Ultracrispy coating that withstands sauce
Sauce that balances sweet, savory, and spicy flavors
Fastest possible cooking method
I crave fried chicken as much as the next person, but I have never been partial to fried wings. To me, they’re bar snacks—fine for occasionally sharing with friends but not substantial or satisfying enough to make a meal out of—and certainly not worth the trouble to make at home.
At least, that’s how I felt until I tasted the fried wings at a Korean restaurant in my neighborhood. The hallmark of this style, called dakgangjeong, is its thin, crackly exterior that gives way to juicy meat with an audible crunch—an especially impressive trait considering that the surface of the chicken is doused with a wet sauce. And unlike many styles of wings that are just sweet, salty, or fiery, these delivered a perfect balance of all those flavors.
That profile has made dakgangjeong wildly popular as an accompaniment to beer and the pickled side dishes known as banchan in South Korean bars and restaurants. In fact, the fried chicken–beer combination is now a multibillion-dollar industry that has spawned the term “chimaek” (“chi” for “chicken” and “maek” for “maekju,” the Korean word for beer), a South Korean festival, and (in the past decade or so) worldwide restaurant chains such as Bon Chon that are centered on this particular dish.
Needless to say, I was hooked and was determined to make Korean fried chicken for myself. Once I started to research the recipe, I also learned a practical explanation for using wings: In Korea, where chickens are smaller, restaurants often cut up and fry the whole bird, but because the larger breasts and thighs on American birds are harder to cook evenly, wings are the easier choice.
The Crust of the Matter
First I focused on nailing the wings’ delicate but substantial crunch, reviewing the coatings and frying methods I found in a handful of recipes. The coatings varied considerably—from a simple cornstarch dredge to a thick batter made with eggs, flour, and cornstarch—and I found methods for both single frying and double frying. Figuring I’d start with a minimalist approach, I tossed 3 pounds of wings (which would feed at least four people) in cornstarch before frying them once, for about 10 minutes, in a Dutch oven filled with 2 quarts of 350-degree oil.
The meat on these wings was a tad dry, but their worst flaw was the coating—or lack thereof. Most of the cornstarch fell off as soon as the wings hit the oil, so the crust was wimpy—nothing that could stand up to a sauce—and only lightly browned.
Thinking that the starch needed some moisture to help it cling to the chicken, I next tried a series of batter coatings. Not surprisingly, the shaggy mixture of flour, cornstarch, and egg fried up thick and craggy, more like the coating on American fried chicken. I also tried a combination of just cornstarch and water, but it was another bust: Adding enough liquid to make the mixture loose enough to coat the chicken also made it too runny to cling, but without enough water the mixture thickened up like liquid cement. Coating the wings with a creamy, loose slurry of flour and water yielded a nicely thin crust, though it was a bit tough and lacked the elusive shattery texture I was after. From there, I tried various ratios of flour and cornstarch and found that supplementing a flour-based batter with just 3 tablespoons of cornstarch helped the coating crisp up nicely. I understood why once I learned that flour and cornstarch play different but complementary roles in frying: The proteins in wheat flour help the batter bond to the meat and also brown deeply; cornstarch (a pure starch) doesn’t cling or brown as well as flour, but it crisps up nicely. Why? Because pure starch releases more amylose, a starch molecule that fries up supercrispy. Cornstarch also can’t form gluten, so it doesn’t turn tough.
I dunked the wings in the batter and let the excess drip back into the bowl before adding them to the hot oil. When they emerged, I thought I’d finally nailed the crust, which was gorgeously crispy and brown. But when I slathered the wings with my placeholder sauce (a mixture of the spicy-sweet Korean chile-soybean paste gochujang, sugar, garlic, ginger, sesame oil, soy sauce, and a little water) and took a bite, I paused. They’d gone from supercrispy to soggy in minutes.
On the Double
It was a setback that made me wonder if double frying, which sources including Korean cookbook author and YouTube sensation Maangchi recommend, might be worth a try. So I ran the obvious head-to-head test: one batch of wings fried continuously until done versus another fried partway, removed from the oil and allowed to rest briefly, and then fried again until cooked through. After draining them, I would toss both batches in the same amount of sauce to see which one stayed crispier.
It wasn’t even a contest: Whereas the wings that had been fried once and then sauced started to soften up almost instantly, the double-fried batch still delivered real crunch after being doused with the sauce. What’s more, the double-fried wings were juicier than any batch I’d made before. Why? Chicken skin contains a lot of moisture, so producing crispy wings (which have a higher ratio of skin to meat than any other part of the chicken) means removing as much moisture as possible from the chicken skin before the meat overcooks. When you fry just once, the meat finishes cooking before all of the moisture is driven out of the chicken skin, and the remaining moisture migrates to the crust and turns it soggy. Covering the wings with sauce makes the sogginess even worse. But when you fry twice, the interruption of the cooking and the brief cooldown period slow the cooking of the meat; as a result, you can extend the overall cooking time and expel all the moisture from the skin without overcooking the chicken.
Winging It, Korean-Style
Korean fried chicken wings boast a big crunch and a complex sauce, which makes them appealing to eat, but they also employ a relatively quick and easy cooking method that makes them more appealing to prepare than many other styles of fried chicken.
Lots of Skin
A high ratio of skin to meat protects the meat and keeps it moist—and also means crunch in every bite.
Double frying ensures that the skin stays crispy long after being sauced.
Gochujang chile paste, soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, and aromatics make a savory, spicy, sweet sauce.
Because they’re small, wings will be fully cooked by the time they’re brown and crispy, 28 minutes in total for both rounds.
There was my proof that double frying was worth the time—and, frankly, it wasn’t the tediously long cooking process I thought it would be. Yes, I had to do the first fry in two batches, for two reasons: The oil temperature would drop too much if I put all the chicken in at once because there would be so much moisture from the skin to cook off; plus, the wet coating would cause the wings to stick together if they were crowded in the pot. But the frying took only about 7 minutes per batch. As the parcooked wings rested on a wire rack, I brought the oil temperature up to 375 degrees. Then, following the lead of one of the more prominent Korean fried chicken recipes I’d found, I dumped all the wings back into the pot at once for the second stage. After another 7 minutes, they were deeply golden and shatteringly crispy. All told, I’d produced 3 pounds of perfectly crispy wings in roughly half an hour. Not bad.
Temp Drops? Don't Worry
Savory, Spicy, Sweet
Back to my placeholder sauce, which was close but a tad sharp from the raw minced garlic and ginger. Instead, I placed the ginger and garlic in a large bowl with a tablespoon of sesame oil and microwaved the mixture for 1 minute, just long enough to take the edge off. Then I whisked in the remaining sauce ingredients. The sweet-savory-spicy balance was pitch-perfect.
Before tossing them in the sauce, I let the wings rest for 2 minutes so the coating could cool and set. When I did add them to the sauce, they were still so crispy that they clunked encouragingly against the sides of the bowl. In fact, the crust’s apparent staying power made me curious to see how long the crunch would last, so I set some wings aside and found that they stayed truly crispy for 2 hours. Impressive—even though I knew they’d be gobbled up long before that.