Taiwanese Popcorn Chicken

This irresistibly crunchy twice-fried chicken is a fixture of Taiwan’s night markets.

  • Serves


  • Cook

    2 hours 12 minutes


By Clarissa Wei

Published on November 28, 2023

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This recipe for popcorn chicken, adapted from Clarissa Wei’s debut cookbook Made in Taiwan: Recipes and Stories from the Island Nation, was a staple of the country’s night market culture in the 1970s, around the same time that American fried chicken was gaining in popularity in Taiwan. What makes this a distinctly Taiwanese dish is its double-fried crunch, produced by a batter of thick sweet potato starch, and its finishing seasoning of chili powder, ground white pepper, and shards of fried Thai basil. (You can find thick sweet potato starch and Taiwanese rice wine at many Asian grocery stores or via online retailers.) Whether eaten at a food stall or in the comfort of your home kitchen, this irresistible dish perfectly embodies the Taiwanese wok-frying tradition. (Note: To minimize oil splatter when frying the Thai basil, make sure the leaves are completely dry before frying.)

Excerpted from Made in Taiwan: Recipes and Stories from the Island Nation. Copyright @ 2023 by Clarissa Wei. Photography Copyright © 2023 by Yen Wei and Ryan Chen. Reproduced by permission of Simon Element, and imprint of Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved.


For the chicken:

  • 2 Tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. Taiwanese rice wine (michiu) or cooking sake
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp. sugar
  • ½ tsp. fine sea salt
  • ½ tsp. ground white pepper
  • ¼ tsp. five-spice powder
  • 1 lb. boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1-in. pieces
  • 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • ¼ tsp. baking powder
  • 1 cup thick sweet potato starch (see headnote)
  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  • 1½ cups fresh Thai basil leaves, washed and thoroughly dried

For the seasoning:

  • ½ tsp. chile powder
  • ½ tsp. ground white pepper
  • ¼ tsp. fine sea salt


Step 1

Make the chicken: In a medium bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, rice wine, garlic, sugar, salt, white pepper, and five-spice. Add the chicken and stir well to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 24.

Step 2

Sprinkle the flour and baking powder over the chicken and stir well to coat. 

Step 3

To a large wide bowl, add the thick sweet potato starch. Working in batches, place the chicken in the starch and, using chopsticks or a fork, turn them to coat well. Shake off the excess starch and transfer the battered chicken to a clean plate.

Step 4

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Into a large pot or wok fitted with a deep-fry thermometer, pour the oil to a depth of 1 inch. Turn the heat to medium-high, and when the temperature reads 350ºF, working in batches, gently slide the chicken into the oil and fry, turning occasionally, until lightly golden brown, 2–3 minutes. Using a spider skimmer, transfer to the lined baking sheet. Use the skimmer to remove any burnt bits of batter from the oil.

Step 5

Turn the heat to high until the oil reaches 375°F, then turn the heat to medium-high. Working in batches, fry the chicken a second time, turning occasionally, until deeply golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted into one of the larger chunks reads 160°F, 1–2 minutes. Using a spider skimmer, transfer back to the lined baking sheet. Add the Thai basil leaves to the hot oil and immediately cover with a lid (it will crackle and spray). Fry until crisp and glossy, about 10 seconds, then use the skimmer to transfer to the lined baking sheet.

Step 6

Season the chicken: To a large bowl, add the chicken and basil and season with chile powder, white pepper, and salt. Cover the bowl and shake it to thoroughly coat with the seasoning. Serve immediately.

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