How to Make Popcorn Chicken and Crispy Vegetable Fritters


Today on Cook’s Country, I’m making Popcorn Chicken. Toni tells us about a fast food innovator. Adam reviews electric deep fryers. Brian is making Gobi Manchurian, and Lawman is making Crispy Vegetable Fritters. That’s all right here on Cook’s Country.

Popcorn chicken hit the American fast food scene all the way back in the 1990s, and it became really popular. It’s still popular today, but I’m going to show you a really easy recipe today that’s so much better than anything you can get at any restaurant. Very easy to make. We’re gonna start off with our coating. I’ve got two large eggs here, and I’m gonna season this with two teaspoons of kosher salt.

We wanna season the eggs directly. This is going to sit right on the chicken so that salt is going to help to season the meat. And I’ll just use my whisk to break it up. Now, what we’re doing today is we’re dipping an egg and then a flour mix. Now the base of our coating is two and a 1/2 cups of all purpose flour, and it’s going to add some substantial crunch and that’s what we want, but we also want it to stay nice and crispy.

So we’re gonna add a 1/2 cup of corn starch. That’s gonna lighten the coating just a wee bit.

And also I’m going to add tablespoon of baking powder. So it’s gonna give it a little bit of lift and a little bit more lightness. As always we wanna season the coating as well, get a tablespoon of kosher salt, and next, a tablespoon and a 1/2 of sugar.

Now the sugar’s really important. It’s not only going to add flavor, but it’s going to help the coating to brown very quickly, once we go to fry it, because again, these pieces of meat are super small. You don’t want them spending a lot of time in the oil, otherwise they will overcook. All right, let’s add a little bit of spice here. We’ve got a teaspoon of black pepper and a teaspoon of cayenne pepper.

We’ve got two teaspoons of onion powder, and one and 1/2 tablespoons of granulated garlic. And I’ll whisk this together.

All right, let me show you a trick for breading popcorn chicken, but we use this with most fried chicken recipes as well. So we’re gonna add a 1/2 a cup of water, and then I’m just going to work the water into the mixture. You can use the spatula.

I like to use my hands and start to press some of these clumps together. And then once those are fried, you get a really nice crunch, really good bite.

So this is looking great. I’ve got some nice small clumps of a breading, and I think it’s about time that we get the chicken, we’ve par frozen chicken breast. This is one and 1/2 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

Now this is a great trick for cutting small pieces of meat. We just put them in the freezer for about 40 minutes. You don’t want them to be rock solid. You just want them to be a little bit firmer. It’s gonna be a lot easier for us to cut this.

So I’m gonna cut this into very small pieces, a 1/2 an inch. When I say 1/2 inch pieces, I mean 1/2 inch pieces. So I’m gonna cut some strips. These are 1/2 inch pieces, tiny popcorn chicken, and this would be really hard to do if the chicken wasn’t so cold. Now we’re gonna bring this over to our egg mixture, going to add all of the chicken all at once.

Just give it a nice toss so that they’re evenly coated with the egg mixture. And now 1/2 of this is going to go into our flour mixture and it’s okay if some of that egg mixture goes in there, don’t worry about it because I’m going to use my hands again and toss the chicken and the coating.

I also want to kind of press on the chicken to make sure that the coat is sticking to it. So now we get to pick out all the tiny little pieces and as I do it, I just wanna kind of squeeze them a little bit to make sure that the coating is sticking. And then I’m going to place them on this rimmed baking sheet.

Do this enough, you get really efficient and you can use two hands, but you do wanna make sure that the pieces are separated from each other. Before I add the second batch of chicken, some of these clumps that are in here are starting to get just a little too big. So I’m going to add a little bit more flour. This is a 1/4 cup more of all purpose flour, and you can whisk it in. I’m just going to stick with the hand method at this point, just blend it in and break up some of those bigger clumps.

And then the second batch of chicken goes in. Now I’m going to bread it exactly the same way. And then we’ll start frying. Popcorn Chicken was one of the many fast food inventions dreamed up by Eugene Gagliardi, Jr.

