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An Unbiased Travelogue of the World’s Finest Fried Chicken

    An Unbiased Travelogue of the World's Finest Fried Chicken

    My wife has the most fervent fried chicken fanaticism of anybody I know. It’s her biggest vulnerability. For the sake of a tasty buffalo wing, she would betray her own mother. She hasn’t gone vegetarian since it’s one of the three foods she can’t give up (hot dogs and beef jerky are the others). You may imagine that because her husband is a chef for a career, she would want a special, home-cooked dinner for her birthday. Nope. She only wants her yearly supply of Popeye’s (I gladly indulge both her and myself). Even more than fried chicken, her greatest passion is exploring the world. Luckily, excellent fried chicken can be found in just about every part of the world, making it a breeze to combine those two passions. Lucky for me, she’s let me tag along as her third biggest love.

    Consuming nothing but fried chicken, you can see the world. These are my top recommendations for the world’s most delicious, crunchy, and satisfying fried chicken, presented in no particular order. Some are typical staples of a certain part of the globe. Some of these items can only be found at certain restaurants. There are also do-it-yourself recipes included. Each and every one is crunchy, juicy, and tasty.

    I’ve refrained as much as possible from using two similarly styled elements. Southern fried chicken, chicken fried chicken, and fried chicken biscuits will not be available. I’m going to presume that even if you put the chicken in a biscuit, I’ll still find it to be OK. I’ve eaten some fried chicken that may have been fantastic, but I’ve never had a dish of it that really blew me away (Indonesian ayam goreng, for instance). When it comes to fried chicken, I just don’t get the attraction of some of the varieties that seem to be popular with other people. Examples include chicken schnitzel, katsu, and milanesa. To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of bread crumbs.

    Also, I’m sure I’ve forgotten some excellent fried chicken recipes just as surely as I’ve lost my greasy fingers. Oops.

    The point is that I haven’t had all the amazing fried chicken in the world, therefore this is in no way meant to be an exhaustive list of them. I certainly hope not. If you can think of anything I forgot to include, please share it.

    KFC (Korean Fried Chicken)

    Though I did mention that the list would be presented in no particular order, I must now break my own rule and declare that Korean fried chicken is the finest fried chicken in the world. The one I had at a little restaurant in Busan, on the southern coast of South Korea, was the crispiest, crunchiest, and tastiest I’ve ever tasted. The three available flavours were basic, soy, and chilli. The three of them combined (along with the bottle of soju we purchased to drink it all down) easily win this competition.

    Double frying is used to get the crispy, juicy chicken that is the hallmark of Korean fried chicken. As with an excellent double-fried french fry, the chicken is covered in a thin, starchy batter, cooked once, chilled, then fried again. After tossing the chicken in a garlic-soy glaze or sweet-hot chilli sauce, the resultant crust splits like an eggshell and retains its crispness. Furthermore, you need not go to Busan to get it. Even international businesses with American franchisees, like as Bonchon and Kyochon, do a great job.

    Of course, you may replicate it in your own kitchen by following my simple recipe.

    Fried Chicken Like Popeye’s Serve It Anywhere

    I believe that wherever there is a Popeye’s restaurant, you will discover the tastiest Southern fried chicken in the world. Thus far, I’ve been right on everything. Just so no one gets all up in arms, I’ll clarify that I’m simply referring to the fried chicken itself in this context of a blind tasting test, and not to the Federal Donuts this or the Charles’ Pan Fried that. I can’t think of a single fried chicken restaurant where the experience wouldn’t have been enhanced by substituting its fried chicken with an extra-crispy thigh or drumstick from Popeye’s, but there are other factors (atmosphere, history, service) that propel other fried chicken experiences above Popeye’s.

    The next time you find yourself in Popeye’s native New Orleans, try this little experiment out. Get a Popeye’s three-piece meal and enjoy it at Willie Mae’s, right next to a basket of freshly fried Willie’s. Popeye’s is better there, even if it takes longer to get there. It’s an uncomfortable reality that may be considered sacrilegious, yet we can’t avoid it because it hurts.

    So you want to improve even further? If you can resist eating all of your fried chicken in one sitting, you can save some for later and have fried chicken that rivals Popeye’s.

