Momofuku fried chicken is chef David Chang’s approach in which the chicken is steamed before frying and then you douse it in a Korean-inspired vinaigrette. It’s unfailingly crisp-skinned on the outside and tender within. Genius as well as gluten-free.
I came up with this approach to fried chicken at the Momofuku Noodle Bar in Manhattan. I steam the chicken first, just until it’s cooked, then use the fryer to simply crisp and brown the outside. Because of the sugar in the brine, the chicken browns deeply. And quickly, so be at the ready with a brown paper bag on which you can drop the chicken when it comes out of the hot oil.
Frying the chicken this way means the bird spends less time in the oil, which makes it easier on you, the home cook, to cook a batch on a random weeknight. And the other ingredients are few and gluten-free, which means you get a fried chicken unfettered with excess but that excels in terms of simple, pure taste. The Korean-inspired vinaigrette in which you douse the chicken is truly exemplary—and will have everyone asking, wanting, begging for more.–David Chang and Peter Meehan
WHY STEAM CHICKEN BEFORE COOKING IT?
The secret to David Chang’s intensely crisp and flavorful chicken is the fact that he steams it before he fries it. This might seem a little counter-intuitive, right? Doesn’t steam make things soggy? Well, sure. But it also helps to render some of the fat before the meat even gets into the hot fat, making that skin so, so crisp. You may have used the technique of letting your chicken skin dry out in the fridge overnight–this does the same thing but steaming is just that much faster.
Momofuku’s Fried Chicken
- Deep-fry or candy or instant-read thermometer
- 4 cups lukewarm water
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup kosher salt
- One (3- to -3 1/2-pound) chicken cut into 4 or 8 pieces
- 4 cups grapeseed or other natural cooking oil
- Octo Vinaigrette
- Combine the water, sugar, and salt in a large container with a lid or a large freezer bag and stir until the sugar and salt dissolve. Pat the chicken dry. Add the chicken pieces to the brine, cover or seal, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and no more than 6 hours.
- Set up a steamer on the stove. Drain the chicken and discard the brine. Put the chicken in the steamer basket (if you are using a stacking Chinese-style bamboo steamer, put the legs in the bottom level and the breast on the top). Turn the heat to medium and set the lid of the steamer ever so slightly ajar. Steam the chicken for 40 minutes, then remove it from the steamer and place it on a cooling rack to cool. Then put the chicken in the refrigerator, uncovered and preferably still on the cooling rack, for at least 2 hours or up to overnight.
- Take the chicken out of the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before you fry it.
- Pour enough oil for the chicken to be submerged into a deep skillet. Heat it to 350°F (175°C). Fry the chicken in batches, turning once, until the skin is deep brown and crisp, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate or a cut-up brown paper bag to drain.
- If you haven’t already, cut the wing from the breast, cut the breast in half, and cut through the “knee” to separate the thigh from the drumstick. Place the chicken in a large bowl, toss with the vinaigrette, and serve hot.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
As touted, this is not your traditional fried chicken; yet, this recipe serves up the same salty, savory satisfaction of biting into the warm, juicy, crispy chicken. I can only imagine now how divine it would be in the restaurant. The Octo Vinaigrette is a hauntingly familiar concoction that makes you ask yourself “How come I never put vinegar on fried chicken before?” Serve this version of fried chicken to your friends and you’re a superstar.
Oh, and did I mention it was ridiculously easy? I would stick with Chang’s direction to cut the chicken into four pieces. I broke the meat down into the traditional eight and found the chicken shrunk quite a bit when steamed. I think keeping the pieces intact minimizes the shrinkage. The Octo Vin softens the crisp skin anyway. I used a stainless steel steamer basket in a pot and that worked just fine. I served it with Sriracha hot sauce which put it over the top.
I debated marking this as a TC since there are quite a few steps and waiting periods in making this recipe but my family agreed that if I made this again they’d happily devour the results. We all decided it’s worth the extra effort to make this dish. We also all agreed the Octo Vinaigrette would be great on almost anything. My daughter put some on corn we had and declared it very tasty.
