GLENVIEW, Ill. (WLS) -- Korean chains usually start their American branches in Los Angeles, but a popular fried chicken brand from South Korea - with more than 200 locations there - has begun its U.S. expansion on the East Coast, with stores in Virginia, Georgia and Texas.
Choong Man Chicken recently opened a branch in Glenview, the only location in Illinois. They offer fried chicken a number of ways, including tenders, in sandwiches, salads, rice bowls and of course, just platters, mounded onto plates.
But there are quite a few unique touches.
"We marinate for 24 hours before we fry. It can have a very unique taste. Very important that we get a unique sauce from South Korea, from the franchise headquarters. We submerge the chicken in that sauce for 24 hours," said Manager Denny Kim.
The dredging process alone is worth noting. All-natural, never-frozen chicken is marinated, then dredged - aggressively - in that proprietary mix. Then a brief dip in water - that's what promotes a craggly exterior - then a second dredge and a vigorous shake to remove excess flour, then finally into the oil, where it fries until golden brown.
At this point, you have four sauce options, including garlic-soy, creamy curry or spicy barbecue.
Then, in a move rarely, if ever, seen locally, the chicken is placed into a heavy duty oven, fed by hardwood charcoal, where it roasts for a few more minutes, sealing and solidifying the exterior.
At this point, it's ready to eat. Or, you could have it mounded with soy-tossed and shredded scallions. Consider getting the snow onion treatment, which is a massive handful of shaved white onions, drenched in a creamy white sauce, for a cool contrast to that hotter, crispier chicken.
"The white sauce comes in powder from South Korea. We mix it here with mayonnaise and some secret ingredients also. With this sauce, it makes a very fresh taste. People love it," Kim said.
When Choong Man first opened, they had lots of different options for other dishes like burgers and salads, but now they're just focusing on the chicken.
The thing to pay attention to is really the texture. That proprietary recipe they get from South Korea results in a fried chicken with a crunch you probably haven't seen, or heard, before.
While they do offer limited seating indoors, they have expanded their covered patio with more than a dozen tables outside.
Choong Man Chicken