July 14, 2010

BonChon Chicken

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A relatively new culinary trend is starting to take hold in New York. KFC. Yup, in the South, people eat this style of fried chicken all the time. Luckily, it's been making it's way over to us in recent years. Oh, I'm not talking about the South as in below the Mason-Dixon line. I'm talking about below the DMZ in South Korea. KFC doesn't only stand for Kentucky Fried Chicken anymore. Now it stands for Korean Fried Chicken as well. Confusing, I know.

So what separates Korean Fried Chicken from the fried chicken we're used to? Aside from the obvious differences that would be apparent between any nationalities (namely seasoning), KoFC uses a technique known as double frying. The first time a wing hits the oil, it is to ensure it's thoroughly cooked. The second time is to create a super crispy, almost shell-like, crust out of the skin. All of the flavors are infused into the chicken and it gets a very unique texture.

It seems that the two most popular KoFC franchises in The States are Kyochon and BonChon. A while back, I think it was Tim Hill who suggested we give BonChon a try. Well, it took a few months but we finally got there. BonChon is a franchise based in South Korea that now has almost 40 locations. More than a handful of them are right here in New York. I stopped by my local BonChon for lunch yesterday afternoon.

After a quick glimpse at the menu board, I placed an order for a small box of wings (9 pieces). You have a choice of two flavors: Hot and Soy Garlic. Of course, I got a combo of the two. First of all, due to the double frying process, the prep time is around 30 minutes. So if you're in a rush, you might want to just head over to the other KFC for a Double Down or something and wait until you have some time to try KoFC. After walking around for a half-hour, I finally returned to BonChon for my KoFC feast.

It was packaged in a neat little box that divided the two different flavors. It also came with pickled radish and a side of Kimchi coleslaw. I guess that's the Korean version of carrots and celery.

Pickled radish > carrot, Kimchi coleslaw > celery.

As I took my first bites into the soy and garlic wings, my first impression was hardly a surprise: wow, that's crispy. My second thought was: wow, that's hot. Not spicy, just steaming, piping hot. They just came out of the fryer, but I have no self control and kept eating. I probably didn't actually taste a wing until I was halfway done. When my taste buds finally did come around, I was very pleased. It's no secret that I've always loved the Asian flavored wings, so coming from an Asian restaurant, these flavors were good. The hot wings had some serious kick. While American hot wings tend to use cayenne to turn up the heat, these were powered by some super hot Korean red pepper. I don't know if this makes sense, but it seemed like a more aggressive heat to me. Yes, I broke a sweat and yes, my nose was running. In my defense, I don't think the air conditioner was working and it was bordering on 90 degrees. Still, these were hot. Thank god for the pickled radish and Kimchi coleslaw. These did a much better job of cutting the heat than carrots and celery ever have. I think I'm going to try asking for them next time I'm in an Irish pub, we'll see what they say.

Hot on the left, Garlic Soy on the right.

I can see how people get addicted to these wings. The flavors are potent and the uncommon texture really stands out. There are people who claim they put crack in their sauce... I get that. On the other hand, I can also see why some people call them overrated. The quality of meat wasn't great, they were puny and, at $11 for 9 wings, they were far from a bargain. In my mind, they're the White Castle of chicken wings. You know it's not that good, but there's just something about it that makes you have to have it every so often (usually while inebriated at 3 am). So no, these aren't the best wings I've ever had. But I'm sure I'll be craving them a few weeks from now. Come to think of it, I could kind of go for a sack of sliders right about now.

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