KitchenTigress: Har Cheong Gai (Prawn Paste Chicken) (II)

Har Cheong Gai (Prawn Paste Chicken) (II)

Har cheong gai is Singapore's take on fried chicken. It's not just crisp outside and juicy inside. It also has a fragrance and umami taste not found in other types of fried chicken. That comes from a marinade made with fermented prawn paste.

There're only 4 ingredients in har cheong marinade:

prawns fermented to a grey goo, aka har cheong
oysters fermented to a brown goo, aka oyster sauce

The marinade is used to marinate chicken, aka gai. Hence the name for the dish is har cheong gai.

You might want to add some ginger juice and good ol' Shaoxing wine to the simple marinade?

Well, don't.

Don't add ginger juice or cooking wine to the marinade.

You might think wine and ginger would reduce fermented prawns' fishy, pungent smell but they don't. I know because I've tried.

Har cheong smells pretty bad out of the bottle, kinda like dead rats. But the pong disappears after the chicken is fried. It's replaced by a distinct fragrance and umami taste that's very similar to grilled dried squid. However, the magical transformation happens only if there's no ginger juice or wine in the marinade.

With wine and ginger juice added, the fried chicken would taste of raw fermented prawn paste. The pungency is muted compared to uncooked har cheong but it's still pretty nasty. The chicken would taste nothing like dried squid that's been grilled.

Sometimes, less is more.

How to make har cheong gai (虾酱鸡)

Step-by-step guide

The most important ingredient for prawn paste chicken is – other than prawn paste and chicken – water. Tapioca starch is also crucial. That's what Hong Kong Street Zhen Ji uses for its very popular har cheong gai. It's way better than cornflour.

har cheong gai
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • ½ tbsp oyster sauce
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 2 tbsp har cheong (虾酱, fermented prawn paste)
  • 2 chicken legs, about 400 g – wash, drain, chop chunky
  • ¼ cup tapioca starch
  • vegetable oil for deep-frying
  1. Add sugar, oyster sauce, water and har cheong to chicken. Stir thoroughly. Marinate 3-4 hours, turning over once mid-way.

  2. Bring chicken to room temperature. Shake off excess marinade from chicken. Dredge in tapioca starch till thinly coated. Pat lightly to get rid of excess starch.

  3. Deep-fry chicken in moderately hot oil over medium heat till cooked through and lightly golden brown. Remove chicken to a sieve. Increase heat to high. Heat oil till just smoking. Refry chicken till golden brown. Drain in a sieve lined with paper towels. Serve immediately.