Fried chicken is, undeniably, a universal favourite. Who doesn’t enjoy tender marinated meat coated in a crispy seasoned batter? The USA has Southern fried chicken, Japan has karaage, Taiwan has Da Ji Pai (XXL chicken cutlet), South Korea has Yangnyeom chicken and Indonesia has ayam penyet. But here in Singapore, har cheong gai (literally shrimp sauce chicken in Cantonese, but also often referred to as shrimp or prawn paste chicken) deserves some time in the spotlight.
It also happens to be the obsession of one young hawker, 28-year-old Tan Wee Yang of Ah Tan Wings, who set up his first stall in Yishun Avenue 11 three years ago after he realised no one specialised in just this one fried chicken dish. It’s usually found it amongst many other items on zichar stall menus, so he decided to create a place dedicated to shrimp paste chicken wings. From there, he’s also added har cheong gai rice sets to his menu, but his outstandingly crispy, flavourful, aromatic chicken remains the star.
Click the links below for more deep-fried, crispy-crunchy goodness:
- LISTEN: & download the podcast of this week’s poultry in motion.
- READ: the full story at CNA Lifestyle.
- WATCH: Denise try this makan recommendation on GOLD 905’s facebook page.
From the get-go, Wee Yang’s crispy, fragrant and flavour-packed chicken wings were a hit, which allowed him to set up shop at another location across the island – Timber+ Food Park in Ayer Rajah Crescent. Business has been pretty good, he admits, and now Ah Tan Wings goes through a feather-ruffling 600 chicken wings per day on weekdays and up to a thousand on weekends.
So what makes Ah Tan Wings so popular? The secret is double-frying the chicken. Just before getting their second sizzle in temperature-controlled deep-fat fryers, the wings are drizzled with a second layer of seasoned batter (almost tempura-style) for that extra crispiness. Wee Yang reckons that’s where they’re a “bit different from other stalls”.
At $1.80 each, the wings come gift-wrapped in a craggy, golden-brown crust. Crunching through the incredibly hot and crisp batter, you’ll get smooth, tender meat that is moist and marinated perfectly. The fermented funk of the shrimp paste is distinct, yet not over-powering, and its pervasiveness gives the chicken a deep umami without being too salty. The secret marinade is made from a blend of ingredients including sesame oil, hua diao jiu (Chinese cooking wine), aromatics and Wee yang’s special Hong kong brand shrimp paste.
On its own, the pink-grey potion of salty, fermented krill is nose-searingly powerful, but when used in the right measure, its putrid pungency transforms into prawny perfection, bringing complexity and dimension to otherwise plain old chicken. But the transformation doesn’t happen overnight. Ah Tan wings are so tasty because they take a bath in their marinade for two whole days before being twice-fried. Those 48 hours are necessary for the flavour to penetrate right down to the bone and permeate the meat thoroughly.
For added spice, a chilli sauce has been specially concocted to go perfectly with the marriage of prawn and poultry. The most inspired ingredient is the chinchalok (another krill sauce fermented with salt and rice) that absolutely amplifies the har cheong gai flavour. The subtle whisper of shrimp mingles with the varied heat of red chillies, chilli padi and green chillies, along with ginger, garlic, onions and freshly-squeezed lime juice. The chunky sauce is a little sweet, with a chilli heat that builds and lingers. It also has a bold, bright zinginess that rescues the deep-fried, deep-flavoured chicken from being too cloying. Ever the enterprising young hawker, Wee Yang has also made $10 jars available for takeaway or online delivery.
For a more filling option, you can also order Ah Tan Wings’ chicken and aromatic rice sets complete with runny fried egg and sliced crunchy-fresh cucumber. Their not-too-oily rice, flavoured & fragrant with lemongrass, comes served with either an “atas” crispy cutlet made from a whole boneless chicken leg ($6.80), or two wings ($5.20).
Petite in size, but big in flavour, Ah Tan Wings are dangerously addictive. Shrimp paste chicken that is surf and turf exemplified, uniting the best of the sea and the land in one crispy celebration. Now that’s what I call a “wing-wing situation” for everybody (it’s even printed on Wee Yang’s apron)!
Ah Tan Wings
Yishun Park Hawker Centre, #01-40, 51 Yishun Ave 11, Singapore 768867.
Open Daily from 11am to 8pm.
Timbre+ branch in Ayer Rajah Cresent is open Mon – Sat, 11am to 8pm (closed Sun).
Also available via online food delivery platforms, but Denise recommends eating on-site for the best experience.