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Taiwanese Popcorn Chicken

Taiwanese Popcorn Chicken (鹽酥雞 | Yan Su Ji )

  • Author: Sharon
  • Prep Time: 135 minutes
  • Cook Time: 10 minutes
  • Total Time: 2 hours 25 minutes
  • Yield: 5-6 servings 1x
  • Category: Appetizer
  • Method: Frying
  • Cuisine: Taiwanese


Marinated first with five-spice powder, tossed with Sichuan salt and pepper seasoning and garnished with fried basil leaves, this Taiwanese popcorn chicken is a great snack or appetizer sure to satisfy your street food cravings.


  • 1.5 lb chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch chunks (Cut into 1.5-inch chunks if you like larger pieces of meat)
  • 1 cup of Thai Basil leaves, plucked, washed and dried 


  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2-inch piece of ginger, sliced thinly
  • 1 T. sweet soy paste
  • 1 T. sugar
  • 1 T. Shaoxing rice wine
  • 1/4 tsp. five spice powder
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 T. soy sauce


  • 1 egg yolk, beaten
  • 1.52 cups sweet potato starch
  • 2 cups vegetable or canola oil (This amount may vary depending on your pot size.)

Jiao Yan/Sichuan Salt and Pepper seasoning:

  • 2 T. salt
  • 2 T. Sichuan peppercorn
  • 1 T. white pepper
  • 1/2 T. 5-spice powder


  1. Prepare Marinade: Combine the sweet soy sauce, sugar, rice wine, five spice powder, baking soda, salt and soy sauce in a small bowl.
  2. Marinate: Place the chicken chunks, sauce, garlic, and ginger in a large bowl. Mix to ensure the sauce fully covers the chicken. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
  3. Make Jiao Yan: In a small frying pan, stir-fry the Sichuan peppercorns over med-high heat being careful not to burn them, about 30 seconds. Remove and grind up the toasted peppercorns with a mortar and pestle. Add white pepper, salt and 5-spice powder and set aside seasoning in a small dip bowl.
  4. Prepare Chicken for frying: Remove the marinated chicken from the fridge and stir in the egg yolk. Pour 1.5 cups of sweet potato starch (or flour and 2T. cornstarch) into the bowl with the chicken mixture and mix so the chicken is evenly coated in the starch/flour. Alternatively (but slower), you can spread out the starch/flour on a deep plate, and coat each chicken chunk individually. This ensures each piece is completely covered in starch or flour. Rest coated chicken for 5 minutes before frying. This helps the starch adhere well.
  5. Fry Chicken: While the chicken rests, place 2 cups of oil in a large pot or wok. You may need to add more or less oil depending on the size of your pot. Ensure the oil is 2 inches deep. Heat the oil on high until it reaches 350 degrees F. In two batches, fry the chicken chunks for 2-3 minutes or until golden brown, turning the chicken pieces occasionally with tongs to ensure a nice even crisp exterior. Remove chicken pieces from pot.
  6. Fry Thai Basil Leaves: Turn off the heat. Carefully add the Thai leaves to the pot. The oil should still be hot. Fry basil for 30 seconds until the leaves are bright green. Remove with tongs being careful not to crush the leaves. They will be brittle. 
  7. Serve: Sprinkle some Jiao Yan over the fried chicken to taste and garnish with the fried basil. Serve the Taiwanese popcorn chicken as an appetizer or main dish with rice, and serve with extra seasoning on the side.


  • I like using chicken thighs/dark meat for this recipe, but feel free to use your favorite cut. Pork may also work, but I have not tried it.
  • Most of the ingredients can be found at your local supermarket store. You can find Thai basil, rice wine, five spice powder, soy paste and sweet potato starch at your local Asian market. 
  • An air fryer could also work here. Generously and evenly spray the chicken first, so it gets a nice even brown.
  • If you can’t find sweet potato starch, use 1.5 cups flour and 2 T. cornstarch instead.
  • Prep time includes marinating time.

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