Wednesday, May 11, 2016

In Search of the Best Fried Chicken

Fried chicken was probably not what the doctor prescribed as I was still nursing a bit of a flu and recovering from a redeye flight home less than 24 hours ago, but I joined a few others at Jinjuu at Lan Kwai Fong earlier this week to judge at the "Winner Winner Chicken Dinner" and see who won the bragging right for having the "Best Fried Chicken in Hong Kong".

I thought I had a bit of experience in tasting after going through our own Roast Goose and Char Siu blind tasting challenges earlier, but having to try 10 versions of fried chickens in the same evening was no walk in the park. Nor was it easy for the chefs who had to prepare the dishes for our enjoyment in a kitchen that they are not familiar with, and had to time the preparation and cooking right to make sure their chicken came out well-cooked, crispy and juicy in the exact order of serving.

I am quite impressed with the line-up, representing a good variety of different cooking styles from different regions, which reflected in the different versions of fried chicken presented. There were the more "traditional" ones in classic Southern style, or ones blended with Asian influences; and then there were some that were deep-fried as the whole bird then carved, versus one cut into pieces then dipped in the batter and cooked.

From Chef Max Levy of Okra: Chicken Tatsuta with La Rou Tofu Gris & Pickles
I won't be doing a chicken by chicken commentary here but here are some that I thought were rather remarkable. Chicken by Chef Max (from Okra) was one of the earlier entries we tried, with the carved pieces of chicken (sourced local from nearby Guangdong province) served on a bed of tofu grits with pickled lotus roots and okra fingers on the side. I appreciated the creativity of using smashed tofu to resemble the classic grits side dish, and the chicken was the one with the best taste, making the not-crispy-enough skin somewhat more forgivable.

Chef Hideki Abeyama of Jan Jan Kushikatsu: Japanese-style crispy Karaage served with a wasabi mayonnaise
The one from Jan Jan Kushikatsu - a new restaurant in Wanchai and import from Osaka specializes in deep-fried skewers - was easily a crowd-pleaser with boneless, nugget-sized pieces cooked karaage style. One definitely couldn't fault this timeless staple at Japanese izakayas, dipped in thick batter, fried crisp and served with splash of lemon juice and plenty of wasabi kewpie mayo. It's definitely among my top 3 choices.

Chef Tim Lau of Moonshine & the Po'Boys: Traditional buttermilk fried chicken with a blend of Cajun spices & herbs, including cayenne pepper & paprika.”
The one from Moonshine & The Po'Boys stayed most true to the classic version of fried chicken (at least in my opinion) with the chicken first done sous-vide then dipped into a rich batter mixed with spices and herbs and deep-fried. I also loved the sides of the sweet cranberry marmalade sauce, coleslaw and jambalaya, and as a bonus, we were served an extra basket of wings done the same way! If there's a category for the best side dish, they definitely got my vote!

Chef Peter Cuong Franklin of Viet Kitchen & Bar: Gà Chiên, Viet Fried Chicken marinated with fish sauce, sugar, caramel, herbs and spices overnight, served with pickled daikon and fresh herbs
Overall, my favorite one of the evening went to the one by Chef Peter at Viet Kitchen. I am always a fan of his chicken wing on the regular menu so his entry for the fried chicken contest was the one I most anticipated. And he delivered exactly what I expected - an out-of-the-park smash off the fence! The batter was firm but crispy with a hint of fish sauce flavor and a slightly sweet glaze; the chicken was not the most tender type but with good flavor overall and the right batter-to-meat proportion. It's served in individual portion with a lineup of different sauces - but I felt like I could live without any additional dipping sauce. The shot of Saigon beer served on the side was just the icing on the cake - my only complaint was I needed a bigger glass for that.

For each of the entry we were asked to judge by the five categories of Tenderness, Moisture, Crispiness, Flavor and Overall Impression, on a scale of 1-10 for each category. At the end with the scores tabulated, drums rolling and pompoms out, the Viet Kitchen fried chicken was crowned the best by popular vote. Though I am sure all in attendance was totally "chickened out" at the end of the evening, the evening was all about having fun, and thanks all the participating chefs for being a good sport and fed us with wonderful dishes. I guess everyone won!

(The event was by invitation)

Where? Jinjuu, U/G, California Tower, 32 D'Aguilar Street, Central

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