Okay, I realize frying chicken isn’t exactly a summer-friendly activity. Come to think of it, neither is steaming a basket of buns or anything for that matter. So yeah, maybe these Fried Chicken Bao aren’t going to “summer vibes” or the break from the heat you’re looking for. But they do taste a treat when you’re sitting on the grass on a sunny summer evening. So, are they worth the sweaty sheen and the smeared mascara they impose? Of course, they are! We’re talking about fried chicken here. And what’s more, we’re talking about fried chicken tucked into pillowy bao. The dehydration is temporary, this eating memory is forever.Jump to Recipe
Yes, these Fried Chicken Bao are probably not the best thing to post halfway through a sweltering July. The content Gods are no doubt very displeased with me. But these bad boys were so good, I knew I had to share them with you immediately. Honestly, a little hot oil and a touch of steam never hurt anybody. Just think of the steam as a spa treatment and the hot oil as…well, I don’t think there’s anything I can say to make spitting hot oil appetizing.
The other day, when I posted a snap on my Instagram of the fried chicken featured in this recipe, a lot of you expressed anxiety around deep frying. I know I’ve written about this hangup elsewhere, so I won’t bend your ear on the subject too much here. But I do want to reiterate that deep frying, well hot and temperamental, will become commonplace with time. Just get yourself a good candy thermometer, a quality splash screen and surrender yourself to a few harrowing fry sessions. Once you get those out of the way, you’ll be a deep frying pro. Frankly, you’ll start to wish it was more of an undertaking. It would save you from thinking through the viability of deep frying everything in your kitchen. And, trust me, that won’t lead anywhere good. Delicious maybe but healthy? Hard no.
Now, obviously, I want you to start your frying journey with these Fried Chicken Bao. There are a couple of reasons why. First off, I’m a very vain person who wants her work to be appreciated. And second, I think this fried chicken is a very accessible frying project because it’s doesn’t require an honest to god deep fry. What do I mean by that? Well, I didn’t heat a vat of oil to achieve this golden, crisp perfection. All it required was a deep cast-iron skillet and about 3 inches of hot oil. Not only is this method more manageable for a beginner, but it also makes for easier cleanup.
But don’t go thinking this fried chicken is special because of it’s low key frying method. No, this chicken is special (and spoiled) because it took a 12-hour bath in Shaoxing wine, scallions, ginger, soy sauce, peppercorns, and star anise. When it emerged, the chicken was dredged in flour, dipped back into the marinade, and dredged again. This double-dredge method is pivotal, so don’t skip it. If you do the chicken won’t have the craggy, crisp skin you see before you. Highly unattractive for a person, but #goals if you happen to be a piece of fried chicken.
Okay, let’s talk about the second pressure point of intimidation – the buns themselves. Now, I’m sure you’re done listening to my incessant insistence that every recipe is no big deal, but I’m going to do it again because these buns are no big deal. Honestly, I was a bao virgin (in terms of making, certainly not eating) before testing this recipe and I pretty much knocked it out of the park on the first go. It only sounds like I’m bragging, I’m really not. It would be bragging if I was sure you couldn’t do exactly what I did and I’m near certain you can.
To tell you the truth, the most finicky thing about making these bao was cutting the parchment paper liners. If you can find some precut, it would save you a serious amount of time. But if you can’t, just put on a podcast and get cutting, that’s what I did. It’s really not that bad. It feels almost like a kindergarten craft but maybe that’s just me. Honestly, after you’ve blanched your own pistachios you’ll be surprised at how few activities you find boring. Those stupid nuts with their stupid papery skins will stretch you to the very limits of boredom. Trust me.
Now, all that’s left to discuss is the toppings or accouterments if you’re feeling fancy. My general rule with toppings is any more than three is too much. That may sound joyless but I think balance in all things, including fried chicken, is important.
I’ve seen a lot of tricked out bao lately and I don’t support it. It’s like the candy-coated, cookie stuffed monstrous milkshakes that took over Instagram a year or two ago. What purpose, other than Instagramability, could these food items serve if they won’t fit in your mouth? Anyway, I feel like three toppings is plenty. I opted for Black Vinegar Pickled Plums, some red leaf lettuce, and a drizzle of Kewpie mayo. Tang, crunch, freshness, and umami – if three toppings can give you all that, why on earth would you reach for more? If you’re going to spend all this time on fried chicken and homemade bao, let them shine. Okay, old person rant over.
So that’s everything you need to know about these Fried Chicken Bao with Black Vinegar Pickled Plums. They’re a bit of a project but nothing to bent out of shape over. Plus, if you can pull these guys out of your hat, whoever you serve them to will be permanently in your debt. It’s an unwritten rule but a rule none-the-less.
