Nasi lemak-flavoured fried chicken. Now that sounds like a Malaysian's food dream come true. Only that it was a Korean who came up with the idea.
"Koreans' love for fried chicken goes beyond what I can explain," says Chef Sung Kim.
"Growing up in Seoul, we could find Korean fried chicken joints everywhere. Now there are even more. It is probably a favoured snack because chicken is inexpensive, and one bird can feed an entire family. Besides, everyone loves fried food."
The way we obsess over nasi lemak has got to Sung, a New Yorker.
"The last time I was in Malaysia, I had it almost every day. I simply love nasi lemak," she says. So the union of her two loves was a no-brainer when she was approached to create a unique fried chicken flavour by Project B, the social enterprise cafe run by kids in Sentul, Kuala Lumpur. The cafe has an ongoing #ProjectFriedChicken project which is translated onto their menu.
"I worked hard on the idea for a nasi lemak-flavoured fried chicken. I did several recipe testings and it worked out pretty good," says Sung. "We fry onion and garlic, add a sweet and spicy chilli mix, and then a bit of coconut milk, tamarind and … hey, I shouldn't tell you everything!" she says with a big laugh. "Only I and the kids at Project B should know the recipe."
You can certainly say of Chef Sung Kim: You can take a girl out of Korea, but you can't take away her love for Korean fried chicken. Photo: The Star
Project B is a collaboration between Dignity for Children Foundation, the BIG Group and Berjaya Cares Foundation. It serves as an avenue for students at Dignity - a learning centre that empowers urban poor children - to learn hospitality skills.
Project B offers food and original artwork inspired by the stories, sights and sounds of the area. All proceeds from Project B goes towards Dignity to support their work to provide underprivileged children in Sentul and other parts of the Klang Valley access to education and work experience opportunities.
Sung worked with the young staff members at Project B, sharing with them pointers on how to prepare good Korean fried chicken, and also on how to run a busy kitchen. Though she was there for only three days, Sung says that it is ample time for them to pick up crucial tricks and skills in the kitchen.
"You don't stop learning when it comes to food. I learned from the kids as much as they learned from me," she says. "Even if they don't go on to further their education in culinary studies, the life skills that they pick up at this working kitchen will help them in their careers in the food industry."
The students will be serving Sung's Korean fried chicken as part of Project B's special menu until the end of this month.
Suffice to say, the Nasi Lemak Fried Chicken is a hit. The fried chicken is topped with chilli paste, peanuts and fried anchovies. The only thing missing from this creation is a big heap of fragrant rice cooked in coconut milk, but after a few bites of the chicken's crispy, crunchy skin and its juicy tender meat, you wouldn't miss the big pile of carb anyway.
Coming up with interesting fried chicken flavours is Sung's thing. Last year, she started Kim Chick, a fun pop-up project that is all about Korean fried chicken. Sung takes Kim Chick all over New York City, hitting up events and fairs in Brooklyn and Manhattan, sharing her love for the fried goodness.
When she's not frying away, she is busy prepping fine dining meals for celebrities. Trained in French cuisine, Sung has worked in acclaimed restaurant kitchens in New York, including the Michelin-starred Gilt, The Spotted Pig and Danny Meyer's Maialino.
She quit four years into the restaurant industry and started Food by Sung. Her company offers a complete dining service for parties of all sizes around the United States. With a staff of trained culinary and hospitality professionals, Food by Sung caters for weekend brunches, holiday parties, romantic dinners and corporate events.
Some of her A-list clients include Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, General Colin Powell, George Stephanopoulos, Wes Anderson and Bill Murray.
Sung also shares with Project B two of Kim Chick's fried chicken flavours - Doritos and Sour Cream and Onion.
"I am not a big junk food eater, but I really embrace the flavours, and I thought that it would be fun to do them here."
For the Doritos Fried Chicken, the crispy chicken skin really tastes like the cheesy, guilty-pleasure tortilla chip snack. The Sour Cream and Onion Fried Chicken does taste like the sour cream potato chips one gets in a tube too.
Sung's three fried chicken flavours are available on the a la carte (RM10 [S$3.40]) as well as in a set with fries, coleslaw and a drink combo (RM15).
Although the flavours that Sung has introduced here are not Korean, she says that the chicken is fried using the Korean technique.
"There is something about the way we fry chicken that makes it so good," says Sung.
Even American food writer J. Kenji Lopez-Alt agrees that Korean fried chicken is the bomb. In one of his entries for Serious Eats, he bestows the "The Best Fried Chicken Ever" title to the Korean obsession.
"And when it comes to frying chicken nobody - and I mean nobody - does it better than the Koreans. My apologies to all you Southerners," he writes in his blog.
In Korea, the snack is usually paired with beer, and this interesting combo has its own term: Chimaek - fried chicken (chi) and beer (maekju), and enjoyed at any time of the day.
Project B is a social enterprise cafe run by students enrolled in programmes at the Dignity For Children Foundation in Sentul, Kuala Lumpur. The cafe serves as a learning centre that empowers urban poor children. Photo: The Star
So what makes Korean fried chicken stand out from the rest?
Sung says that it is all about the batter. "Wet on top of dry."
The American-style fried chicken has thicker crust, thanks to the practice of well-seasoning the skin and soaking the chicken in buttermilk before frying.
The Koreans however, render out the fat in the skin when frying, transforming it into a thin, crunchy crust. Sung barely dredges the chicken in flour before dipping it into a thin batter.
"The thinner the batter, the better," she shares.
Oh, and the other secret - double frying. In the first stage, the chicken is fried at a relatively low temperature of about 176°C for about 10 minutes, before it is removed from the oil and left to cool for about two minutes.
This delays the cooking process, which prevents the excessive browning of the crust before the meat cooks through. Then, the chicken is fried again, giving it an enviable crunch.
The sauce is then lightly painted on the chicken, which adds flavour to the meat without making it soggy.
Another factor that helps prevent the flesh from drying is the size of the bird. The Koreans prefer to use small birds that have a higher concentration of moist connective tissues in their breast meat. Or for a better skin-to-meat ratio, just use the wings.
But at the end of the day, whichever part one uses, Sung says that it is difficult to go wrong with a well-fried piece of chicken.
"I swear, I can eat fried chicken all the time and I'm sure it's the same for many people around the world," she says.
"Everyone just loves fried chicken, and Koreans just make them the best."
Chef Sung Kim's special menu is available at Project B until March 31.
25-G Sentul Raya Boulevard
Jalan 11/48a, Sentul Raya
51000 Kuala Lumpur