You can have "international flavors" of fried chicken, right here, including Indonesian Fried Chicken from Julia's Indonesian Kitchen.
by Angela Garbes
photographed by Erika Schultz
“The way we fried chicken produced a deliciously crispy outside with just the right amount of moisture inside . . . To fry chicken well, you should stay near the stove and give it your full attention, turning each piece perhaps two or three times to get that even color. Mother was an expert at this. Our chicken was not only carefully tended, it was also fried in sweet, home-rendered lard, fresh-churned butter and, in addition, we would put in a slice or two of smoked pork for flavor.”
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Few of us have been lucky enough to feast upon the sort of fried chicken described by the venerable Edna Lewis in her classic cookbook “The Taste of Country Cooking.” But her words convey the warmth and comfort Americans have come to equate with Southern fried chicken. Fried chicken — eaten with your fingers, the only way — is a classic American dish. Fourth of July picnics feel somehow incomplete without it, whether it’s homemade, in a bucket from KFC, or wrapped as a family pack from that beloved Seattle institution, Ezell’s.
So I was happy to join the feast last fall at the Fried Chicken Frenzy cook-off featuring eight chefs at Union restaurant in downtown Seattle. All manner of fried chicken — soaked in buttermilk, dredged in cornmeal — was spread before us. And while most of it was delicious, about halfway through my fourth sample I found myself craving another sort of fried chicken entirely: tori no karaage, Japanese chicken marinated in soy sauce and ginger, lightly breaded in cornstarch, then deep fried to a moist, crispy-golden glory.
That got me thinking about other international versions of fried chicken — Korean, with its paper-thin, almost greaseless crackly skin coated in pungent sweet chili sauce; Indonesian, steeped in spices like turmeric and lemongrass. And I began to realize that as our country’s population grows more diverse, so do our fried-chicken options. America’s promise of a better life surely extends to our stomachs. So as we celebrate our nation’s independence, why not enjoy the freedom to sample one of these:
Korean Fried Chicken. “The other KFC” is a national snack. Just as we do here with chicken wings, Koreans plow their way through platters of (often spicy) KFC while downing pitchers of beer. But Korean fried chicken has a decidedly different texture and feel from its American counterpart. It’s coated only ever-so-lightly in flour and batter, then fried at a lower temperature in two separate stages. This distinctive KFC is served with traditional accompaniments of shredded cabbage salad with a sweet Russian-type dressing and cubes of pickled daikon radish.
KFC is the house specialty at Cockatoo’s Chicken House in Federal Way. You can choose from plain (but far from boring) chicken, which comes with a bowl of salt and pepper for dipping, or chicken in nicely spicy-hot “sweet sauce.” Then there’s the “ultra spicy” chicken, which is slicked down in an intensely spicy, downright sticky deep red sauce flecked with an alarming number of white chili seeds. Don’t miss this. Better yet, in the spirit of Nathan’s Hot Dogs, which holds its (in)famous Hot Dog Eating Contest on Coney Island every July 4th, see which of your fellow eaters can polish off a plate of Cockatoo’s Ultra Spicy Wings the fastest. Be warned: Everyone will likely be crying by the end.
Indonesian Fried Chicken. Indigenous spices like clove, nutmeg, mace and pepper are what first drew people — Portuguese settlers, the Dutch East India Company — to Indonesia in the 16th and 17th centuries. It seems only fitting, then, that spices are a major component of ayam goreng kremes — fragrant, succulent, richly flavorful Indonesian fried chicken. Chicken is first marinated, then braised in a heady mixture of spices that can include turmeric, lemongrass, ginger, galangal, candlenut, clove and coriander. As it slow cooks, the meat grows juicy and moist while absorbing the flavors of these aromatic spices. It is then deep fried, producing a lightly crunchy, dark outside that’s also tinted a mild yellow from the fresh turmeric, and a fall-off-the-bone-tender meaty inside. The fried chicken is dipped into sambal terasi, a condiment that combines chili and garlic with pungent fermented shrimp paste. Dipped into this complex sweet-hot sauce, Indonesian fried chicken reaches a whole other level of flavor.
At Julia’s Indonesian Kitchen, a family-run restaurant operating out of a charming little house in Seattle’s Roosevelt neighborhood, fried chicken is the marquee menu item. Owner-chef Julia Suparman’s “Ayam Goreng Kremes Tante Julia” — a whole game hen, marinated, braised, then fried — is a rendering of Indonesian Fried Chicken that’s made downright worship-worthy by the addition of her signature “extra crispy bits.” (That’s their official name on the menu.) These “extra crispy bits” are made by stirring flour into the marinade/braising liquid, then frying that in the oil used to fry the chicken. The resulting bits — golden brown, lacy webs that taste like the very essence of chicken itself and melt on your tongue after each crunchy bite — are the perfect topping to chicken pieces redolent of Indonesian spices.
It may not be familiar and Southern-fried, but the chicken at Cockatoo’s and Julia’s is cooked in the kind of skillful tradition that would make Edna Lewis beam with pride.
Andrea Garbes is a Seattle-area freelance writer. Erika Schultz is a Seattle Times staff photographer.