Gene was the son of Italian immigrants and grew up working for his family’s meat business in Philadelphia.

Nicknamed The Junk Food Genius, he had a talent for finding new uses for the butcher scraps, reformulating them into products like Steak-Umms, Ripping Chicken, and of course, Popcorn Chicken. Gene originally pitched KFC a product he called, Hot Thigh, made from the thigh bone meat. That idea eventually became Finger Picking Chicken. And from there evolved into Popcorn Chicken, but while Gene’s take on popcorn chicken was a hit with KFC fans, it wasn’t a brand new idea.

A popular Taiwanese version of fried chicken bites is made from strips of thigh meat, which are battered, fried, and tossed with seasonings.

At Cook’s Country, our version of popcorn chicken brings the bite sized goodness into the home kitchen. I’ve got one and 1/2 quarts of peanut oil. You can use vegetable oil, but it’s a oil with a high smoke point. That’s important for frying. And we heated this to 400 degrees.

Now that’s pretty high for frying, but again, these are tiny pieces of chicken.

We don’t want them to cook too long. We want them to go into the oil and out in rapid time. So I’ll add it in spoonfuls here. Oh, that’s a good sound.

And you wanna stir it as soon as you add it in there. We’re only frying a 1/2 a batch of the chicken at a time because we don’t wanna lower the temperature of the oil too much. That is about 1/2. This just only needs to cook for two to three minutes. Really, I’m looking more for color here, but the pieces of chicken are so small, we don’t have to worry about them being undercooked.

We’ll look for a good color and then move on. That’s looking good. Look at this, beautiful. I’d call that a tawny golden brown, And I’m gonna take them out of the oil and let them drain on some paper towels that I put on a rimmed baking sheet there. These are almost all out.

Now after I get all of these out, I’m going to bring that oil back up to 400 degrees and then cook the second batch exactly the same way.

All right, let me just fish out these last few here. This is the second batch, I’m done with the oil. So these look amazing, ready to eat, but I am going to make a dipping sauce and we’re gonna make a really simple one. This is six tablespoons of honey, and I’m going to add two tablespoons of hot sauce.

So we’re using Frank’s RedHot Sauce here. It’s got a nice balance of vinegar and of course, spice, and a pinch of sauce just stir this together. This can be made well in advance. All right, so I like to serve these just on a big platter.

Now this is perfect for a party, get together, and there’s always these little crunchies left over, there used to be a fried chicken place near where I grew up that would sell just baskets of the crunchy breading.

The best part is each of these pieces of popcorn chicken is bite sized. So there’s no double dipping, but let me try one without the sauce first. (crunching) Can you hear that crunch? The chicken is so beautifully seasoned and really, really crunchy. All right, let’s try it with a little bit of the sauce.

That’s a fried chicken trifecta there because you have the perfectly seasoned meat. You got some heat and some sweet. I think this is a winner. Now to make this amazing recipe at home, stir a little water into the coating, par freeze chicken breasts for easier cutting, and then fry them in very hot oil. All you need is a little dipping sauce and there you have it from Cook’s Country, piping hot, crispy, crunchy, seasoned perfection, popcorn chicken.

Pop it in your mouth. Frequent fryers, which is kind of hard to say, swear by their electric countertop deep fryers.

We have six of them here that we tested. The price range was a low of about $37 to a high of about $130. And testers used them to fry mozzarella sticks, French fries, chicken, cider donuts, and vegetable tempura.

Now the news is pretty good on all of these fryers. They all heated up the oil faster than a traditional setup of a cast iron Dutch oven and oil because the elements just have to heat the oil, not the whole pot along with it. We measured the temperature and they were all, except for one of them, within five degrees of the set temperature, the food was also really good. It was evenly browned. It was evenly cooked.

It was nice and crisp. The one exception was the tempura, which was a little bit soggy because it’s gotta cook at 400 degrees. And most of these maxed out at 375 degrees. So given that the cooking performance was pretty much on par, it was features that separated the winner from the losers. Most of them have fry baskets that are between 50 and 60 square inches, which was on the small side compared to one of them, this one with the fry basket of 84 square inches.

