Season 14 of Cook's Country airs Saturdays beginning September 18 at 12:00 pm on WTTW.
Cook's Country is returning for its fourteenth season, its first under new editor-in-chief Toni Tipton-Martin. The show still focuses on regional specialities from across America, now with added commentary on the fascinating origins of dishes courtesy Tipton-Martin, who often approaches food through historical research.
A more recent American specialty is popcorn chicken (Tipton-Martin will enlighten you on where it came from). It's just as delicious as fried chicken but faster to make—and easier to snack on, maybe while you watch WTTW's many cooking shows on Saturday afternoons! With its characteristic rigor, Cook's Country has come up with a recipe that incorporates several ingenious tricks to make the best popcorn chicken.
While traditional fried chicken requires work and patience, popcorn chicken is an easier way to enjoy it. To cut down on frying time, we chose boneless, skinless chicken breasts; briefly froze them to firm them up for easier cutting; and then cut them into 1/2-inch pieces—the perfect “popcorn” size. Bringing the oil to a hotter frying temperature (400 degrees) and adding a little sugar to the dredge helped the chicken brown and cook through quickly without drying out. Stirring granulated garlic, onion powder, and cayenne into the dredge of flour and cornstarch (for extra crispiness) added pops of flavor, and baking powder provided lift so that the crunch wasn’t tough. For a substantial coating, we worked 1/2 cup of water into the dredge to create craggy bits; this provided extra mass that stuck to each piece and fried up into a thicker and crunchier exterior. To get the craggy dredge to readily cling to each piece, we tossed the chicken in beaten eggs before dredging it in two batches. Adding a little extra flour to the dredge between batches kept it from clumping too much. A simple honey–hot sauce dip completed this fun snack.
Serves: 6 to 8
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
Kosher salt and pepper
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup water
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 quarts peanut or vegetable oil, for frying
6 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons Frank's Red Hot Original Cayenne Pepper Sauce
1. Place chicken on large plate and freeze until firm but still malleable, about 40 minutes.
2. Whisk 2 1/2 cups flour, cornstarch, granulated garlic, sugar, baking powder, 1 tablespoon salt, onion powder, cayenne, and 1 teaspoon pepper together in large bowl. Add water and rub flour mixture between your hands until tiny craggy bits form throughout and mixture holds together like damp sand when squeezed.
3. Cut chicken into 1/2-inch pieces. Toss chicken, eggs, and 2 teaspoons salt together in second bowl. Transfer half of chicken to flour mixture and toss with your hands, pressing on coating to adhere and breaking up clumps, until chicken is coated on all sides. Pick chicken out of flour mixture and spread in even layer on rimmed baking sheet. Whisk remaining 1/4 cup flour into flour mixture until combined, then repeat coating process with remaining chicken.
4. Line second rimmed baking sheet with triple layer of paper towels. Add oil to large Dutch oven until it measures about 1 inch deep and heat over medium-high heat to 400 degrees.
5. Using spider skimmer or slotted spoon, carefully add half of chicken to hot oil in several spoonfuls. Immediately stir to break up clumps. Fry until chicken is evenly golden brown and cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Using clean spider skimmer or slotted spoon, transfer chicken to paper towel–lined sheet. Return oil to 400 degrees and repeat with remaining chicken. Let cool for 5 minutes.
6. Whisk honey, hot sauce, and pinch salt together in small bowl. Serve chicken with honey sauce.