Fried Prawn Paste Chicken (Har Cheong Gai 虾酱鸡)

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 Here’s the perfect recipe for making zi char style fried prawn paste chicken (har cheong gai 虾酱鸡). Enjoy sinking your teeth into these deliciously flavoured, crispy, battered, deep-fried chicken wings.
Fried Prawn Paste Chicken (Har Cheong Gai 虾酱鸡)

Seriously, who doesn’t enjoy the occasional meal of deep-fried chicken? In fact, I find it very hard to resist this local dish of fried prawn paste chicken that we call har cheong gai in the Cantonese dialect.

We love to celebrate a festive occasion with a dish of prawn paste chicken, because it’s everybody’s favourite. No hesitation with hands and chopsticks reaching out to grab their favourite fried piece!

Fried Prawn Paste Chicken (Har Cheong Gai 虾酱鸡)

Now, I realise that there will always be some of us who don’t want too much fried food in our diet. The first glimpse of anything with a shiny, oily sheen might be all it takes to make you think twice about eating.

But there are those of us who seek out fried finger foods like bees to honey, when hit with wafts and whiffs of smoky, aromatic foods bubbling in hot oil.

Fried Prawn Paste Chicken (Har Cheong Gai 虾酱鸡)

I’m definitely and unashamedly in the latter camp. But I’d like to think that many of us, even the health conscious, for the most part, can’t help but indulge ourselves once in a while.

I just can’t deny myself the pure enjoyment of sinking my teeth into a deliciously flavoured, crispy battered chicken wing!

What is prawn paste?

Now, if you’ve never heard of prawn paste before or are unfamiliar with this condiment, you really should start exploring cooking with it.

It is used widely in many regional cuisines, mainly that of Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Thailand, and the Philippines.

Commercial bottle of prawn paste or fine shrimp sauce

Sometimes labelled as shrimp sauce, prawn paste is a fine and delicate paste made from fermented and dried silver shrimp.

Prawn paste has a very distinct and pungent, aroma. We add it in modest portions or dollops to seasonings and marinades for meats and seafood, as well as to flavour stir-fries and braising sauces.

Prawn paste versus belacan

Prawn paste or shrimp sauce is not to be confused with another kind of shrimp paste, belacan (in Malay).

Even though both prawn paste and belacan are made from fermented shrimps, each differs in flavour, texture, consistency and uses in cooking.

Belacan paste is sun-dried and cut into fist-sized, solid, rectangular blocks. More often, it is added to spice pastes for cooking Asian curries. It’s also the essential ingredient in local signature stir-fries like kangkong belacan, as well as sambal.

The prawn paste I use here for cooking prawn paste chicken is more like a thick marinade or sauce.

Fried Prawn Paste Chicken

Which brand of prawn paste should I use?

In Singapore, you can get various brands of prawn pastes sold in supermarkets as well as at the local wet markets here.

Some are said to have more robust and sophisticated flavour profiles. It’s easy to see how these can make the difference when you’re cooking a dish like prawn paste chicken.

I use the popular Lee Kum Kee brand of fine shrimp sauce as they are conveniently found in supermarkets here. 

Personally, I’ve used other brands as well and most turn out good flavours for the prawn paste chicken recipes I’ve tried.

This is a tried and tested recipe for prawn paste chicken

I’m sharing one of my favourites on zi char style prawn paste chicken. It was originally written by Dr. Leslie Tay on his blog ieatishootipost. Highly regarded and well respected, Dr. Tay is an accomplished author, food enthusiast and blogger on the local food scene in Singapore.

He writes a very detailed and informative post on aspects of the recipe. It also includes tips and techniques for deep frying, and how to get that highly sought-after crispy wings which is definitely worth reading here.

Ingredients for prawn paste chicken

Fried Prawn Paste Chicken (Har Cheong Gai 虾酱鸡)

Here are the ingredients you will need to create restaurant-quality, tze-char style prawn paste chicken:

  • chicken drumettes and wingettes. You can also use chicken parts of your choice, like chicken thighs and drumsticks.
  • Prawn paste or shrimp sauce
  • Sesame oil
  • Chinese wine
  • Plain flour
  • Potato starch or corn flour or crispy flour
  • Egg
  • Water
  • Baking soda
  • Baking powder
  • Seasonings (sugar, pepper, MSG – I omit this entirely)

How to make the prawn paste batter

Prawn paste, when mixed with Chinese wine, sesame oil and seasonings, makes a robust, full-bodied marinade. Here’s how to make the batter:

  • Step 1: In a mixing bowl, combine prawn paste (shrimp sauce), sugar, sesame oil, wine and pepper. Stir with a whisk or spoon to mix well.
  • Step 2: Add the chicken wings. Mix until pieces are coated evenly with the prawn paste marinade.
  • Step 3: In a separate bowl, mix together the dry ingredients – flour, potato starch (or corn flour), baking soda and baking powder. Stir to mix well together. Then add the wet ingredients – egg and water.
  • Step 4: Stir with a whisk until the batter is smooth and free of lumps.
  • Step 5: Pour the batter into the marinade-coated chicken.
  • Step 6: Mix thoroughly. Cover with cling wrap, and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, preferably overnight or for up to 2 days.
Prawn paste chicken

How to fry the prawn paste chicken

1. Thaw batter-coated chicken to room temperature

It’s really important that the batter-coated chicken is at room temperature before frying. Remove the chicken from the chiller at least 30 to 45 mins before frying, to let it come to room temperature.

