Korean yang-nyeom chicken

Kids! Don�t try this at home! Paging through glossy cook books, double-page spreads in larney magazines and watching slick food shows on television, you would never guess that the gourmands who cooked the stuff ever made mistakes. Just to set the record straight, the tale that follows is one of total, self-annihilating failure.
Issue Date 16 March 2007

Kids! Don’t try this at home!

Korean yang-nyeom chicken

Paging through glossy cook books, double-page spreads in larney magazines and watching slick food shows on television, you would never guess that the gourmands who cooked the stuff ever made mistakes. Just to set the record straight, the tale that follows is one of total, self-annihilating failure. Are you sitting comfortably? Well then, let us begin …

It was a dark and stormy night. Crouched in front of my ADSL laptop, I summoned Google and entered “Korean yang-nyeom chicken”.

Dear Reader, you are probably wondering why I was doing this. Part of the reason was the natural desire of any food writer to dish up something different, something that would bring new meaning to dinner time in fifty thousand homesteads across the platteland, the sugar estates, the wine lands, olive groves and coffee plantations of our great land.
The other reason was the hard sell I had received on this dish from my younger brother – a widely travelled businessman with a close and loving relationship with Asian cuisine.

The only problem was familiarity. Usually the food I cook is well-known to me. But in the long, long list of food-related goodies located in my memory, yang-nyeom chicken draws a blank.

While novelty itself should never stump a food writer, the absence of any baseline or experience means that there is no quality standard available. Say you’ve just cooked your first porcupine pie. Who the heck knows what a good one is supposed to taste like? As with porcupines, so too with Korean yang-nyeom chicken. Everything is a mystery. But if not for mysteries, science would never advance. Taking this as my motto, I e-mailed my boet in Beijing for a suitable recipe, and with the speed that only ADSL can deliver, had my answer in 10 minutes.

It seemed pretty straightforward. The ingredients list was largely familiar, consisting of many spices already located in my collection. The main ingredient – chicken – presented no problems at all. Pickled radish root was a puzzle, but a bottle of Taiwanese pickled lettuce would make an easy substitute.

It seems that the big issue in Korean yang-nyeom chicken is the method, not the ingredients. What you do is deep-fry the chicken not once, but twice. Deep-frying, as any visit to the Colonel will confirm, is a widely known fast-food procedure. But fast-food procedures, not to mention the dedicated machinery required, are not usually located in domestic kitchens. Instead, you improvise.

Taking a very deep frying pan, you fill it with a litre or two of sunflower oil and bring this up to a suitable temperature. Battered chicken pieces – you’ll note I’m dispensing with little culinary details – are then lowered into the seething oil. As the water-based aspects of chicken flesh enter the pan, they boil, showering the counter, the hob, the extractor fan, parts of the ceiling, ten square metres of floor and the cook in hot oil.

At this point the rational cook switches off the hob and walks away from the yang-nyeom chicken. He takes a loaf of bread out of the bread box, he cuts two slices, smearing each one lightly with butter. Using a sharp, thin-bladed knife he cuts eight paper-thin sections of salami, four thin slices of tomato and two slices of onion. These he arranges on one of the pieces of buttered bread, adding a smear of mayonnaise and a dash of red Tabasco. A leaf of lettuce and the second slice of bread are then added to the assembly, producing a damn fine, deeply satisfying sandwich whose calorific output will provide all the energy needed to clean the oil off every single surface in the kitchen. – David Basckin |fw