I realize the thought of fried chicken blowing you mind is a little 'out there' but I'm serious -- this is really good chicken. Fried chicken is a funny thing -- it looks like a simple proposition (dredge chicken parts, deep fry and eat) but I've found it difficult to find that sweet spot where the breading is golden-brown, the skin is crispy and the inside is cooked. Add a thermometer to the mix that someone diligently scrubbed clean but also removed the temperature markings and fried chicken takes on a level of complexity that gives me a headache. I suppose I could have bought a new thermometer or been satisfied with two of the three criteria for superlative chicken mentioned above but instead, I set out to research recipes that cooked the chicken before frying....which would allow me to fry the chicken at slightly higher temperature without worrying about the meat being fully cooked.
The vinegar and soy sauce poaching liquid combined with a fermented chili and soybean paste that I'd never heard of before (and still can't pronounce) takes fried chicken to a whole new level. The gochujang paste is critical and can be found at an Asian grocery store or on Amazon -- it has a very particular taste and I can't think of a decent substitute. Also, poach the chicken very slowly -- you don't want the skin to shrink too much or fall off the chicken....the crispy skin is my favorite part of fried chicken. And I'm telling you, once you taste the chili sauce you're going to want to slather it everything you can think of -- it's that good.
Korean Fried Chicken
2-1/2 cups distilled white vinegar
1 1/2 cups water
1/3 cup soy sauce
5 medium cloves garlic, smashed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 bay leaves
2 to 3 lb. bone-in chicken drumsticks and thighs
For the sauce
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons gochujang paste
1/4 cup apple cider (apple juice can be substituted)
2 tablespoons lime juice, freshly squeezed
3 teaspoons Asian toasted sesame oil
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
2 teaspoons soy sauce
For dredging and frying
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups buttermilk
1 quart vegetable or peanut oil
Poach the chicken: in a 4-quart saucepan, bring all ingredients to a simmer over medium heat ad then reduce heat to low. Add the chicken to the simmering broth, partially cover the pan, and poach for 15 minutes, turning the pieces over midway (it’s important that the liquid never get hotter than a very gentle simmer). Turn off the heat and let the chicken rest in the broth for 20 minutes. Transfer the chicken pieces to a cooling rack set over a sheet tray and pat the pieces dry.
Make the sauce: whisk all the sauce ingredients together in a medium bowl; set aside.
Dredge and fry the chicken: combine the flour, cornstarch, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, and pepper together in a medium bowl. Pour the buttermilk into a separate bowl. Dip each piece of chicken in the buttermilk, lift out, and let the excess buttermilk drip off. Dredge the chicken in the flour so that each piece is evenly coated. Transfer to a large plate and set aside while you heat the oil.
Add oil (enough to fill the pan halfway ) to a 12-inch cast-iron or deep fryer; heat the oil over medium high to 365°F. Set a wire rack on a paper-towel-lined rimmed baking sheet.
Working in batches, fry the chicken, turning it over every minute or two and adjusting the heat as needed to maintain 365°F until an instant-read thermometer registers 165°F in the thickest part of each piece, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer the chicken to the rack. Liberally brush the fried chicken with the sauce and serve with more sauce on the side.