2. Heat the oil to the right temperature range

The optimal temperature range for deep frying chicken is between 175 – 180°C (347 – 356°F). If the temperature is not hot enough, the battered chicken pieces will absorb more oil and end up soggy and greasy.

This is also why the meat should be at room temperature before placing into the oil. It helps the oil stay around the optimal temperature range.

On the other hand, frying in oil that’s too hot will brown the batter too quickly before the chicken is cooked.

3. Make sure there is enough oil in the wok

Pour enough oil in the wok or skillet, until at least 1- 1 1/2 inch deep. A good gauge is that the oil should come at least halfway up the chicken pieces.

4. Fry in batches, don’t overcrowd

Overcrowding the wok or skillet will lower the oil temperature. This can also cause more oil to be absorbed resulting in soggy, greasy chicken.

Fry in batches, giving the chicken pieces ample room to cook evenly. It’s a good idea to fry like pieces together.

After about 30 seconds, separate the pieces with wooden chopsticks to prevent them from sticking to each other. The temperature should have dropped to around 160 deg C. If you find the chicken browning too quickly, reduce the heat a little.

Each batch takes about 4 to 5 minutes to cook until golden brown. Before you add the next batch of batter- coated pieces, be sure to let the oil to heat up again to the optimal temperature.

5. Cool on a metal rack

When the chicken pieces are a deep golden brown, remove them to a wire cooling rack set over a plate to catch the drips. Do not drain on paper towels.

Now, I find this step really important because it makes all the difference if you want the fried prawn paste chicken to stay crispy for longer. Because when the pieces are just removed from hot oil, steam is actually still continuing to build up in the meat.

All this hot steam needs to escape. Placing on paper towels would in effect cause steam to be re-absorbed back into the batter, causing it to lose its fried crispness. And you’ll end up with soggy wings, which isn’t nice.

Fried Prawn Paste Chicken (Har Cheong Gai 虾酱鸡)

Additional notes

1. Prawn paste or shrimp sauce is salty so adjust the amount of sugar if needed.

Depending on the brand of prawn paste you have, you might need to adjust the sugar amount to offset the saltiness. For instance, I add about 1 to 2 additional teaspoons of sugar when I cook with Lee Kum Kee shrimp sauce.

2. Texture of batter

I love the texture of this prawn paste batter! When you’re mixing the batter, it should be smooth and velvety.

You’ll find that this batter has just the right consistency to coat the pieces thickly and evenly. When fried, the batter clings to the chicken pieces and cooks to a tender crisp.

3. Flours and substitutions

I do not recommend substituting the flours and their proportions in the batter with other types of flour, unless suggested. That’s because we’re after a crispy and crunchy fried batter. So it’s really important for the batter to be at the right consistency.

However, I do realise that we sometimes might not have all the various types of flours on hand. Depending on what you have in your pantry, it is also possible to substitute all potato starch with all corn flour. I’ve tried this and it works out fairly well too, though just not as crispy.

Hope this has been helpful! I’ll definitely be experimenting with more recipes like this in future. For now, this is my go-to recipe and as close as I can get to ‘zi char’ style prawn paste chicken!

Here are more recipes to inspire your next meal:

Tried this recipe? I’d love to see! Remember to share your pics on Instagram and tag @foodelicacy or #foodelicacy.

SAVE THIS RECIPE!

Fried Prawn Paste Chicken

Fried Prawn Paste Chicken (Har Cheong Gai 虾酱鸡)

Yield: 12 servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes

The perfect recipe for making zi char style crispy fried prawn paste chicken (har cheong gai 虾酱鸡).

