The best fried chicken that I have ever tasted is not a product of hearty Southern cooking — no, instead, it is a succulent and well-spiced gift from Chinese cuisine. Located on 212 Barber Court in Milpitas, California, the Chili Garden Restaurant offers a wide variety of meats and tofu prepared in a delicious blend of chili (among other Chinese dishes but these spicy dishes are what they are known for).
My favorite dish is the Chong Qing Chicken, named after major metropolitan city located in Southwest China. There are several aspects of this dish which make it my favorite fried chicken.
The intense spiciness: Often times, you’ll look around the restaurant, and you’ll see people devouring their spicy dishes while their eyes water and faces flush. The nuanced spiciness may be intense but also so incredibly delicious that it is hard to stop eating the chicken.
1. As you can see below, the dish arrives with just as many pieces of dried arbol chili peppers as there are pieces of fried chicken. However, interestingly enough, these arbol peppers (the skinny red ones which are visible in the pictures) are not the main contributors to the spice of the dish. The Chili Garden chefs remove the seeds, generally the focal points of spice in most peppers, prior to using the peppers in the dish. Thus, this first chili component is just a presentation device (and intimidation, for some).
The second spice component used in the dish is the Sichuan pepper (which technically belongs to the citrus plant family), the primary seasoning. Sichuan peppers have a very unique flavoring: they aren’t just blatantly hot like many other peppers but instead create a tingling and numbing sensation in your mouth. Additionally, there are citrus undertones to its spicy flavor. Sichuan peppers are much more concealed than their counterparts for they are barely visible (each is sightly larger than the tip of a pencil).
2. The frying style: Chili Garden is able to make the dish especially crispy because it double fries the chicken without removing the skin. Additionally, they use peanut oil which is excellent for frying food because it has very high smoke point (meaning you can heat up the oil to a very high temperature without it starting to smoke). An oil’s smoke point is an important consideration when deciding which oil to fry with because the higher the temperature of the oil, the less oil is absorbed in the dish. Frying with peanut oil ultimately results in an incredibly crisp and browned exterior without soaking the inside of the chicken with fat.
3. The chicken: The small size of the chicken pieces ensures that the crisp-to-meat ratio is pretty close to one and also makes this a convenient dish to share. Additionally, they leave the meat on the bone which contributes to a richer chicken flavor than had they stripped the meat off for you.
So what are you waiting for? If spicy food makes your stomach growl in anticipation, head on over to the Chili Garden Restaurant and reward yourself with some extremely spicy fried chicken!