In my attempt to try and create a Cambodian version of Popcorn Chicken I decided to use Khmer Kroeung which is the base flavor for many well-known Khmer dishes such as the Cambodian Spicy & Sour Soup and Fiery Stir-Fried Lemongrass Quail, just to name a few. I will therefore name it Cambodian Popcorn Chicken, ម៉ាន់គ្រឿងបំពង (Mon Kroeung Bomporng). I am extremely happy with the outcome. It was delicious and there was that hint of Khmer Kroeung in every single bite. The only thing I sort of regret is not having fresh holy basil leaves so I opt for Thai basil leaves instead.
One of the greatest things I love about living in the Bay Area beside the weather is the availability of the different ethnic food. Seems like everything is within proximity. You don’t have to drive too far or fly out of state. If you visited California recently especially around the Bay Area or Southern California you might of seen a bunch of small Asian Fusion Style Chain Cafe such as Quickly and Tapioca Express. Although there drink selection is overwhelming I can’t seem to resist ordering is their Popcorn Chicken or otherwise known as Taiwanese Popcorn Chicken or just plain Salt & Pepper Chicken. It is not the same as the Popcorn Chicken you get from KFC or American restaurants. The one you get from Quickly or Tapioca Express is flavored with Asian spices such as star anise, cloves, cinnamon, Sichuan pepper, fennel. These spices together make what is known as Five-Spice Powder. This was my inspiration for creating this delicious Cambodian Popcorn Chicken.
I also made a red pepper salt mixture as a sprinkle because I just love the spicy flavor in savory dishes. This is of course optional. This spicy flavored salt can also be sprinkle on fried eggs, omelets, chickens and many more items that calls for a splash of the usual salt and pepper.
Cambodian Popcorn Chicken (makes 1-2 serving depends if serving as a snack or with rice)
(Mon Kroeung Bomporng) ម៉ាន់គ្រឿងបំពង
¾ lb chicken (breast or thigh meat) cut into bite size pieces – for this recipe I used a whole large chicken breast
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
½ tablespoon fish sauce
½ tablespoon oyster sauce
½ teaspoon sesame oil
½ tablespoon Shaoxing wine, used as a tenderizer
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons Khmer Kroeung
½ cup sweet potato flour or also label as potato starch
holy basil leaves or Thai basil leaves as garnish
oil for deep frying
Spicy Flavored Salt Mixture
1½ tablespoons red pepper powder
1 teaspoon white pepper powder
½ teaspoon salt
To make the spicy flavored salt mixture combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well. You can definitely adjust the amount to taste. Set aside for later use.
Marinade the chicken pieces with garlic, fish sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, Shaoxing wine, salt, sugar and Khmer Kroeung. Mix well, cover and marinade for at least 30 minutes or overnight for best flavor. Try to bring it to room temperature prior to proceeding with the next step.
In a heavy pan/pot heat oil over medium heat. While waiting for the oil to heat up sprinkle sweet potato all over marinaded chicken pieces. Use more if necessary. There will be clumps therefore I just use a strainer to shake off the clumps so that it doesn’t end up in the frying pan as it is rather difficult to fish out small pieces of burnt flour in hot oil.
When the oil is hot and ready, deep fry the chicken pieces until golden brown. Depending on the type of meat (white/dark) in addition to the cut sizes it can take anywhere from 3-4 minutes to fry.
Test a piece and once it is cook use a medal strainer or slotted spoon to transfer them to paper towels or paper bags to remove excess oil.
Next toss in the basil leaves in the hot oil. Be extremely careful because this cause a loud popping sound and sometime oil splashes if the leaves are not thoroughly dried. Protect yourself with a splatter guard or quickly toss it and step far away until the sizzling sound decreases. It should only take 20-25 seconds to fry the basil leaves.
You can transfer the chicken to a serving plate or serve it in paper bags garnish with fried basil leaves. Sprinkle with spicy flavored salt if you prefer.
This delicious dish can be served as a snack or eaten as a meal with steamed rice. ENJOY!