Taiwanese ‘Pop-Corn’ Chicken with Crispy Basil Leaves

These irresistable salt and pepper coated crispy chunks made the pain of cleaning up after a session of deep-frying worthwhile. Crispy-liciousness got kicked up a notch with golden, translucent deep-fried basil leaves, albeit my leaves were crushed when I tossed them through the fried chicken pieces. Quick and simple, this popular Taiwanese dish makes a very naughty but tasty snack. A balanced salt, pepper and sugar mixture is all it takes to flavour the chicken pieces but you could also include soy sauce, shao hsing rice wine and a tiny amount of chopped ginger to the marinade. A coating of coarse sweet potato flour, available in asian grocery stores, makes the chicken ultra-crispy (hence pop-corn chicken). Coarse sweet potato flour works best for this dish but my sister a.k.a The Frying Queen, suggests that an alternative mixture or cornflour, tapioca starch and rice flour would work as well; especially rice flour for a light crispy result.

To begin with, let’s make a basic salt and pepper mixture. Any leftover can be stored in a glass jar in a cool, dry place. You can use this to season any meat, poultry or fish.

Salt & Pepper Mix

2 tablespoons salt (I used rock salt which I pounded till very fine)
1 1/4 tablespoons sugar
1/2 tablespoon ground white pepper

To get a fine mixture, grind all ingredients with a pestle and mortar or in a spice grinder.

Taiwanese ‘Pop-Corn’ Salt and Pepper Chicken with Crispy Basil Leaves 

2 – 3 chicken thigh fillets (approximately 320 g), cut into 3cm-4cm chunks
1/2 teaspoon salt & pepper mixture
1/2 teaspoon five spice powder
1 teaspoon shao-hsing rice wine
1 teaspoon corn flour
50 g course sweet potato flour (you can also use corn flour but sweet potato flour gives a much crispier result)
1/2 cup basil leaves, washed clean and pat dry with a tea towel
extra salt & pepper mix for tossing & serving


  1. Marinate the chicken pieces with the salt and pepper mixture, five spice powder, shao-hsing rice wine and corn flour. Leave to marinate for about 30 minutes
  2. Heat oil in a deep-fryer/wok/deep-saucepan to about 180oC (or insert a WOODEN chopstick into the oil; once it bubbles around the chopstick, the oil is hot and ready for frying)
  3. Coat the chicken pieces in the sweet potato flour; brush off excess flour then deep-fry until golden brown; dish out to drain on a paper-towel lined plate and let cool for 2 minutes. Return the chicken pieces into the hot oil and deep-fry for a further 3 minutes (double frying makes the chicken crispier). Drain on paper-towel lined plate.
  4. While the oil is still hot, add the basil leaves to deep-fry (have the deep-fryer lid or a cover ready as the addition of basil leaves to the hot oil will cause some splattering). BE CAREFUL with this step. Fry for about 1 minute until crispy then drain well.
  5. Toss the fried chicken pieces with 1/2 teaspoon of the extra salt and pepper mix.
  6. Serve chicken pieces on a platter; garnish with crispy basil leaves and extra salt and pepper mixture on the side


 Crispy Basil


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