“Fried.” Not my favorite word, but sometimes necessary in life. For as long as I can remember, I always stood by my parents while they cooked their signature dishes. Ranging from traditional Korean food to Italian to Japanese, I’ve learned a lot. But this dish is by far my favorite (and I think everyone else’s).
In Korean, it is written as 깜풍기 or “kkahm poong gi.” I have absolutely no idea what it actually means but it makes my heart flutter every time and it’s a fun word to try to teach to your fiancé. It is bits of fried chicken in a sweet, sour, and spicy sauce.
Despite the fried component, this dish is actually very light tasting, thanks to the loads of lightly cooked onion, garlic, cucumber, and ginger.
One of the most important ingredients to this dish is tapioca starch in the coating of the chicken. As you can see below, this is the brand I use but I assume any other brand will work fine. Compared to cornstarch, tapioca starch creates a firmer fried texture, even after being doused in the sauce. If you prefer, you can use cornstarch for a chewier and gummier texture. I once considered bringing a pack of this on the plane because I didn’t think I would find it here in Pensacola..but I really didn’t want a repeat of “We want to make sure you don’t have an exploding sausage in your bag”…more on that later.
Warning: this is not the easiest dish to make so proceed with caution. If you are a newbie to cooking, all I have to say is “I told you so.”
Additionally, cornstarch plays an important role in this dish as a thickening agent for the sauce.
If you don’t like chicken breast, you can use other meats like chicken thigh or shrimp (shrimp is my favorite).
First: get your sauce ingredients ready. Dice your onion and cucumbers into 1/2″ cubes. Take whole cloves of garlic and slice vertically. Take your ginger (skin peeled) and cut into smaller cubes. I cut mine big because we have had far too many moments during dinner where we look up at each other after happily biting into a piece of ginger that we thought was garlic. Take 2 tablespoons of cornstarch and mix with about 1/2 cup of water. Mix and set aside.
Note: the dried chiles are also key to this dish, which you can find in almost any asian market. I’ve also found them in the Mexican section at American markets. If you absolutely cannot find these, red chili flakes are an okay option.
Second: start heating up your oil to fry in.
Third: cube your chicken. I prefer mine to be about 1″ for texture. In a large bowl, place the chicken, 1.5 tablespoons of soy sauce (for two chicken breasts), tons of ground pepper, and about 1/2 cup of tapioca starch.
Fourth: with your hand, start massaging the ingredients together. Yes, I said massage. Just pretend the chicken is your significant other. Or your leg after exercising too much. To each their own. Anyway, the mixture will seem really dry at first but keep on mixing. Once you’ve at least attempted to coat the chicken with the starch, add bits of water and more starch to create a crumbly but sticky coating on the chicken. You want the final product to be pretty dry and crumbly; trust me, it’ll fry up wonderfully; each piece of chicken doesn’t have to be perfectly coated. Look at the picture below for the best reference:
Fifth: when you’re ready, start frying your chicken in batches. I’m not going to tell you how to fry something. I told you this wasn’t for amateurs. But do remember, don’t put in too many pieces at once; this will cause the oil to decrease in temperature quickly.
Sixth: once you’re close to being done with frying, heat up a sauce pan over medium heat. Once heated, add some vegetable oil and add your onions, cucumbers, and chiles. After about 2 minutes, add your garlic and ginger. At this point, carefully watch your heat so your garlic doesn’t burn. Once your onions have reached the translucent stage, add 3 tablespoons of brown sugar, 2 tablespoons of vinegar, and about 1/2 of your cornstarch mixture. Increase your temperature and let it simmer. Add more cornstarch mixture if the sauce is too watery. Be careful when adding; I remember adding too much one time and the sauce became a pudding consistency. Not something you want. More cornstarch = thickness increases.
Seventh: pour your sauce over your chicken and enjoy!