Because this was generously sized, the batch cooking was minimized. You could fit a whole bag of fries in there perfectly easily. Also it had a lid, as you can see, and fairly high sidewalls, which helped contain the mess. Better than that, it had a built-in oil filter and a storage reservoir, making this one the easiest of all of them to clean. And this was in fact, our winner.

This is the TFAL Ultimate Easy Clean Fryer. It’s about $95. And you can safely say that it fried the competition. – On a past trip to Asheville, North Carolina, I had the great pleasure of sitting down with Chef Meherwan Iranina, at his Indian street food restaurant, called Chai Pani. While we were dining together, one of the dishes we ate was called Gobi Manchurian, which is essentially deep fried cauliflower florets, tossed in a pungent sweet, sour, spicy sauce.

Now Gobi Manchurian has its roots in the Chinese communities of India. And there are many, many versions of this dish out there, but we took some inspiration from Chai Pani and created our own version, here at Cook’s Country.

And it all begins with the cauliflower. So this is a two and a 1/2 pound head of cauliflower. We’re gonna go ahead and first trim off the stem, so it’s flush with the base of the cauliflower and at the end of trimming, we’re gonna want about one pound of cauliflower florets.

At this point, we’re going to break off any big chunks of leaves here that are attached to the core of the cauliflower. And then we’re gonna use a pairing knife to break it down from here. So what you wanna do is insert the pairing knife 1/2 way between the center of the core and the top of the floret. Insert it at about a 30 degree angle until most of the blade the knife goes in. Now we’re just gonna use a simple sawing up and down motion as we move around the cauliflower, and we’re gonna rotate the cauliflower counterclockwise as we go.

And as you start to make these rotations, you’ll notice that the florets start to loosen, and you can either stop at this point and pull some of them off, or you can keep on cutting, until you have this little core removed.

At this point, again with the pairing knife, insert it about 3/4 of the way into the stem of the cauliflower, and simply twist the knife. That creates a natural break in the cauliflower. So you don’t get a ton of the cauliflower rubble on the cutting board, and it’s less waste at the end of the day. So we’re looking for one and 1/2 inch cauliflower florets for this recipe.

So we started with a two and a 1/2 pound head of cauliflower, but we are only gonna need one pound of florets for this recipe. And with the cauliflower broken down, we could turn our attention to the sauce. So we’re gonna start our sauce off with a 1/4 cup of ketchup. And to that, we’re going to add three tablespoons of water, two tablespoons of soy sauce, one tablespoon of chili garlic sauce, two teaspoons of fresh lime juice, 3/4 of a teaspoon of black pepper, and a 1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin.

So we’ll just stir this up.

Okay, and we could set that aside for a moment. Now we’re also going to lightly saute some aromatics. So we have some scallions here. We’re gonna start off with the three scallions. We’re gonna just trim the root ends of the scallions off and trim off some of the limp green part at the top.

And then we’re going to separate the whites and the greens of the scallions, the whites we’re gonna cook and add to the sauce, the greens we’re gonna save and use for garnish. I have two tablespoons of vegetable oil heating up in this small sauce pan over medium high heat, and it’s just starting to shimmer. So to that, we could add our three sliced scallion whites, three cloves of minced garlic, and one tablespoon of grated fresh ginger, just give that a stir.

And we’re really only trying to bloom these flavors, that takes about 90 seconds. So the scallions, ginger, and garlic have really started to release a lot of their flavor.

They’re very fragrant at the moment and they’re starting to soften. At this point we’re going to add our ketchup mixture, and we’re just gonna bring this to a bare simmer, and then remove it from the heat. The sauce doesn’t have to really reduce or anything. We’re just trying to combine all the flavors by just bringing them to a quick boil. That has come to a quick boil and we’re actually gonna transfer our sauce to the bowl we’ll end up tossing the fried cauliflower in at the end of frying.

