Making your way through the bustling streets of Taipei's night market, each turn feels like a sensory overload. The vibrant colors of stalls, the chatter of excited patrons, and an overwhelming bouquet of aromas fill the air. A particular scent beckons, and as you draw closer, you discover freshly deep-fried, golden-brown Taiwanese popcorn chicken. Of course, you have to try it, and each piping hot morsel boasts an extra crunchy exterior that resembles an army of puffed rice and seeds or tiny fried bubbles.
Aromatic fried Thai basil leaves accompany the popcorn chicken, amplifying the dish's allure; the chicken's exquisite crunch gives way to a juicy, tender interior, sending your taste buds into overdrive. What makes this chicken so delicious and crunchy? The taste is thanks to the chicken's marinade and a mix of seasonings like Sichuan peppercorns, garlic powder, salt, white pepper, and monosodium glutamate (MSG). As for that exquisite crunch — well, that's usually thanks to sweet potato starch and a little water.
Like cornstarch, tapioca starch, and potato starch, sweet potato starch is a gluten-free and vegan starch derived from a vegetable. You can use it as a thickening agent for soups and sauces or use it to bread proteins before frying, which makes it the perfect way to add a little crunch to your own popcorn chicken.
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How Sweet Potato Starch Elevates Popcorn Chicken
Sweet potato starch, when used instead of breadcrumbs for breading or "seeding" chicken, will lend a unique crispiness to the dish. To bread your chicken, first, wet your hands and toss the seasoned and marinated chicken with sweet potato starch and a little water. The starch should look like minuscule seeds or beads that stick to the meat. This process is called seeding the chicken and will help create Taiwanese popcorn chicken's characteristic bubble-like grains on the surface.
Sweet potato starch is also pivotal in locking in the chicken's moisture, ensuring the inside remains sumptuously juicy while the exterior is crunchy and crispy. Now, while we recommend that you always use sweet potato starch to make Taiwanese popcorn chicken, note that sweet potato starch is not the easiest to find; you'll probably have better luck buying it in an Asian supermarket or online. If you still can't find sweet potato starch, cornstarch, tapioca starch, or potato starch are adequate substitutes. Your resulting popcorn chicken will still be crunchy and crispy.
Of course, if you do happen upon sweet potato starch at your local Asian supermarket, grab a few bags for your pantry. It offers an unparalleled combination of texture, moisture retention, and aesthetic appeal that's hard to replicate, making it the best choice for achieving delicious and extra-crispy Taiwanese popcorn chicken — or any other popcorn chicken recipe you choose — in your home kitchen.
Read the original article on Tasting Table.