Nguyen Tran of Starry Kitchen and Button Mash fame has never been afraid to take chances, and it seems to work out pretty well for him. He started an underground (and illegal) Asian fusion dining club out of his North Hollywood apartment in 2009, which ultimately catapulted him into the restaurant scene.
Tran’s cooking style is appropriately playful and irreverent for a guy who calls himself an "accidental restauranteur," and he recently took a chance on a traditional Asian recipe — chicken kara-age — and added the most American ingredient of all, potato chips. "I’m a huge chip fiend," Tran says.
"I search out local international flavors of chips in every country. One of my favorite chip memories is connected to a lesser known chip from back in the late ‘80s – Crunch Taters. I literally popped off one of the brackets of my braces because these chips were so crunchy."
That chip-like crunch is exactly what you hope to find when you bite into a piece of fried popcorn chicken. Tran’s improvisational Kara-age is delicately crispy though, not overly fried or breaded. He keeps it light with chips instead of a heavier starch in his recipe, and adds in extra flavor with ginger, sake, and sugar.
The flavors in this recipe remind Tran of debaucherous late nights in Asia, singing karaoke and roaming the streets with friends before snacking on some savory kara-age. Whip up his version of kara-age made with jalapeño-flavored FailChips:
Jalapeño FailChip Battered Japanese Popcorn (Kara-age) Chicken
- Combine ginger and garlic with sake, soy sauce, sugar and chicken bouillon in a bowl; mix until sugar completely dissolves.
- Set marinade aside.
- Next, cut chicken into cube-like 1 inch morsels.
- Once done, mix and massage chicken with marinade in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight for best results, or at least 1 hour if you’re in a hurry.
- When you’re ready to cook, heat a pot with 2 inches oil to 350°F. While you’re waiting for the oil to come to temperature, empty FailChips in a separate bowl.
- Hand-pulverize and use a food processor to grind down the chips until they reach an almost powdery-like FailChips flour consistency. It should make about 1 ⅓ cups.
- Take chicken out of marinade, shake off excess marinade, then dredge in the FailChip flour in small enough batches to coat evenly.
- When the oil’s ready, deep-fry chicken for 2–3 minutes until golden and crispy on the outside and fully cooked and still juicy on the inside.
- Remove from oil, shake off excess, drip-dry on a plate with napkins, plate in a bowl or on a platter.