Fried chicken was in the stars for me. In the last two weeks, the following happened:
I traveled to New Orleans with my mom and she told me she wanted some Louisiana fried chicken. Research showed that our best options were Willie Mae’s (which I didn’t love from my last trip) and Dooky Chase. Neither of these were walking distance from the French Quarter (actually, everyone advised us against walking). My mom didn’t want to risk not being able to find a taxi back (we had been stranded the night before at the Marigny Opera House), so we didn’t end up getting fried chicken. I apologized and said I would make her some (sometime in the distant future).
At our next stop in Houston, my friend mentioned that a restaurant in Houston serves an excellent gluten-free fried chicken and that even non-celiac and non-gluten-sensitive people order the gluten-free fried chicken. (I have no idea how this fact came up in our conversation.)
Finally, when I returned home, I found the latest issue of Saveur magazine waiting for me. On the cover — fried chicken!
By noon the next day, I had given up. The fried chicken kept staring at me. I decided to make gluten-free fried chicken for dinner.
After looking up several recipes, I decided to try an all-rice flour coating on the chicken. It turned out to be a great decision, as the chicken came out extra crispy without being burned. I recommend you marinate the chicken overnight, so the chicken picks up the marinade flavor. However, you can do what I did, and marinate the chicken for an hour. It’s still delicious!
This chicken gets its extra-crispy coating from the use of a wet batter and a dry coating, and from frying twice. I am convinced that frying twice is key to all good fried things (the most notable being twice-fried french fries).
Gluten-Free Chinese Fried Chicken
I highly suggest using a cast iron pot to fry the chicken. I used a 3.5 quart Le Creuset braiser, but any cast iron pot with high sides will work. Remember, the bigger the pot, the more oil you will use, so choose wisely.
One 3-lb. chicken, cut into small pieces (I had the thighs cut into two pieces, the drumsticks cut into two pieces, the wings separated from the drumettes, and the breasts cut into three pieces. Whole Foods will cut up whole chickens if you buy the whole thing. And if you’re going to go through the trouble of frying chicken, get the pastured chicken.)
Peanut oil for frying
for the marinade:
1/2 cup good wheat-free soy sauce
1/4 cup shaoxing wine
2 teaspoons sucanat
3 strips orange peel
2 green onions, cut into 3 inch lengths
2 cloves garlic
2 inches ginger, peeled and sliced
2 star anise
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
3/4 cup water
for the wet batter:
3/4 cup white rice flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt (increase to 1 1/2 teaspoons if you do a short marinade)
3/4 to 1 cup water (you want a batter similar in consistency to pancake batter)
for the dry coating:
2 cups white rice flour
Bring the marinade ingredients to a boil and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Let cool to room temperature. Strain so only liquid is left.
Marinate the chicken in a ziploc bag for at least one hour, best if overnight.
Remove the chicken from the marinade. Put the dry coating into a ziploc bag. Mix the wet batter and immediately coat all the chicken pieces in the wet batter. Use tongs to transfer the wet-battered chicken pieces into the ziploc bag with the dry coating. Close the bag and toss the chicken pieces until all the pieces are well-coated. Remove from bag and lay out in a single layer. Let the chicken rest for 20 minutes, so the coating can dry and bind to the chicken.
Pour at least 2 inches of oil into your cast iron pot. Heat on medium-high heat and test the oil for readiness by pinching little pieces of chicken coating and throwing it in the pot. If the coating floats up and sizzles, the oil is ready. If the oil is too hot (the coating browns right away), lower the temperature a tiny bit.
Fry the chicken in batches, with some space between the chicken pieces, about 3-5 minutes each side, depending on size. The chicken coating should be a pale tan color. Remove and drain on the wire rack over the baking sheet. When all of the raw chicken pieces have been fried, start from the first batch and fry the chicken again until it is a dark golden brown. Drain and cool on the wire rack again before eating, so you don’t burn yourself.