Ingredients

  • 1 kg chicken drumettes and wingettes
  • 3 tbsp prawn paste or shrimp sauce
  • 2 - 3 tsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp sesame oil
  • 3 tbsp Chinese wine
  • 1 tsp white pepper
  • 2 tsp MSG (optional - I omit this entirely)

For the Batter:

  • 80 g plain flour
  • 80 g potato starch or corn flour
  • 100 ml water
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder

Instructions

  1. In a mixing bowl, combine prawn paste (shrimp sauce), sugar, sesame oil, wine, and pepper.
  2. Add chicken pieces and mix till well coated with marinade.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix all the batter ingredients, and stir with a spoon or whisk, until smooth and free of lumps.
  4. Add this to the chicken in marinade, and stir until well combined.
  5. Cover with cling wrap, and set aside (refrigerated) for at least 8 hours, preferably overnight, or up to 2 days.
  6. Fill a wok or skillet with cooking oil to a depth of 1 - 1 1/2 inches. Heat oil to 175 - 180 deg C.
  7. Fry the chicken pieces in batches, about 4 to 5 at a time (it's a good idea to fry like pieces together). After about half a minute, separate the pieces with wooden chopsticks, to prevent pieces sticking together.
  8. After about 1 minute, the temperature should have dropped to 160 deg C, if not lower the heat. Cook for about 4 to 5 minutes, or until deep golden brown.
  9. Scoop out with a slotted spoon and drain on a metal rack. Allow the oil to get hot again, before adding the next batch. Repeat until all pieces have been fried.
  10. Serve immediately, with freshly squeezed lime juice and sweet chilli sauce on the side (optional).

Did you make this recipe?

I’d love to see! Remember to share your pics on Instagram and tag @foodelicacy or #foodelicacy.

17 Comments

  1. Hi Gerardine, you may try using self-raising flour (omit the baking powder in the recipe). The other option is to use all corn flour, or a combination of corn flour and potato starch, but the texture will not be the same as when using the combination of plain and corn (or potato) flour.

  2. Hello Celia! I ran out of plain flour.. is there any substitute for this?

  3. Hi Rosaline, I totally understand! Like you, I also like to keep things simple. But for this dish, it’s the combination of flours that makes the batter texture light and crispy. So, I’m afraid there’s no shortcut here if you’re after the tze-char texture of har cheong gai. Haha!

  4. Hello Celia,

    Thank you for the response, I noticed u used a variety of flour… To make my life easier… ? Can I just use Self-Raising flour for the batter?

  5. Hi, thank you so much for the recipe. My kids love it so much!

  6. Hi Rosaline, you asked really good questions. To be honest, I’m familiar with similar recipes but have not tried the oyster sauce version. In my humble opinion, my priority is taste over preparation. I think this prawn paste recipe is good without the oyster sauce, but the only way is to try ?

  7. Hello Celia, I don’t usually cooks but my family like prawn paste chicken, and I’m trying to perfect it… But I’m rather confused with the difference version found.
    Some added Oyster sauce to the marinate & leave the batter last, for to coat it only before frying… But urs omits the oyster sauce, adds sesame oil n Chinese wine to the marinate as well as the batter.
    Which will have tastier results? Or same, but urs more convenient? ?

  8. Hi Fred, sorry to say but belacan is very different from this shrimp paste. The flavour and texture isn’t the same.

  9. I don’t think they sell this shrimp paste/sauce where I live. But they do sell belacan. Could I use belacan as a substitute or is the taste very different from shrimp paste/sauce?

  10. Hi Siew Leng, sorry to hear that. It looks like the link has been compromised, thank you for the alert! Basically, it’s a product carried by Kwang Cheong Thye called ‘Crispy Flour’, which you can get at their main store. But you can do without it, and use corn flour in its place.

  11. Haven’t tried the recipe because I don’t know what your crispy flour is. Is it cornflour?

  12. Hi Pam, I’ve used an air fryer for lightly flour-coated or wings dusted lightly and those turned out well, but not with a thick batter coating like these prawn paste wings. I’d have to say it’s worth a try! If you do, could you kindly share how it turns out? I definitely like the air fryer for it’s healthier cooking!

  13. Hi celia, can I air fry the wings with this recipe? Keep all the same except the deep frying part.

  14. Hi Doris, my apologies for this late reply! Thank you so much for sharing, and I’m so glad to hear how well the recipe worked for you!

  15. Hi Celia, I made the HAR CHEONG GAI again and with the correct corn flour. It taste fantastic. Thank you so much for showing me how to make. This is deeply appreciated.

  16. Hi Doris, no kidding, that’s happened to me too!! Not with tapioca flour, but with some other flour that I had wrongly identified in my pantry. Haha..one of my many cooking blunders! Thank you so much for taking the time to write not one, not two, but three comments on various recipes you’ve tried here. You’re awesome! Hearing from such enthusiastic readers like you really helps make my blogging journey all that much more fulfilling! I’m coming back with zeal this year with more recipes.. hope you’ll check in from time to time, or even better, subscribe for free to get my latest recipe posts!

  17. Hi Celia, thank you for sharing this prawn recipe. Everything turned okay except I made One silly mistake of using tapioca flour (instead of the corn or potato starch in your recipe), so the mixture was very sticky and chewy. I will try this again with the potato starch. Overall, the taste was fantastic.

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