Fried Chicken Bao with Black Vinegar Pickled Plums
- Bamboo Steamer
- Large Cast Iron Skillet
- Candy Thermometer
Black Vinegar Pickled Plums
- 4 red plums pitted and cut into wedges
- 3 mini cucumbers sliced
- 6-8 black peppercorns
- 2 star anise pods
- 1/2 cup black vinegar
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp salt
Shaoxing Fried Chicken
- 6-8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs patted dry
- 1 cup Shaoxing wine
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 3 tbsp honey
- 1 lime juiced
- 1 1-inch knob gingerroot cut into medallions
- 6 scallions coarsely chopped
- 4 star anise pods
- 12-14 black peppercorns
- 2 cups flour
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 cups canola oil
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 1/2 tsp instant yeast
- 3 tbsp granulated sugar
- 2 1/2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 3/4 cup warm water
Fried Chicken Bao with Black Vinegar Pickled Plums
- 1 batch Shaoxing Fried Chicken see above
- 1 batch Bao
- 1 batch Black Vinegar Pickled Plums
- 1 head red leaf lettuce leaves separated, washed and dried
- Kewpie mayonnaise for serving
- 2 scallions thinly sliced for sprinkling
For the Pickled Plums
- Place the plums and cucumber slices in a medium-sized bowl. Add the peppercorns and anise pods and set aside.
- In a small bowl whisk to combine the vinegar, water, salt, and sugar. Pour the mixture over the plums and cucumbers. Cover and refrigerate. Let pickle overnight.
For the Fried Chicken
- In a large bowl whisk to combine the wine, soy sauce, honey, and lime juice. Stir in the scallions, ginger, peppercorns and star anise pods.
- Add the chicken thighs to the bowl and press them down so they are fully immersed in the marinade. Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight.
- When ready to fry, pour the flour and salt into a large bowl and whisk to combine. Take a chicken thigh out of the marinade and toss it in the flour mixture until completely coated. Dip the chicken thigh back into the marinade and toss it in the flour mixture once again. Place the finished thigh on a plate and set aside. Repeat with the remaining thighs.
- Once all the thighs are breaded, pour the canola oil into a large, deep cast-iron skillet. Heat the oil to 350°F and add the thighs to the oil, two at a time. Don't crowd the pan.
- Fry each thigh for 3-4 minutes a side. Try to keep the oil between 325-350°F. If the oil gets too hot the breading will crisp up before the chicken has the time to cook through. Transfer the finished thighs to a plate lined with paper towel. Repeat until all the thighs are fried.
- Keep the thighs in a 150°F oven until ready to serve.
For the Bao
- Place the flour, baking powder, instant yeast, and sugar in the mixing bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Whisk the dry ingredients together on low speed until thoroughly combined.
- Swap the whisk attachment for a dough hook and slowly stream in the water and oil with the mixer set to a low speed.
- Once all the liquid has been added, leave the mixer to knead the dough for 7-8 minutes or until the dough is smooth and slightly tacky to the touch.
- Grease a large bowl with a little additional vegetable oil. Transfer the dough to the bowl and cover with a tea towel. Place the dough in a warm, dry place to rise. Let rise for 90 minutes or until doubled in size.
- Once risen, punch the dough down and transfer to a well-floured surface. Knead the dough by hand for about 5 minutes to work out any residual air bubbles.
- Using a floured rolling pin, roll out the dough to a 1/4" thickness. Using a 3" biscuit cutter, cut out a series of rounds. Brush a little vegetable oil on the surface of each round and fold them in half with the oiled surface inside.
- Place each bao on 4×4" squares of parchment paper and transfer them to a large baking sheet. Cover with a tea towel and leave the bao to rise for 30 minutes.
- Pour 2-inches of water into the base of a wok. Place the wok over high heat and bring to a boil. Fill a bamboo steamer with the boa and place the steamer in the wok. Leave the bao to steam for 7-10 minutes or until fluffy. Keep the finished bao warm until ready to serve.
To Assemble the Fried Chicken Bao
- Take the fried chicken out of the oven and cut it into strips. Set aside.
- Take a bao and split it open. Line the bao with a red lettuce leaf and add 2 chicken strips. Top the strips with a few cucumber and plum wedges. Finish with a squirt of Kewpie mayo. Repeat with the remaining bao and the remaining chicken.
- Once all the bao are filled, arrange them on a platter and sprinkle them with thinly sliced scallions. Serve immediately to incredibly hungry and appreciative people with plenty of beer.