One of my fondest food memories from my early childhood in Seoul consists of walking over to a neighborhood food market with my family and picking up the two items that everyone craved: a whole fried chicken and kimbop. No, not a roast chicken or fried chicken parts but rather a WHOLE FRIED chicken! (The kimbop is a Korean maki roll—something I’ll save for another post.)
To be sure, there are plenty of yummy foods I’ve eaten since (and most of them healthier than a whole fried chicken!). But nostalgia is pretty seductive, and the unique qualities of that whole fried chicken have grown to epic proportions. I had to replicate that flavor! When I came across David Chang’s recipe for Fried Chicken with Octo Vinaigrette, I wondered whether this was, at last, something I could modify. (Click here for the post: http://eatingreadingwriting.blogspot.com/2011/12/tale-of-two-fried-chickens.html)
The recipe we used originally was intended for a chicken cut up into quarters, which we had instead cut into ten pieces (Click here for the original recipe: http://almostbourdain.blogspot.com/2010/01/momofuku-fried-chicken-with-octo.html). But I was determined to attempt my own version of my childhood fried whole chicken.
First, we had to get a small fryer. It’s quite easy to find a whole chicken for roasting (those that are usually 4+ pounds), but whole chickens for frying are less available. We’d given up the search and was on the prowl for a chicken around 3 ½ pounds when—of course it happens when you’re not actually looking—we found Kosher fryers at a Costco (in Glenview, IL) sold in a 2-pack and each only weighing 2 ¾ pounds!
After brining the whole chicken in the mixture of water, salt, and sugar for about 5 hours, I set up a stove-top steamer. I followed the recipe directions to steam for 40 minutes and then checked its progress, fully expecting to steam a bit longer—after all, I was steaming a whole chicken instead of parts. To my surprise and dismay, the chicken was fully cooked already, with legs having pulled away from the bone. Next time, I’ll steam a chicken this size for no longer than 30 minutes since the ripped skin and pulled flesh made it a bit harder to manipulate afterwards (since I feared dismantling the bird with every move).
Then I cooled the steamed chicken as directed and tied its legs together. Once the chicken was ready, I set up my ancient but trusty deep fryer and set to work. Here, the timing was off was well, but in the other direction. While chicken pieces I fried in the same way crisped up in minutes (the recipe said 6-8 minutes), the whole chicken would not brown or crisp as quickly. So, despite the fact that the chicken was fully cooked, I had to keep frying—turning every once in a while in a delicate maneuver, afraid the legs would rip off from the body.
At last, the color looked brown enough, and the skin felt crispy. I let it sit to drain excess oil and to rest—and to let the skin crisp up further. All the while, we were a bit apprehensive since the frying process was much longer (about 25 minutes) and we were afraid that the chicken would be too dry. Once we plated the chicken and put the prepared Octo Vinaigrette in a small bowl, we were ready to dig in. No worries. The chicken was not dry but instead flavorful and crispy, its pure brined and fried flavor complemented by the vinegar-y sauce. Just like I remembered!—I think…