiwan Street Food Series – Part 2 :
Taiwanese Ground Pork Rice 卤肉饭 » 

Taiwanese Popcorn Chicken
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Part 1 of "Taiwan Street Food Series". Commonly found in every Taiwan street food market, the usually large salty chicken piece is served as small cubes, very popular here in California. A staple in every bubble tea shop, these 'popcorn' bite-sized pieces are easy to eat and great for sharing.
Recipe type: Appetizers
Cuisine: Taiwanese/Japanese
Serves: A sharing bowl for 4
  • 1 Tbsp chinese cooking wine
  • 1 tsp light soy sauce
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp ginger, chopped or grated with juice
  • 2 tsp garlic, chopped
  • ½ tsp 5-spice powder
  • ½ tsp ground white pepper
  • 8 oz skinless chicken breast, pierced a few time with a fork & cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 cup sweet potato flour
  • 2 cups basil leaves
  • 1 tsp cayenne and white pepper each, mixed in a small bowl
  • Slices of lemon/lime
  1. Marinade: Combine cooking wine, soy sauce, sugar, ginger, garlic, 5-spice powder and white pepper in a bowl.
  2. Work the marinade well into the chicken a few times, using your hands. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour, preferably overnight.
  3. When you are ready to cook, toss and coat the chicken pieces in flour, making sure to cover all the sides and any folds. Shake off excess flour and set aside in a separate bowl.
  4. Heat 2 Tbsp vegetable oil (or an oil with a high smoking point) in a pan/wok. When a drop of water tossed in the oil dances, carefully put basil leaves into the oil. Using a splatter guard if necessary. Turn it 2-3 times, no more than 6-7 seconds, and remove using a slotted spatula or a 'spider' utensil. Place leaves on paper towels to drain. The leaves should still hold their shape but crispy, even breaking into pieces when touched.
  5. Add another 1 Tbsp oil to the pan/wok.
  6. When the oil is hot again, fry the chicken. Do not overcrowd as the oil must remain hot. You may have to do this in 2-3 batches. Turn it a few times until they turn a light golden color. Remove and drain on paper towels.
  7. Assembly: Place the chicken in a mixing bowl. Add pepper mixture and toss well. Add some basil leaves and give it a quick shake. You can also crush the basil leaves with fingers and mix that instead.
  8. Serve immediately with slices of lemon/lime and extra basil.
To make up for not using juicier thigh meat, I liberally pierced and marinated the chicken overnight. I used breast meat as a healthier option.

If you like a thicker batter, replace sweet potato flour with corn starch. Potato starch (not potato flour) can also be used for a lighter, crispy texture.

For more batter and bite, coat the chicken pieces more generously with flour instead of shaking off the excess.

Frying with sweet potato flour or potato starch will not result in a deep brown color, only a light golden color. Do not over-fry as the chicken will dry out.

Increase cayenne pepper to white pepper ratio for a spicier chicken.

Add curry powder to the batter for an exotic surprise.

Also try these other easy Chicken ideas:

  • Easy Claypot Chicken Rice
  • Cashew Chicken – – This is an old recipe from my early days in the kitchen. An updated recipe is on its way…. don’t miss it! Sign up and subscribe to my newsletter!

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One Reply to “Taiwanese Popcorn Chicken”

  1. […] last time we married east and west over a bucket of Taiwanese Popcorn Chicken amidst the drama of English aristocracy. Today we continue bringing the tastes of Taiwan street […]

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