Nashville hot chicken. Buffalo wings. Karaage. Schnitzel. Cotoletta. Korean fried chicken. Almost every culture has a version of crisp fried chook. It’s little wonder. Juicy, succulent meat, crumbed or doused in flour and fried till crunchy and golden is a delicious time no matter how it’s interpreted. Bone in or out, with sauce or without, once or twice fried: the balance of crunch and tenderness has crowds flocking.
At home there’s been an explosion of restaurants specialising in the fried bird – specifically Korean fried chicken and Nashville hot chicken – in the past few months. So choose a style, a cut and a spice level, and get stuck in.
If you’re going to be gun-shy about anything, don’t let it be garlic. That’s a principle Yunji Kim and partner Hayden Smith live by at their east-end restaurant Gunbae Chicken & Beer. The menu is simple: order your chicken with or without bones, by the half or whole bird, then choose a sauce: soy and garlic, double-brushed sticky soy, or yangnyeom (a spicy sauce). Kim made trips back to Korea to perfect her fried chicken recipe, including a visit to the famous “chicken street” in Suwon. “I met all different people, and went to all the famous places in Korea. One of my good family members taught me how to make a good sauce, how to treat the chicken, how to cut it… everything.”
Kim brines the meat for more than 12 hours and makes the batter from scratch. “The texture isn’t heavy or oily. It’s really light, and really crunchy,” says Kim. Sides include kimchi pancakes, mandoo (dumplings) and joomuk bap, rice balls with crunchy seaweed, cucumber and carrot. There’s a focus on lighter beers, including both Korean lagers and local brews. There’s also patbingsu (a Korean shaved ice dessert) and a range of cocktails.
Buk Buk Southern Hot
What started as a habitual scroll through Instagram one day turned into a web-wide deep dive into Nashville hot chicken for Kieren and Emily Mykyta, the couple behind Buk Buk Southern Hot. The new concept came after the Mykytas had taken a year off from work (selling their old burger shop, 127 Days, to new owners), travelled Europe and had their second child. It was originally conceived as a food truck (Buk Buk first emerged at the 2019 Beer & BBQ Festival), but when a space in Flinders Park became available, the couple decided to return to their roots and open a brick-and-mortar.
The menu includes boneless pieces, wings and tenders, served as spicy as you want (“It gets hot,” Emily says of the spice levels, which range from the mild Mom & Pop to the sweat-inducing All Money In), and sides such as waffle fries, mac’n’cheese and slaw. The super crunchy chicken is marinated in a buttermilk hot sauce and put through a seasoned flour dredge before going into the fryers. Then it’s brushed with cayenne pepper or another spice mix and served on a slice of white bread with pickles on top. “That’s the quintessential Nashville hot chicken – versus other styles, like New Orleans,” says Kieren. “But there are similarities throughout the South. We called ours ‘Southern hot chicken’ so we could have a bit more versatility, but Nashville is the style we’re going for.”
At new Norwood diner Kokko, everything’s handmade by Seoul native Julie Kim, who coats and fries up to 100 pieces of chicken a day. The capped number is the result of a near-obsessive focus on quality control; Kim and partner Ji Ku speak proudly of how often they filter and test their cooking oil. They also make all their own sauces. A regular order comes with five pieces of fried chicken, while the “hungry size” comes with seven. You’ll get a combination of boned and boneless pieces, and chips and pickles on the side. “In Korea, we usually eat the whole chicken – like, fry the [entire] chicken,” says Kim. “But Australians like one serve for one person. So that’s why I decided on two boned pieces and three boneless ones per serve.”
Twelve ingredients go into the flour, but Kim is keeping hush on what they are. She road-tested the chicken on friends before settling on the final recipe. You can order the chicken plain or add on one of the sauces: there’s citrus mayo, cheese flakes, sweet soy, hot soy and the Kokko signature sauce (a sweet-and-spicy garlic concoction). A fried chicken burger, cauliflower fries and pickled vegetables round out the menu.
The names given to the world’s hottest chillies always seem so intimidating. The ghost pepper. The Carolina reaper. It’s no wonder. They’re the stuff of alarming news headlines. But when added to juicy, soon-to-be-fried chook? Things get a little more enticing. Enter Cheekies Hot Chicken, a new project from Brklyn owner Rashaad Cezar. Inspired by Nashville’s famous hot chicken, the birds are coated in a dry rub that, at the hotter levels, contains a blend of four different types of chillies: cayenne peppers, habaneros and those aforementioned ghost peppers and Carolina reapers. Cézar started dreaming up the concept two years ago after a friend introduced him to Nashville-style hot chicken. With business partner Rachael Sharples, he traversed the States in search of chicken, finding himself at iconic spots such as Hattie B’s Hot Chicken and Howlin’ Ray’s.
“I kind of fell in love with that whole concept … it was beyond the chicken itself,” says Cézar. “Whilst the chicken was tasty, there was a massive culture around it. People are always going there and trying the different heat levels. It’s a social thing.” Cheekies, which sits inside Brklyn, has a concise menu of tenders and wings (which you can order at different heat levels) and sandwiches. Cézar says the chicken is brined for at least half a day in buttermilk, then added to a mix of bourbon and pickle juice for “an extra American kick”, then coated in a dry-rub. The menu is expanding soon, along with new lunchtime hours.
When Sharlin Kwok (Gin Long Canteen manager) and Jae Park (head chef at Bai Long Store) took over the former Fish Head premises on Morphett Street, they planned to open a lively Korean street-food joint serving fried chicken and soju late into the night. Then Covid-19 struck. Amid strict social distancing measures and, later, the total shutdown of dine-in trade, they opened their doors anyway, albeit with a condensed menu. The now expanded line-up features classics such as Korean fried chicken – coated in either salt and pepper, soy garlic glaze or a spicy sauce – kimchi pancakes and mandoo alongside hotpot, sliders and ram-don jjapaguri (ramen noodles with bulgogi beef), which famously features in the Oscar-winning Korean film Parasite. For dessert, there are light and spongy chiffon cakes, filled with either strawberry, hot chocolate or bubble-milk-tea cream.