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California Love Fried Chicken Bao

One day, while I was looking at Spice Tribe’s pretty California Love All Purpose Chile Blend, it somehow clicked that this spice blend was exactly what I needed for my backburnered fried chicken bao idea. I didn’t grow up eating a lot of cayenne-heavy Southern spice blends (cayenne is what gives Nashville hot chicken its spicy heat) but the California Love blend felt a lot more familiar to me—probably because it was based on Spice Tribe founder Trent’s own upbringing in California. Though I must still give huge credit to every Nashville hot chicken joint I’ve ever ordered a sandwich from (Howlin’ Ray’s and Starbird are my faves) for the inspiration, the recipe now feels very me.

Serving Size: 8


For the Slaw

  • 4 teaspoon rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • 1/2 small cabbage, finely shredded
  • 1/3 red onion, thinly sliced

For the Chicken

  • 3 boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1/2–2/3 cup cornstarch
  • Oil for frying

For the Chicken Seasoning

To assemble

  • 8 frozen lotus leaf bao
  • 1/4 cup Japanese mayo
  • 4 teaspoons Sriracha (or to taste)
  • Dill pickle chips

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Photo of California Love Fried Chicken Bao


  1. To make the slaw, whisk together rice vinegar, honey, sesame oil, soy sauce, and salt. Toss together with the cabbage and onions until everything is coated. Store in the refrigerator until ready to assemble the bao. (Can be made up to 4 hours in advance.)
  2. Cut chicken thighs crosswise into 1 1/2-inch pieces. Beat together egg and soy sauce. Combine chicken pieces with egg and soy sauce mixture until everything is coated and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
  3. In the meantime, in a dutch oven, heat enough oil to submerge the chicken pieces.
  4. Pour 1/2 cup cornstarch into a rimmed plate. Remove one of the chicken pieces and allow the excess liquid to drip off, then dredge the chicken in the cornstarch until completely coated. Set aside and repeat until all the chicken is coated in cornstarch, adding more cornstarch to the plate if needed.
  5. The oil is hot enough when you insert a wooden chopstick or spoon into the oil and small bubbles appear. Working in batches and adjusting the heat as needed, deep fry the chicken until golden brown and cooked, about 5–8 minutes. Let fried chicken drain on a rack or paper towels.
  6. While chicken is draining, set up a bamboo steamer lined with parchment paper and place the frozen bao inside, using pieces of parchment paper to keep them from touching. Steam the bao over a wok with simmering water until soft, about 5 minutes. (Or, if you do not have a bamboo steamer, wrap them in damp paper towels and microwave in 30-second increments until soft.)
  7. Transfer chicken to a large tray. Combine all the dry seasoning ingredients in a heat-safe bowl. Then, add the frying oil while it is still hot. Stir together then brush the seasoning mixture onto the chicken until fully covered.
  8. In a small bowl, mix together the Japanese mayo and the sriracha.
  9. To assemble, spread some sriracha mayo on the inside of a bao, then stuff with slaw, 1–2 pieces of chicken, and pickle chips. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.

Recipe Note

*Note: If you want to make these more spicy, substitute in cayenne powder, to your taste.


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