AANHPI Heritage Month Cookbook: Taiwanese Popcorn Chicken (Yan su ji/鹽酥雞)

The first time I had Taiwanese Popcorn chicken was when I visited Taiwan’s night market scene with my now husband. It’s a rather contentious battle in my household of which of our home countries has the best food scene. Regardless of my bias, I’ll admit that Taiwan is an amazing mecca of delicious deep-fried goodies and I highly recommend trying this popular street food.
Total cook/prep time: 1 hour

  • 1 1/2 lbs boneless skinless chicken (thighs preferred but breast okay, too)
  • 1 egg
  • 2-3 cups sweet potato starch
  • 3-4 cups oil (I usually use canola, but corn or oil is fine)- about an inch deep into pot


  • 1 medium head of garlic
  • 1/2-inch ginger
  • 2 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon mirin
  • 1/8 tsp sugar
  • ½ teaspoon Shaoxing cooking wine
  • 1 teaspoon sweet potato starch
  • 1/2 teaspoon Chinese 5-spice mix
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon nanami togarashi spice mix
  • Optional: 3 green onions, white and 1-inch of the green part, minced)
  • Optional: ½ teaspoon of sesame oil
  • optional: Leaves from 1 bunch of fresh Thai basil

To serve:

  • ground white pepper
  • Chinese 5-spice mix
  • nanami togarashi spice mix
  • salt

Substitutions: White pepper and 5 spice powder are the distinct flavors that make this dish. If need be, you can sub for other spices- you’ll still have a delish fried chicken. Chinese 5 spice consist of equal parts ground: Sichuan peppercorns, star anise, clovers, cinnamon, fennel seeds. I’m a fan of nanami togarashi spice mix, but you can do a mix of paprika, cayenne pepper, and red pepper flakes. You can sub corn starch for potato starch. You can use rice wine vinegar or white vinegar instead of mirin. You can sub gin for cooking wine. You can take out eggs for a lighter coating.
Directions: Cut chicken into 1-inch chunks, put in a large bowl with the marinade. Marinate for at least 30 minutes- can be left overnight. Mix egg in a medium bowl. Place potato starch in a separate bowl. Heat frying oil in pan to ~350° (when you can sprinkle a bit of water it sizzles). Dip chicken in egg (you can also just dump the egg directly in chicken) then coat in starch until mostly dry. Then fry chicken for about 4-5 minutes until golden brown- depending on the cut, pan, and your heat source- don’t overcrowd. (I tried this in an airfryer and it doesn’t have the same crisp, but you can spray oil on all the pieces and add them to the airfryer). Once fried, place on a wire rack or paper towel lined plate. After frying the chicken, you can fry the basil levels for 30 seconds. Toss with salt, white pepper, 5 spice, and spice mix.