And in the meantime, we’re gonna clean up and get ready to fry. Now we’re ready to start frying our Gobi Manchurian. I have two quarts of vegetable oil that’s heating up here to 375 degrees over medium heat in this Dutch oven. And while that’s coming up to temperature, we’re going to make our Gobi batter. We’re gonna be using 2/3rds of a cup of all-purpose flour, along with 2/3rds of a cup of corn starch.

To that, we’re going to add one cup of water and then one teaspoon of table salt, and one teaspoon of baking powder, which would give the fried cauliflower a nice lightness. So we’ll just whisk this together. When it’s all combined, it should be about the texture of pancake batter without the lumps.

All right, now that the batter’s made, we can go ahead and add our cauliflower directly to the batter. And we’ll just toss it around with a rubber spatula, just to coat it nice and evenly.

And the batter’s thick enough that it actually sticks to the cauliflower. Our cauliflower is coated with the batter. We could check the temp of our oil at this point, we’re looking for 375 degrees, and there we go. Now you could use tongs if you’d like, or you could just drop this in piece by piece with your fingers. I prefer my fingers.

Carefully drop the cauliflower in. If you are using your fingers, you actually wanna get very close to the oil, so you don’t create a splash and burn yourself. It’s important that you take the time to drop each cauliflower floret in there separately. So they don’t stick together as they cook. And now that they’re all added, we’ll take our spider and just give them a quick little stir to make sure none of them are sticking together.

It’s been about five minutes and our cauliflower is lightly golden, very lightly golden, but more importantly, that exterior coating on the cauliflower is nice and crisp. So we’re gonna transfer them to a paper towel lined sheet tray here. And it’s important to do this step because we’re trying to wick away any of the excess oil that may be stuck to those florets. We’ll let it sit for about 15 seconds on each side, give them a flip and we’re gonna let this cool down for about five minutes.

It’s been five minutes and our cauliflower’s had time to sit and cool off a little bit.

And more importantly, it’s had time to crisp up. If you listen, nice and crispy. So now we can take our cauliflower and turn it right into our Gobi sauce. And we’re gonna also add our three scallion greens that we sliced thin, and we can just gently fold the Gobi with the sauce. So I’m just going in from the bottom with a soft rubber spatula.

I’m just scooping the sauce over top, just until it’s coated. I can really smell all those spices in that sauce. We can now go right to our platter. And then as a little garnish for this, we’re going to add a couple of lime cheeks. Lime cheeks, as opposed to wedges, are just the sides of the lime.

You tend to get a little bit more juice out of them than you do with a traditional wedge.

Now we’re gonna transfer a few pieces to our plate so we can give them a taste. Time to snack on this Gobi, they’re really fragrant. There’s so much flavor in that. So I typically serve this as an appetizer at parties.

When I’m watching the football game, I’ll fry up a batch. It’s also a great vegetarian main if you have vegetarians coming over for dinner. So for a great Gobi Manchurian, start by cutting your cauliflower into even one and a 1/2 inch pieces, toss them in a light batter and then fry until crisp. After that, toss those fried florets in the pungent sauce. So from Cook’s Country, sweet, savory, spicy Gobi Manchurian.

Vegetable Fritters are a great way to get vegetable averse people excited about eating their vegetables.

They’re crisp, they’re tasty, and they’re fun to make. The only problem is vegetables contain a lot of water and that water can make even the best fritters soggy. But let me show you how we fix this issue. Starting with the red bell pepper, I’m gonna slice it thin, 1/4 inch.

I’m looking for about a cup. Next I’m gonna slice 1/2 the onion. That’s about a 1/2 a cup of thinly sliced onion. ‘Cause the way that you prep the vegetables is just as important as the vegetables themselves. And now I’m gonna cut my scallions, cutting them into 1/2 inch pieces and that’s two scallions.

And now I’m gonna shred my zucchini. I’m looking for about a cup. I’m shredding it on the large holes of the box grater. You can also use the shredding disc of the food processor. That’s one cup of shredded zucchini, and now I’m gonna shred the carrot.

Just like I shred the zucchini on the box grater.

