Look out, Colonel

March 24, 2008 11:13:26 AM PDT
There's a new wave of fried chicken arriving in Chicago, and it's coming from Korea.Apparently, Korean tradition dictates that newlyweds must go to the mother-in-law's house for fried chicken. Unlike the southern fried chicken we've all become accustomed to, the Koreans use different batter and prefer applying a sweet, spicy or garlicky sauce very judiciously.

There are three new options in town, all frying the Korean way.

From the looks of the operation, it's just another fast-food fried chicken joint. But Toreore Chicken & Joy - tucked into the massive Super H Mart in Niles - is one of a half-dozen Korean chicken franchises around the country.

"We using always never been frozen fresh chicken with, we have to marinate like before we cook, like twelve to twenty four hours," said Michelle Cho, Toreore.

The marinade contains grains like millet and barley, plus ground rice and peas. Those same ingredients show up in the dry breading, which completely coats each piece.

"We using a very special flour, unique flour because we mixed with five different grains, like brown rice, black peas, barley and millet, so it is very healthy fried chicken," said Cho.

Each piece is fried for exactly nine minutes in vegetable oil; Once they're removed, you have a choice of sauces, including addictive garlic - which is carefully brushed onto each piece - or tongue-searing hot barbeque, sprinkled with black and white sesame seeds. The only available side is a small container of pickled daikon radish.

Just a few miles away, the Korean national chain Cheogajip Pizza & Chicken Love Letter occupies a small space in a strip mall. It too comes in a few varieties, and while the plain version tends to be a bit greasy, the hot & spicy will scorch your lips. Sides of dressed cabbage and pickled radish are the norm.

The best of the bunch is in Lake View, at the funky Crisp, the brainchild of two Korean guys who really missed the style of chicken they'd had back home.

"I think the Korean fried chicken thing is lost on Americans partly because of the time-intensive nature of Korean fried chicken, and in part, that has limited the number of Korean fried chicken places in the U.S.," said Douglas Funke, Crisp.

The breading and frying process are so secret, they wouldn't let us record it. Much of the fat is rendered from the skin, leaving behind a crispy layer. A spicy barbeque is more Korean than Buffalo, while their Seoul Sassy flavor combines garlic, soy and sesame for an addictive jolt. Even if you just get it plain, you'll quickly realize it's like no other bird in town.

"We also have some customers who've said 'hey, this isn't barbeque, this doesn't taste like Sweet Baby Ray's,' and we told them it's not supposed to," said Funke.

Another recent phenomenon is the Korean-style chicken wing - a deep-fried, spicy-sweet combination that is revered at places like "Great Sea Chinese" or "Hourglass" both in Albany Park on the northwest side.

Cheogajip Chicken & Pizza
8273 W. Golf Rd., Niles
847-583-1582

Toreore (inside the Super H Mart)
801 Civic Center Dr. #118, Niles
847-965-0311

Crisp
2940 N. Broadway
877-693-8653

Also Mentioned:

Great Sea Chinese
3254 W. Lawrence Ave.
773-478-9129

Hourglass
3658 W. Lawrence Ave.
773-478-4050

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