Earthy, spicy, salty and deeply-nuanced, this is our home version of Chiang Mai-inspired Thai fried chicken.
What makes this fried chicken unique? The spices and seasonings in which the chicken is marinated overnight permeates the meat all the way to the bone. You get heat from the chilies, ginger and garlic, a subtle citrusy aroma and flavor from the lemongrass, the warm and nutty tones of cilantro and the richness of fish and soy sauces. There is no ingredient here that you wouldn’t find in the humblest Asian market. They are all inexpensive too.
What inspired this fried chicken? The fried chicken wings at a small restaurant in Chiang Mai. I can’t recall the restaurant’s name. Chances are we didn’t really know its name because business signages in Chiang Mai don’t always come with English translations. I only remember that we went there because we liked what we saw on the sample menu by the front door.
We had fried chicken wings (the specialty), a small bowl of noodles, a mixed pork dish and dragon eggs. The noodles and pork dish were good but it was the chicken wings and dragon eggs that were truly unforgettable.
Dragon eggs? Yes, that’s what they’re called. At first, I though they were eggs preserved in some way (the way century eggs are) so that the yolk turns oily and the egg white acquires a different texture. We loved the dragon eggs so much that we went hunting for some at Warorot Market. We searched for eggs, in their shell, that didn’t look the same as fresh eggs. But our search was in vain.
It took me a while, with plenty of help from foodie friends, to discover what dragon eggs are. Salted egg yolk wrapped in pork sausage. Naturally, they aren’t enclosed in shell. No wonder we couldn’t find any at Warorot.
But, anyway… about the fried chicken. We’d have used wings but drumsticks were what we had. The only difference really is that the drumsticks required a longer marinating time because the meat is thicker. Other than that, I think we successfully reproduced the flavors and texture of the Chiang Mai fried chicken wings. My daughter, Alex, deserves the credit.
Thai Fried Chicken
- 12 large chicken drumsticks
For the marinade
- 6 cloves garlic peeled
- 1 two-inch knob ginger peeled
- 2 stalks lemongrass cut three inch lengths from the root end
- 8 stalks cilantro stem and root end only; reserve the leafy portion for garnish
- 2 bird's eye chilies
- ¼ cup fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons light soy sauce (Thai soy sauce was used in this recipe)
- ½ teaspoon sugar
To cook the chicken
- ½ cup rice flour
- cooking oil for deep frying
- Pat the chicken drumsticks dry and place in a mixing bowl.
- With a mortar and pestle (or a food processor), grind the garlic, ginger, lemongrass, chilies and cilantro to form a paste. Stir in the fish sauce and sugar.
- Pour the spice paste over the chicken. Mix well. Cover the bowl and leave in the fridge to marinate overnight.
- In a wok or frying pan, heat enough cooking oil to reach a depth of at least three inches.
- Dredge each chicken drumstick in rice flour; shake off the excess.
- Over medium heat, fry the chicken drumsticks for six to eight minutes, depending on their size. Do this in batches if your pan is not large enough to accommodate all pieces in a single layer. Rest the chicken on a rack for about five minutes. Don't worry if they appear pale at this stage.
- Turn up the heat to high. Fry the chicken drumsticks a second time, for two to three minutes, until the skin is crisp and nicely browned.
- Serve the Thai-style fried chicken with rice, sprinkle with fried shallots and snipped cilantro leaves.
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