    Chicken with General Tso’s Sauce, Ordered to Go

    General Tso’s, General Gau’s, Ching’s, Cho’s, Jo’s, or Chau’s—whatever you want to call it, this is about as American as Chinese food can get, and no less delicious for it. Named after a famed real-life 19th century Chinese General, the dish nevertheless traces its origins back to a Hunanese ex-pat in Taiwan, though the modern deep-fried version was created in none other than New York City. Too often, food court-grade General Tso’s is sickeningly sweet with greasy coatings so thick that it’s difficult to tell whether there’s even chicken hiding within. But the best versions of General Tso’s have a balanced sauce that’s equal parts sweet, spicy, and hot; breading that’s crisp and greaseless; and juicy, tender chunks of marinated dark meat chicken hiding within.

    That’s the chicken I’m after.

    Want to make it yourself? Here’s our recipe for The Best General Tso’s Chicken, or if you want to double up on fried chicken pleasure, use Popeye’s chicken nuggets for a quick and cheaty version of General Tso’s.

    Chicken Fried Chicken With Gravy

    “Chicken-fried steak” is beef that’s been pounded, breaded, and fried in the manner of Southern Fried chicken (get our recipe here), so it makes sense that when you pound, bread, and fry chicken in the manner of chicken-fried steak, you end up with chicken-fried chicken. It’s a twisted etymological path, but the dish is no less delicious for it.

    It differs from standard Southern-fried chicken in two respects: First, it’s made from thin, boneless cutlets or pounded chicken thighs, which means that the ratio of crispy seasoned breading to chicken is much higher than in regular fried chicken (I have yet to try it, but I imagine chicken-fried chicken skin with no meat at all would be pretty incredible, too) (I have yet to try it, but I imagine chicken-fried chicken skin with no meat at all would be pretty incredible, too). Second, it comes smothered in a creamy gravy that’s heavily seasoned with black pepper. It’s the fried chicken for those times when you feel like your Southern fried chicken has entirely too much meat. Or not enough gravy. Or both.

    Cold Hot Fried Chicken From Nashville

    You can’t talk fried chicken without talking Nashville’s most iconic food: Hot fried chicken. I think our contributor Susannah Felts put it best when she described Nashville Hot Chicken: “[It] takes something unassailably Southern, heavy, and indulgent—I’m talking regular fried chicken—and makes that dish seem like sissy food.” The stuff is unapologetically, relentlessly, tongue-scorchingly spicy, even to a certified chili-freak like myself, with a crust seasoned heavily with cayenne pepper and paprika.

    But here’s the thing: I’ve only ever had it cold, and that was half a decade ago when former editor Erin Zimmer brought some back to the office after a trip to Nashville. Even day-old and cold the stuff has haunted my dreams. I’m headed back to Nashville this August for an Alt family reunion at which time I hope to plug this hole in my culinary education. I have every reason to believe it will live up to my expectations.

    Xi’an-Style Fried Chicken Wings From Your Kitchen

    You won’t find these crispy chicken wings seasoned with Xi’an-style spices in the central Chinese city of Xi’an, or, in fact, in any restaurant that I know of (the “Chicken Wings With Explosive Red Chilies” from Mission Chinese Food in New York is the closest I know of) but I can’t think of a better way to pay homage to one of my favorite food cities than by bringing its flavors home. Turns out crisply fried chicken, cumin, hot chilies, and numbing Sichuan peppercorns go together like cereal and milk. Really hot milk that will burn your face off in the most pleasurable way imaginable.

    Really Good Buffalo Wings

    Buffalo wings are at the top of my wife’s death row last meal request list. They’re certainly the most iconic all-American sports bar snack around. But this leads to a problem: most of them just aren’t very good. Let me tell you about the three most egregious and common buffalo wing offenses.

    They aren’t crisp enough. Buffalo wings must be crisp enough that they stay crisp, even after they’re tossed in sauce; even after sitting in wax paper-lined plastic basket on your table for fifteen minutes; even after they’ve been dipped in blue cheese dressing. Please. Leave those suckers in the fryer long enough to crisp up!

    They are breaded. I get it. You think breading makes things crispier, and we all want crisp buffalo wings, right? Sorry, pal. Buffalo wings are really no more than an excuse to eat deep-fried chicken skin. I want that skin to blister and bubble and get that rich, savory flavor that only direct oil-to-skin contact can produce. Leave the breading for the mozzarella sticks.

