Also known as “the other KFC,” Korean fried chicken is highly popular in and outside of South Korea. The history of Korean fried chicken can be traced back to the 1960s, during the Korean War. At that time, chicken was a rare luxury in Korea, and the only way to enjoy it was by roasting or boiling it. It wasn’t until the 1970s that deep-frying chicken became popular in Korea. By the 1980s, Korean fried chicken had become a popular street food throughout the country. Since then, the Korean fried chicken industry has grown exponentially while also gaining popularity outside of the country.
With its unique combination of crispy texture, juicy meat inside and flavorful sauces, people around the world can’t get enough of it. Two things set Korean fried chicken apart from American fried chicken: the double-frying process and the sauce. The chicken is usually seasoned with spices, sugar and salt, prior to and after being fried. Also, Korean fried chicken is often made with a wet batter and coated in a thin layer of potato starch, which helps to create a unique crunchiness. Potato starch is also less absorbent than flour, which means the chicken stays crispy for longer.
Korean fried chicken’s crispness is a result of the double-frying technique, where it’s first fried at a relatively low temperature until the chicken is cooked through, then again at a higher temperature to set the crust. The lower temperature is vital for driving all the moisture out of the meat without overcooking it, thus making for a more crisp result. Korean birds tend to be smaller than U.S. birds, and thus lend themselves better to deep-frying.
After frying, the chicken is usually tossed or hand-brushed with sauce in order to evenly coat the chicken with a thin layer. Hand-brushing is preferred in order to keep the crust crunchy for longer. The thinner, crisper coating is robust enough to stand up to being coated with sauce without becoming soggy. Served with a variety of sauces such as sweet and spicy gochujang sauce, soy garlic sauce or honey mustard sauce, these sauces give the chicken an extra flavor.
Korean fried chicken is a comfort food as well as a social food. In Korea, it’s often served in large portions, making it ideal for sharing with friends and family. It’s also a popular food to eat while drinking, usually light beer like Cass or Hite and sometimes soju. (Read more about soju, a Korean liquor made from rice, here.) In fact, there’s a specific word for the pairing of chicken and beer in Korea: chimaek (치맥), which comes from the words ‘chicken’ and ‘maekju,’ the Korean word for ‘beer’). There are many chimaek restaurants and chains throughout South Korea and, increasingly, the rest of the world.
As the popularity of Korean fried chicken continues to grow, chefs are trying to create innovative variations of this beloved dish. Whether using different types of sauces, experimenting with different cooking methods, or using different types of bread to create new textures and flavors, chefs are always looking for new ways to make Korean fried chicken even more delicious and unique.
Whether you’re eating it with friends and family or enjoying it as a solo treat, Korean fried chicken is a food that’s sure to satisfy.