I couldn’t find a bird’s eye chile at the two stores I visited and my daughter went to three more also with no luck so we substituted a serrano chile. I got the smallest whole chicken our market had and it was about 5 pounds instead of the 3 to 3 1/2 pound size suggested by this recipe. I opted to cut mine in 8 pieces instead of 4 and steamed in my Chinese bamboo steamer for the suggested 40 minutes since I had a bit more weight than called for. I also fried in two batches for 8 minutes and it was perfect — moist, juicy, a bit spicy but delicious.
Love the Asian flavors but didn’t care much for the skin since after tossing with the vinaigrette as the skin lost its crispness.
I’m a little sheepish to admit that this bird never made it to our table. My guy, E, and I were so taken with the fried chicken, we stood and devoured the obscenely crisp skin and supple, tender meat straight from the oil-stained brown paper bag where it drained. Holy Momofuku, it was gooooood. The skin wasn’t just crisp, it was get-down-on-your-knees-and-thank-David-Chang crisp.
And the brine lent a faint but welcome sweetness to the chicken, underscoring and not obscuring its innate chicken flavor. Something really lovely also happens to the texture of the chicken, making it plumper, firmer, moister, but not so juicy as unbrined birds. And the whole production was unthinkably easy. I used a scant 1/2 cup of each salt and sugar in the brine. I was hesitant to steam the bird for a full 40 minutes as the recipe states, but the timing was perfect. Do be mindful to keep the water at a gentle simmer and to keep the steamer cracked, as the recipe instructs. The timing was also impeccable in terms of the 6 to 8 minutes in the oil, although be careful with the exact temperature of the oil. I had to reduce it a nudge as I like my chicken more golden than brown, and the sugar in the brine makes the chicken especially prone to browning quite quickly.
This recipe has turned me into something of a fried chicken fool, as I went out the next morning and bought another hen to make exactly the same, so saddened was I at the prospect of no leftovers. I was quite content with the fried chicken alone, although my husband preferred it with the Octo Vinaigrette. It’s also perfect with quick pickles. A keeper.
Update: I’ve since gone back and tried the recipe with various cooking fats, including peanut oil, bacon drippings, and, um, lard. I still prefer the mild grapeseed oil as an unobtrusive component of the recipe. Everything else just felt too much.
The results are in and this family gives it a solid 10! We’re not fried food eaters, but this is one fried chicken that you must try. Make sure you take the time to follow the directions precisely, as you’ll love the results. The simple brine keeps it succulent and moist, and the steaming gently cooks the chicken and readies it for a quick fry the next day.
I’m sorry to say I didn’t make the Octo Vinaigrette because I forgot to pick up some of the ingredients at the store. Oh well! It doesn’t need it. Although I will try the vinaigrette the next time—and trust me, there will be a next time.
WOW…. long process but worth every second of it. I had tried other fried chicken recipes, which were VERY good, but I must say, this one turned out to be my favorite. Tasty, juicy, CRISPY! I could not believe how crispy it became, even with the vinaigrette, which was surprising as the two blended beautifully.
I decided to try both the leg and the breast and must admit I preferred the latter, which was a shocker for the whole family as we are dark meat-eaters. I think this will be the choice for fried chicken in our home from now on.
This recipe is a keeper. The deeply browned, crisp chicken just works with this intensely flavored tangy sauce. I made it for visiting family and thank God we were family. The hands kept dipping into the sauce—double-dipping, I might add!
The recipe didn’t call for flouring the chicken, but I would like to have seen how it would have come out with a light dusting of flour. Nevertheless, the skin was still crispy.
This chicken is simply amazing. The brine is simple to put together and takes only a matter of minutes. I used an organic chicken and had the butcher cut it into 8 pieces for me. I left the chicken in the brine for about 4 1/2 hours. It only took 20 minutes to steam once removed from the brine.
The mind-blowing element of this chicken is the Octo-Vin. It’s sweet, tangy, and light, with a delicate flavor that doesn’t add greasiness to the dish. We just kept adding the sauce to our chicken as we ate. I used a red jalapeño since I couldn’t find the specified pepper in local stores.
This would be a fantastic weeknight meal as you can make the vinaigrette and cook the chicken ahead of time, leaving about 10 minutes of cooking time later in the week. A great recipe and one I will make again. I could eat this often.
I don’t know how this compares to other Korean fried chicken recipes, but this has become the one we refer to as Crack Chicken. Given the addictive flavors of this dish, it may be more than a coincidence that David Chang also has a Crack Pie at his restaurants.
Originally published June 26, 2011