Crispy Chinese-style Fried Chicken

Chinese-Americans always celebrated with banquets such important events as a marriage, a seventieth birthday (in Chinese tradition, too, ‘three score and ten’ is an auspicious occasion) or a funeral. These were noisy family affairs held in restaurants, with children running around and adults singing and talking loudly, the men’s voices especially fortified by rounds of drinking – usually whisky or cognac mixed with soft drinks. I remember these occasions fondly. The highlight was always the food, and each dish would be examined critically and judged by the highest standard: the taste test. Comparisons with how the dish would have been cooked in China, and how much better it would have been, were inevitable. It must have been hard to cook for such an informed and critical audience.

As a child, I always enjoyed this fried chicken dish, regularly served at so many banquets. It was greeted with much anticipation by the family members at the table. The skin had to be crackling crispy and the flesh perfectly moist. As my mother rightly pointed out, our fried chicken was vastly superior to the American version. I naturally agreed as I ate it with gusto. And any leftovers (a rarity, it is true) were carefully divided among the guests at each table to take with them when they left, with no pretence whatsoever that the treats were meant for the dog at home. Sandwiches made with this chicken are delicious.

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Ingredients

  • 1×1.6–1.8 kg (3½–4 lb) chicken
  • Groundnut oil, for deep-frying
  • 1 lemon, cut in wedges, to garnish
  • Roasted Salt and Pepper

For the Sauce

  • 2 litres ( pints) water
  • 2 whole pieces Chinese cinnamon bark or cinnamon sticks
  • 120 ml (4 fl oz) dark soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 4 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
  • 3 whole star anise
  • 2 tablespoons finely shredded fresh orange peel
  • 3 slices fresh ginger; each 5 cm × 3 mm (2 × ⅛ in)
  • 2 spring onions
  • 5 tablespoons crushed rock sugar or granulated sugar

For the Glaze

  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 240 ml (8 fl oz) water
  • 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Chinese black rice vinegar

Method

Mix all the ingredients for the sauce in a large flameproof casserole or pot and bring to the boil. Then turn the heat down to a simmer. Lower in the chicken and simmer slowly for 30–40 minutes, covered, turning it from time to time so that it is cooked evenly. Remove the chicken and let it cool on a rack for at least 3 hours. The skin should be completely dried and feel like parchment.

In a pan or wok, heat the glaze ingredients to boiling point. Then baste the chicken several times with this glaze. Let the chicken dry again for 2 hours, keeping it in a very cool and airy place but not in the refrigerator.

Heat the oil in a large wok and carefully lower in the chicken. Deep-fry it on one side until it is a rich, dark brown colour and very crisp. Then carefully turn it over and let it brown on the other side. When brown all over, remove it with a large sieve and drain well on kitchen paper. Allow the chicken to cool so that you can handle it. Cut the chicken into bite-size pieces and arrange them on a warm platter. Serve with lemon wedges and roasted salt and pepper.

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