Chickens Gone Global
Fried chicken has been multicultural from its beginnings, a Scottish cooking style married to a West African tradition of battering using a seasoned flour. Those traditions combined in the American South in the 1830s and were an instant hit. Regional styles quickly developed, with cornmeal used in some areas, wheat in others, and seasonings mild, aromatically herbal, or sharply peppery as local preferences dictated.
The idea has gone around the world and spawned international styles like the delicate Japanese karaage, battered with cornstarch; coconut and citrus infused Filipino fried chicken; Greek fried chicken marinated in yogurt; and curry-laced Indonesian ayam goreng. Those who make a hobby of trying all the world’s variations (and I count myself among that number) may rove around greater Los Angeles seeking them out. But a few interesting versions are right here in the Beach Cities. Here I present my reviews of Korean and Belgian themed eateries, with an American entrant for comparison.
Korean: BB.Q Chicken, Redondo Beach
Tucked into the east corner of the shopping center at Beryl and Prospect is BB.Q Chicken, which does not serve barbecue chicken, and no, that dot in the middle of their name is not a typo. The name stands for “Best of Best Quality,” according to this Korean chain’s website. And since they have over 3,500 locations in 57 countries, they must be doing something right. The draw is certainly not the beautiful dining room, because except for a pair of tables outside, all food is to go.
BB.Q offers their chicken as boneless tenders, wings, or bone-in, with 14 variations, ranging from mild to the “Wings of Fire” that they boast are Korea’s hottest wings. Other options include Caribbean jerk sauce, honey-garlic, galbi sauce, and the “Cheesling” dusted with sweet cheese. I tried two boneless versions, the “Golden Original” with no sauce and the Gang-Jeong” in a sauce that includes cinnamon and chili.
Koreans generally prefer the more flavorful thigh meat to breast meat, and though that is a more oily meat the batter was crisp and not greasy. The Golden Original is listed as mildly seasoned, but there is some fresh ground pepper in the batter that infuses a gentle, cumulative heat. The crust is thin and very crisp when eaten fresh, and contrasted with the interior gives a very satisfying mouthfeel.
The Gangjeong sauce is mild compared to some other Korean sauces and to traditional buffalo wings, but has an enjoyable sweet heat that is enhanced by the cinnamon, sesame, and soy that are the base for the sauce. Some very thin pieces of deseeded jalapeno add bursts of flavor, and it’s quite a joyride for the taste buds.
The sides offered here include kimchi fried rice topped with cheese, noodles wrapped in seaweed and deep fried (kimmari), and a Korean rice cake dish called “Rose Ddeok-Bokki.” That’s a mix of thick rice flour cakes with fishcakes and scallions in a mildly spicy cream sauce, and it’s an excellent flavor and texture contrast with the fried chicken. If you have a palate for spicy food, this is the top choice of the candidates this week.
BB.Q Chicken 1252 Beryl St., Redondo Beach. Open 11 a.m. – 9:40 p.m. daily. bbqchicken.com.
Belgian: Bruxie, El Segundo
The word Bruxie is slang for someone from Brussels, a city famous for Dutch Masters art, Flemish medieval architecture, strong and flavorful beer, and the best waffles in the world. The location on Rosecrans Avenue comes up short on all but the last category. It serves excellent waffles, plain or topped with sweet or savory items. Among these is chicken, both Nashville hot style or regular, served with remoulade sauce as they do in Belgium.
I tried a Nashville hot chicken sandwich made with a waffle instead of a bun, and for the first two or three bites I thought it was a genius idea. Then I realized why people don’t make sandwiches using waffles, which is that they have very little structural integrity as soon as they moisten even a little, and they start falling apart in your hands. The chicken with sauce, pickles, and lettuce started raining onto my plate with bits of waffle. Those first bites were terrific, and all the pieces tasted very good, but this really is a knife and fork item rather than something you can pick up.
The chicken and waffle combo had no such problem, though I found myself devouring most of the waffle before even starting on the chicken. Belgian waffles are so light in texture that they cool quickly, and I like them when they’re fresh from the iron. That means I’m not likely to get one as a take-out meal, but I’ll certainly be back to enjoy them here.
And the chicken? The large boneless breast and thigh had been flattened a bit before cooking and had a savory, strongly herbed batter that was very crisp. That batter was thicker than the Korean version and had a satisfying crunch, and a slight peppery kick. The Nashville version wasn’t searingly hot but had layers of flavor and a little oiliness — it’s messy fun.
The sides offered are limited and quite odd – waffle fries, spiced tater tots, and mac and cheese with bacon and chives. Belgians make some excellent salads and superb sauerkraut, and some vegetables would have balanced the proteins and carbs. I’ll go back to Bruxie again, because I suspect that following the Nashville hot chicken with a fruit-topped waffle would be fantastic, but I do hope they do something to balance the menu a bit.
The dine-in experience here is the nicest of the three reviewed in this article, a comfortable space with plenty of seating, and wine and beer are served.
Bruxie is at 2181 Rosecrans Ste. B, ES. Open daily 8 a, m., close 9 p.m. Mo-We, 10 p.m. Th-Su. Menu at Bruxie.com.)
American: Starbird Hermosa
Starbird is a California-based chain that has bet the business on selling chicken sandwiches, bringing modernity to both the birds and the sides. The birds are organic and fresh, the batter is gluten-free, and sides include truffle fries, rainbow cabbage and carrot slaw, and churros. They offer sandwiches made with whole breasts, wings, or tenders made from breast meat, plus a vegetarian version.
The sandwiches are piled almost ridiculously high, with the chicken sticking out in all directions. The batter has some seasoning but isn’t as peppery as the other two places reviewed in this piece, and had I not been told that it was gluten-free, I would not have guessed. The meat is a bit less moist because they use breast meat, but it was very tender. There was an underlying saltiness that I suspect is from the chicken being brined, but it’s in balance.
When this location first opened they offered Dutch crunch rolls as an option, but they don’t any more. I hope they bring that back, because the slightly sweet bread with the crisp topping was a nice change of pace. The standard rolls are decent, but it would be nice to have the choice of whole wheat or the crunch.
Starbird is at 429 PCH in Hermosa. Open daily 10:30 a.m. To 10 p.m. Mon. — Sat.; 9 p.m. Sun. StarbirdChicken.com.
Which of these options would be best for you is a matter of taste. Are you dining out or taking out, and do you like it mild or wild? Whichever it is, there’s someone waiting to fry a bird just the way you like it. ER