Worth the Drive: From the Colonel to Koreatown, Kyochon is Finger Lickin’ GoodOct 04 2013 · 6 comments · Best in LA, Korean
A closer look at the evolution of fried chicken could easily be a case study of our ever-changing, multicultural history. Originally a European cuisine reaching back to the medieval period, Scottish settlers brought their recipes for frying up cluckers across the Atlantic to the Americas. Once introduced to the United States, the dish became deeply embedded in Southern culture and cuisine, rising to national popularity with Colonel Sander’s Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Meanwhile, here in present day Los Angeles, fried chicken is going through a renaissance by way of Asian cuisine, with Japanese karaage (kah-rah-ge) and Korean chicken places popping up all over. Jumping on the bandwagon, or into the coop as the case may be, I stopped into Kyochon in Koreatown, long lauded by Jonathan Gold as the “Best Fried Chicken.” Kyochon does fried chicken five ways, freshly made to order in a fast-food style: Signature Soy Garlic & Hot & Sweet Wings, Grilled Wings, Honey Wings, Drumsticks and Sal Sal Chicken Strips.
My party of three ordered the 25-piece Sampler, which allowed us to try every style. A far as I could tell, they all tasted pretty much the same, with a tender, moist chicken base and flavorful finishes. The standout was the Hot Wings. Fans of fiery foods will thrill in the layering of sweet honey, soy and garlic, topped off with the spicy effect and after effect of the Korean chili paste, gojuchang. The chili left a warm, tingly feeling on my lips and throat, which I washed down with some bites of rice and crisp, refreshing daikon radish.
The Sal Sal Chicken Strips are entirely unique on the fried chicken market. The boneless white meat pieces are breaded with flour and small grains of delicate, puffed rice, providing a further dimension of crunch and texture with each bite. Each recipe had the perfect sweet and salty balance, with the intense umami “fifth flavor” that makes Asian food so delicious. We left in our wake piles of licked-clean bones, with not a single piece leftover.
Unfortunately, for as many styles of fried chicken as they boast on their menu, they are strangely lacking in panchan, or side dishes, typical of Korean cuisine. But, no matter—perhaps this allows them more time to focus on breading and frying up those delicious chicken pieces.
I should mention that I normally don’t eat chicken, for fear of the overgrown, top-heavy, Frankenstein abominations clogging the market. Those that are squeamish about factory farms, hormone injections and all the other perils of our contemporary food industry may take some comfort from the company’s “antibiotics free” and sourced from “sustainable California farms” marketing message.