Juicy Deep-Fried Shrimp Paste Chicken (Har Cheong Gai): Shrimp Paste Chicken, more popularly known by its Cantonese name ‘Har Cheong Gai’, is one of Singapore’s most beloved homegrown dishes that you can find at any Cze Char stall islandwide.
There is just something magical about deep-fried chicken – they are certainly not what anyone would call healthy, yet everyone (even the most health conscious amongst us) loves them!
My youngest daughter is a case in point. She is the most health conscious one in the family, always hitting the gym and watching her diet carefully. But she has a great weakness for Deep-fried Prawn Paste Chicken (Har Cheong Gai) – a uniquely Singaporean way of cooking deep-fried chicken!
Its usually extremely difficult to tempt her with unhealthy food, but somehow when it comes to Har Cheong Gai, the rules don’t apply because she simply cannot resist the juicy pieces of delicious and aromatic prawn paste fried chicken.
My First Taste of Hai Cheong Gai
My first taste of deep fried Shrimp Paste Chicken was at the Loy Sum Juan Restuarant, located at Pearl’s Hill (Outram) years ago (a place that probably only old-timers would remember). It was my late father’s favourite restaurant, but it is a great pity that they have since closed down due to high rental and labour shortage. It really had excellent food and great service.
Since then, Shrimp Paste Chicken, more popularly known by its Cantonese name ‘Har Cheong Gai’, has gone on to become one of Singapore’s most beloved homegrown dishes that you can find at any Cze Char stall islandwide.
Fried Chicken That’s Not Overly Greasy?
Today I’ll be sharing my recipe for golden crispy shrimp paste chicken, so you can now easily whip up a tasty plate of har cheong gai at home whenever the fried chicken craving hits!
In order to deep-fry chicken so that its crispy but not greasy, the oil must be very hot when you put the chicken so, it is will form a seal around the chicken. This seals the juices in while preventing the too much oil from seep in during deep frying. Its very important to fry the chicken a second time at high heat, because this helps to force out the oil from inside the chicken, so that the chicken won’t be oily and greasy when you bite into it.
Note: For Special Diets, please read the notes at the bottom for suggested modifications.
- 1.2 kg Chicken Mid-Wings and Drumlets
- 4-5 tbsp Shrimp Paste
- 6 tbsp Plain Flour
- 1 tsp Baking Powder
- 2 tbsp Rice Flour
- 4 tbsp Potato Flour
- 2 tsp Light Soy Sauce
- 1 Egg
- 1 dash Pepper
- 1 tsp Sesame Oil
- 3 tbsp Chinese Wine (Hua Tiao Chiew / Shaoxing Wine)
- 50 ml Water
- 1/2 Lemon Optional
- 1 bundle Parsley
- 1 bowl Oil For deep frying
- Chilli Sauce Optional, to taste
- Remove any remnant feathers on the chicken wings and drumlets. Rub the skin of the chicken pieces with some salt to exfoliate the dead skin, then wash and drain dry.
Marinate the chicken wings and drumlets with the 2 tsp of light soya sauce, 3 Tbsp of Hua Tiao Jiu, pepper, 1 tsp sesame oil and the prawn paste. Allow the chicken pieces to marinate for 30 mins.
- Wash the parsley and cut it into small pieces for garnishing.
In another bowl, add in the 6 TBsp of plain flour, 4 TBsp of potato flour, 2 TBsp rice flour and 1 tsp of baking power, and mix well.
In a third bowl, beat the egg lightly. After the chicken has been marinated for 30 mins, add the beaten egg and the 50 ml of water to the marinated chicken, then mix well.
Add the flour mixture from the 2nd bowl into the chicken mixture, then mix until well incorporated.
Wrap the bowl in cling film and place it in the fridge to further marinate for at least 6 hours or overnight (preferable).
- Take it out to stand at room temperature for half an hour.
- In a wok, pour in 1 bowl of oil and turn the heat up to high. Use a wooden chopstick to check if the oil is hot enough. If you see bubbles forming around the chopstick, you are ready to start frying the chicken.
Give the chicken mixture a stir before frying. Shake off any excess flour mixture before placing the chicken pieces into the wok.
After a few mins of frying at high heat, turn the heat down to medium. You can deep fry a few pieces at a time until the chicken turns golden brown.
- Remove from heat and transfer on a plate lined with a kitchen towel to soak up the excess oil.
Continue to fry the rest of the chicken using steps above. Remember to turn the heat up to high again before you start to fry each subsequent batches.
- Once all the chicken pieces are cooked, allow the cooked chicken to cool down for 2-3 minutes.
- Heat up the oil again until it is hot, add all the chicken pieces back into the wok and fry for a second time for about 2 mins. Make sure you control the fire to ensure that the chicken does not get burnt.
- Remove from heat and pat with a kitchen towel to soak up any excess oil.
- Transfer the chicken onto a serving dish, and garnish with some parsley. Serve hot with chilli sauce or lemon wedges if you prefer.
- It is best to use either chicken wings, chicken thighs or chicken drumsticks for deep-frying. These cuts of meat have more fats around them so they do not dehydrate so easily.
- If you use chicken breast for deep-frying, it tends to become dry and overcooked unless you are very good at controlling the heat.
- For drumstick and chicken thigh pieces (chopped into large chunks), you need to deep fry for a little longer as they are thicker, making it harder to cook the meat through.
- If you find the smell of fried prawn paste too pungent (it smells like belachan during frying), you can also use Preserved Yellow Bean Curd (Fu Yu) which is less salty. For preserved yellow bean curd, the quantity you would use is 6-7 pieces and you have to mash it up with a fork so it becomes like a paste.
- I find it much easier to do my deep-frying with a pair of extra long wooden chopsticks instead of a spatula, as the chopsticks give you better control and precision.
- When frying the chicken, the oil must be very hot so that it will instantly cook the outer surface of the chicken, thereby sealing in the juices so that the meat won't dry out during the deep frying process. You then have to turn the heat down to allow the heat to penetrate into the meat and cook it through, without the outside getting burnt.
- Its very important to fry the chicken a second time at high heat, because this helps to force out the oil from inside the chicken, so that the chicken won't be oily and greasy when you bite into it.
Suggested Modifications for Special Diets
- Egg-Free: You can skip the egg. It won’t affect the recipe too much as its more of a binding agent, and there are other ingredients that will also help the flour mixture to bind to the chicken.
- Fish-Free: No modifications needed.
- Nut-Free: No modifications needed.
- Shellfish-Free: Use fermented tofu instead of prawn paste to get a similar effect.