Fried Chicken - A Global Culinary Phenomenon

All over the world, frying is one of the most common cooking methods, and chicken is one of the most consumed meats. Thus, it comes as no surprise that the popularity of fried chicken as a dish is worldwide.  Marinated chicken, often breaded for a crisp exterior, with all the juices and flavours trapped inside, every bite of a well-made fried chicken makes food lovers drool over this classic preparation. In different continents and countries, fried chicken holds a special place, with indigenous recipes highlighting the local flavours. 

In the United States of America, fried chicken evolved and grew in popularity interestingly. The fast-food boom gave wings to the crispy bird to become a celebrated dish across the states. However, the roots of this development lie in the dark past of American slavery and colonialism. The knack of frying battered chicken came along with the Scots in the 18th century to the southern states of America. The enslaved west Africans improved upon the recipes with their culinary influences. During the years of survival in the slavery era, they were allowed to breed only smaller birds like chickens. The discriminatory slavery laws led the African diaspora to perfect their special meal of fried chicken with additional spices and sauces. The crispier and tastier breaded pieces of fried chicken became not just a loved meal but also an entrepreneurial asset for the African American community. It grew into its effect once slavery was abolished, and Southern fried chicken soon entered the hall of fame of American culinary history. The rest, as they say, is history. 

There are various ways to prepare fried chicken. Deep frying, shallow frying, and pressure frying are some of the distinctive ways to fry a chicken, and with millions of chickens being fried worldwide every single day, each of these cooking methods has its lovers. The marination of the chicken is another key factor defining how delicious the final product comes out. Buttermilk, eggs, garlic, onion powder, soy sauce, Vinegar, ginger, lemon, paprika, cumin, pepper, and many other herbs and spices are used worldwide to tender and season the chicken, per style and recipe. Similarly, breading is essential for crispiness and for sealing the juices. All-purpose flour, corn flour, rice flour, semolina, bread crumbs, gram flour etc., are common ingredients used to marinate chicken. Frying chicken in lard gives excellent results; however, groundnut oil, canola oil, coconut oil, vegetable oil, and other oils with a high smoking point are used for frying chicken with different flavourings in different countries. The final service of fried chicken often includes a sprinkle of spice mix, an application of hot chilli paste, or the many interesting dipping sauces paired with fried chicken worldwide. Not to forget the side dishes. It could be vegetables, a salad, bread, some potatoes, or a mix of a few different items, especially wherever fried chicken is served as a meal. However, in many regions, fried chicken is a popular street snack item and can be prepared quickly and eaten comfortably with hands. 

Most Asian countries love to fry poultry. Chinese, Korean, and Japanese cuisines shell out delicious fried chicken recipes in different cooking styles. Japan’s fried chicken dish, Karaage chicken, is the nation’s pride. The juicy Karaage recipe has been perfected to carry the region’s flavour to lead the meat and fish-loving country to be passionate about the fried bird. The city of Nakatsu, on the island of Kyushu, is known for having many Karaage shops. It is on top of the list of preferred places to eat Karaage. Marinated in Asian flavours of soy, garlic, ginger, and chef’s secret herbs and spices, the smaller cut pieces of Karaage chicken are fried to a thin and crisp coating of potato starch. Karaage has such a craze that an annual Karaage Grand Prix is held to decide who cooks the best Karaage. For crispier results, what better than Panko crumbs? The Japanese know well how to make crispy fried dishes using Panko. Katsu chicken, the thin and crisp chicken breast cutlets, is a delight to enjoy with a Japanese sauce called Tonkatsu. 

Korean fried chicken is another delectable fried chicken cooked in the Asian style. Where chicken is marinated and fried twice over, sealing the juices, resulting in the crispiest fried chicken dishes. It is served with pickled radish called chicken-mu, the delicious, crisp and flavourful Korean fried chicken is fast becoming popular globally along with Korean cuisine. In Chinese cuisine, frying chicken is a go-to method for preparing various stir-fry dishes, wherein crispy deep-fried chicken is stir-fried along with sauce and seasonings. In countries like America and India, Chinese dishes have evolved to create newer adapted dishes like General Tso’s Chicken, Chilli Chicken, Orange chicken etc. 

Similarly, Southeast Asian countries like Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia etc., have delectable fried chicken recipes, often paired with a spicy dip or tossed in a flavourful sauce. Chicken Milanese or Pollo fritto Alla Fiorentina are Italian classics, Chicharron de Pollo (Dominican fried chicken) from the Dominican Republic is a popular version, Jamaican fried chicken from the Caribbean islands is a spicy and well-seasoned dish, backhendl from Austria, Thailand’s ‘Gai Tod’, Taiwanese fried chicken popcorns, Ayam Goreng (Indonesia) etc. are some of the fantastic culinary creations with fried chicken, and explains the universal love for juicy and crispy chicken. 

In India, fried chicken is a popular street snack in many states. In the by-lanes of old Delhi, huge ‘Kadhais’ are deployed to serve crispy and spicy fried chicken to scores of food lovers looking to indulge in Mughlai-style fried chicken.  Spice mix sprinkled atop the crispy fried chicken adds heightened flavour to the dish, and the dipping sauce is spiked with chillies and spices and carries tanginess for the extra zing. Chicken 65 is a popular dish from South India incorporating various spices and has a chilli kick alongside the aromatic flavour of curry leaves; Kozhi porichathu in Kerala and Chicken Pallipalayalam in Tamil Nadu are some of the delicious fried chicken recipes from South India. Other than deep frying, pan frying or dry fry preparations are commonplace in southern India. 

Rava or semolina coats the fried chicken in the Konkan belt surrounding Goa. Chicken pakoras, prepared using a spiced gram flour batter, are another popular street snack in northern India; it is served sprinkled with chaat masala and freshly made green chilli and mint chutney. In Bengal, the British Raj influence has beautifully collaborated with the traditional Bengali cuisine, and the same can be experienced as you bite into the chicken cutlets or chicken fingers. Thin strips of boneless chicken are batter-fried and best enjoyed with flavourful Bengali Kasundi (Mustard sauce). In India, various regional cuisines have their influence on the fried chicken dishes cooked there, using local ingredients and spices.  

Fried chicken is versatile. It works as a meal and an evening snack and goes well with beers and cocktails. Fried chicken is favoured by kids for the crispy texture, and various dishes like sandwiches and burgers that can be prepared using fried chicken as the key ingredient. Food lover’s penchant for hotter and spicier dishes are also fulfilled by spicier versions aided with chilli dips and pastes.  

Fried chicken is quick to cook and can cater to large crowds with minimal cooking equipment required, leading to many fried chicken carts and restaurants in all parts of the world, making it a truly global culinary phenomenon. Many successful fried chicken restaurant chains have made a name for themselves worldwide, and many will follow suit. Various innovations and newer versions of fried chicken are being invented across the globe; many secret recipes have been a pride asset of food businesses dealing in the seemingly simple but fantastic dish called fried chicken. The delicious taste that lingers on the palate long after tasting a well-cooked fried chicken makes all the additional calories worth it. Are you a fried chicken lover too? 

Sidharth Bhan Gupta, Founder of 361 Degrees Hospitality, is a Hospitality / Food and Beverage / Restaurant Consultant, Travelling across India on a Cultural and Culinary Exploration.