But first, I’m gonna peel it. I’m looking for about a 1/2 a cup. That’s it for the veg prep. Now I’m gonna make the batter.

I’m using a 1/2 a cup plus one tablespoon of flour, and I’m gonna add 1/2 a cup plus one tablespoon of corn starch. The flour is gonna help with browning and create a tender batter, and the corn starch, it’s gonna give you an extra crispy fritter. I’m also adding 1/2 a teaspoon of baking powder. The baking powder adds lift and lines the batter. You didn’t notice that I’m not adding a lot of water to this batter.

When the vegetables cook, they’re gonna release the moisture and they’re gonna thin out this thick batter, but I am adding some seltzer, 3/4 cups of seltzer. When the batter cooks, the seltzer bubbles are gonna release and lighten the batter.

The carbonation of the seltzer creates acidity. That acidity is gonna mix with the flour and gonna hinder the gluten development. What does this mean, tender batter.

Now I’m gonna add the vegetables to the batter, along with a 1/2 a cup of cilantro, and one minced garlic clove. Using a spatula, I thoroughly mix the vegetables into the batter. Remember the batter is thick right now, but once the vegetables cook, they’re gonna release their moisture. It’s gonna thin out, but now we can get to cooking. I have one and 1/2 cups of vegetable oil in a 12 inch non-stick skillet heating over a medium high heat to 350 degrees.

That’s 350 degrees. And before we get frying, I’m adding 1/2 a teaspoon of salt and a 1/2 a teaspoon of pepper. Now I’m seasoning the batter at the last possible second, because that salt is gonna draw out moisture in the vegetables and thin our batter out too much. I’m using a 1/4 cup dry measuring scoop to scoop out some of the batter to make my fritters. I’m using the back end of a spoon to spread the fretter out to about four inches.

Now I’m doing that because I want lots of surface area for browning. And when you spread the fritter out, it’s gonna be right below the oil line. You’re gonna get even cooking. Now I’m gonna do that three more times for a total of four fritters. I’m gonna cook the fritters until they’re golden brown, about two to four minutes per side.

If the temperature gets too high or too low, you want to adjust the temperature accordingly. ‘Cause I wanna be between 300 and 325. It’s been about three minutes. I’m gonna check on the fritters. The color is more important than the time.

The fritters look like they’re nice and golden brown on the other side, I’m gonna flip them. I’m using two spatulas because right now the fritters are very delicate. This is gonna keep them from breaking and keep it from creating a splash. Now I’m gonna cook them for about two to four more minutes until they’re golden brown on the other side, I’m taking the fritters out and I’m putting them on a paper towel lined sheet tray, I’m also turning the burner off.

Now I’m dabbing the fritters on a paper towel for about 15 seconds on each side, and then I’m gonna move them to the unlined side of the sheet pan and then add a little salt.

And now I’m gonna turn the burner back on and because we’re shallow frying, it’s gonna reach that 350 degree temperature in no time at all. We’re gonna keep going until we’ve cooked a total of three batches, but first you might need to give the batter a quick stir. The fritters have finished cooking. I’ve added them to this gorgeous platter, and now I’m gonna whip up a quick sauce.

I have a 1/3rd of a cup of mayonnaise.

I’m gonna add a tablespoon of prepared horseradish. That’s been drained. A tablespoon of lemon juice. The horseradish is gonna add a little heat, but not overpower the sauce. I’m adding a little salt and pepper to taste.

Now what I’ve been waiting for, I’m gonna eat one of these fritters. This makes a great appetizer. Because I’m in the kitchen by myself, I’m gonna use my hands. It’s crisp on the outside, tender inside, it’s delicious. To make these great fritters, remember to prep the vegetables correctly, and create a light batter.

from Cook’s Country, Crispy Vegetable Fritters. It is so good. – Thanks for watching Cook’s Country from America’s test kitchen.

So what’d you think? – Leave a comment and let us know which recipes you’re excited to make, or just say hi.

– Now you can find links to today’s recipes and reviews in the video description. – And don’t forget to subscribe to our channel. – See you later. – Alligator. (laughing).

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