    Not enough flats. Any true buffalo wing aficionado knows that the flats—that is, the middle section of the wing with two thin bones—are juicier, tastier, and offer a better skin-to-flesh ratio than the white meat drumettes.

    Homemade sauces. You want to express your inner chef? Great. Put a special on the menu. Jazz up your nachos. Serve some “artisan” flatbread or whatever else bars like to get creative with these days. But leave my damn wings alone. Frank’s and butter or bust.

    Chongqing-Style Dry-Fried Chicken With Chilies From Chongqing, China

    This is a staple meal for me at Sichuan-American restaurants. To wit: marinated chicken nuggets with the bones in, deep-fried till crisp and chewy, then stir-fried with Sichuan peppercorns and an excessive quantity of bright red chilies. In the United States, “Chicken with Chilies” is the common name for a milder version of la zi ji, which is a direct translation of the Sichuanese original. I didn’t try it until last summer, when I was in Chongqing, where it originated. It really blew my head and left me with a dry tongue. Though I anticipated some heat, I wasn’t ready for the capsaicin punch it delivered.

    Some recipes mix the chicken with dry chiles alone, and these are the ones that are tolerable. Those who really want to turn up the heat add a tonne of fresh green chilies to the classic recipe. Although my lips enjoyed it, my stomach begged for compassion. About halfway through, I had to call it quits.

    The dried chiles, by the record, are just there for their spicy scent and should not be consumed. If you make that mistake once, you will swiftly learn your lesson.

    Singaporean Chicken with Prawn Paste

    For the life of me, I just don’t get the motivation behind creating prawn paste chicken. Allow’s let this bycatch of shrimp that was caught because they were too little to be targeted get sun-dried, then ground them into a paste, apply it over some chicken, and deep-fry it twice. Wow, that’s going to taste great!

    Although I don’t get it, I’m delighted it occurred, since it seems they were spot on. All of Singapore’s hawker centres and mom-and-pop Chinese restaurants serve up delicious prawn paste chicken. Like traditional Korean fried chicken, the chicken is marinated overnight in a sweet and savoury mixture of shrimp paste, oyster sauce, and sugar before being coated in cornflour and fried twice. There’s a hot chilli sauce on the side, but I find that the wings stand on their own just well.

    If you like Korean fried chicken, but wish it had a little more…rankness, this meal is for you. Not sure whether it’s available elsewhere, but if you can’t make it to Singapore but still want to try this meal, here’s a basic recipe.

    Japan’s Traditional Meatball Dish, Karaage

    Harlem’s Jin Ramen is known for its Nankotsu karaage.

    Kara-age means “fried Chinese-style,” but like other Chinese foods that Japan has acquired (such as ramen and gyoza), it has been given a uniquely Japanese spin. Start with boneless chicken pieces marinated in garlic, ginger, and soy sauce, then coat in starch (I use a combination of corn or potato starch with flour), and deep fried until crisp. The greatest kind is nankotsu karaage, which is prepared with crisp chicken breast cartilage. A simple slice of lemon is included with the dish.

    Karaage is unparalleled as a bar or street snack. It’s healthier than the other fried chicken options here without sacrificing any of the deliciousness. With this dish, your kitchen may become an authentic izakaya.

    Thai Street Food: Gai Tod

    Chicken prepared in this manner is often served with a heaping helping of sticky rice, which adds nutrition but lacks taste, thus the chicken itself must be very flavorful. A potent marinade with garlic, coriander seed, white pepper, coriander roots, and oyster sauce is applied to the raw chicken and let to sit for a few hours before cooking. After resting for a full day, the chicken is dredged in rice flour and fried till golden.

    The frying, though, is the most intriguing part. The Thai will keep cooking long after most other cultures have declared, “Okay, that fried chicken is done.” in addition to preparing meals. The chicken is cooked for around 10 to 15 minutes longer than is customary, producing a crispy exterior that practically falls apart in your hands like floss.

    This may seem like it would lead to dry chicken, but the proteins in the chicken are able to keep more moisture thanks to the marinade than they would be able to without it, even after long periods of cooking. When cooked, the chicken is far from being dry.

    When I want to cook something authentically Thai at home, I visit Leela’s fried chicken dish, inspired by Thai cuisine, is both easy and tasty to make.

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