Sandstorm chicken, two years ago.
Two years ago, I posted this recipe based on a dish I ate in a restaurant. Since then, I've improved on the recipe and so I'm posting it again, totally fine-tuned.
Here's my version of Moon Bell's sandstorm chicken. Behind the dramatic name, it's basically deep-fried cumin-flavored chicken. My China Chinese friends have not heard of sandstorm or storm sand chicken so I am not sure if this is a common Xinjiang dish or if it's a variation of another Chinese dish called wind sand chicken. I've been replicating Moon Bell's dishes recently and I think my sand storm chicken now tastes as good as the restaurant's although to be honest the restaurant's chicken seems crispier. One way to get crispier chicken skin is to re-fry it but I don't bother with that. Btw, Karen the proprietor is the most friendly restaurant owner you'll ever meet. I have told her that the pieces of chicken have shrunk and the cumin is hardly detectable and I hope she does something about that. Even the chili powder garnish around the plate that represents red desert sand is now missing, because "some of our customers don't want too spicy a dish".
The cumin gives a wonderful flavor to the chicken. I eat at least 3 pieces each time I cook this. If you don't have wine, a beer will be the perfect companion. Don't forget to sprinkle some chili powder or paprika (if kids are eating) over the fried chicken and around the plate. Sit back and bask in compliments.
Instead of garlic bits, I sometimes use garlic powder. Less work and makes dish look more sandy.
2 whole chicken legs (drumsticks n thigh)
1 t salt
some white pepper
1 t cumin (jintan putih) powder
1/4 t chicken stock granules
1/4 t sugar
Garnish: crispy garlic bits (chopped garlic fried in oil until crispy)
chili powder or paprika
1. Chop the drumsticks into two each and the thighs into three.
2. 'Massage' the above ingredients into the chicken pieces with your fingers and leave them covered in the fridge to marinade at least 1 hour.
3. Put the following into a clean plastic bag:
1/4 cup corn flour*
1/4 cup plain flour* (or potato flour)
2 t cumin powder (freshly ground is best)
a large pinch of salt
1/8 t chicken granules, grounded finely or a pinch of msg (optional)
* I got even better results using Korean ready-mix 'KFC' flour instead of the corn flour and plain flour mixture. Just add the salt, msg and cumin for the flavor.
*also, as pointed out by a reader, potato flour makes very crispy chicken. The Japanese use a mix of potato and cornflour to make crispy chicken called karaage chicken.
4. Put about 5 cups or more of oil into a small pot or wok. When it is hot, throw in a very small bit of garlic. If it sizzles and rises immediately to the surface of the oil, the oil is ready. Throw in the chopped garlic. Let it fry for a few seconds and when it just begins to color, scoop it out with a fine sieve. Remember that the garlic will still cook after you take it out so don't let it brown or it'll be bitter. Drain garlic bits on a piece of kitchen paper.
5. Drop a piece of chicken into the seasoned flour in the plastic bag and shake bag to coat chicken all over. If you like a thicker coating, press chicken firmly into the flour. Take the piece of chicken out and shake excess flour off. Carefully drop chicken piece into the oil. Add another few pieces more to the oil but do not overcrowd the oil because the temperature will drop too much. About 4-6 pieces at a time is good, depending on the amount of oil. After frying 2 minutes at high heat, turn heat down to medium. Fry the chicken until well-cooked through so that the skin is very crisp. After all the chicken pieces are fried, you can re-fry the chicken pieces ('second frying') to make them even crispier. I usually don't bother.
6. Arrange chicken pieces on a plate, scatter fried garlic on top and throw a pinch of chili powder or paprika across chicken and plate.
I tasted msg on the plate at Moon Bell (dragged my finger across the plate to pick up the paprika), so you can sprinkle a pinch of Chinese msg powder called ve tsin or some aji no moto (grind it finely) over the chicken. I don't bother with this because the chicken is excellent enough as it is.