Fried Chicken: Theory

This is a prelude to a future post that will actually contain a fried chicken recipe. We have now tried Indonesian-style fried chicken in a number of different places, and have some interesting things to note about what fried chicken (ayam goreng) means to Indonesians versus what it means to Americans. That is, the “theory” of fried chicken in Indonesia.

The most important difference is that Indonesian ayam goreng contains no breading like Americans do it. From the very basic kind of flour/salt/pepper breading that some Southerners use to the complex egg/milk-flour-egg/milk again recipe of the Colonel’s Extra Tasty Crispy, every kind of fried chicken that I’ve ever had features some sort of breading. Indonesian fried chicken is just chicken that’s been deep-fried.

The second-most-important difference is that the Indonesian method actually requires braising the chicken in a spice paste first, then frying it. Every American fried chicken recipe I’ve ever seen features some version of “You take a chicken, then you kill it, then you throw it in your skillet,” with the implication that the skillet refers to a big vat of oil or fat. Indonesians first braise the chicken in a mixture of aromatic root vegetables, toasted spices, water, and some sort of piquant ingrediate like sour carambola or lemongrass. Ideally, you want to cook the chicken pieces the whole way through, then let them stand and dry before frying them. Again, different.

Third, there’s the question of the frying medium. The best American fried chicken is made with melted vegetable shortening, or better yet, lard. Indonesians fry their chicken in palm oil, coconut oil, or more rarely a less-disasterous-for-your-heart oil like canola oil (which we use). For those of you who just made gross puking sounds at the thought of your chicken fried in lard, this site seems to indicate that even lard is like twice as good for you as chicken fried in palm oil.

Despite all these differences, the major similarity is, yes, the frying part. In both styles of chicken frying, you heat your oil over medium-high heat and fry the chicken just until it’s done. Good American fried chicken is not greasy, and good ayam goreng is even less greasy because there’s no breading to sop it up. The recipe for what we like to call “modular ayam goreng” will be coming in a couple of days or so.