My Citizens! There can be no doubt or equivocation that the Sultan of Serendipity – YOUR TFD! – has an inexplicable sense of opportunistic timing that is beyond rational explanation, as has been proved over innumerable examples throughout the course of My charmed life navigating between Scylla and Charybdis!
Herein, I give you but one minor example of the synchronicity shadowing my footsteps at every turn! I had been long planning to share this recipe for Irish spice bag – a mouthwatering mix of fried chicken strips, french fries (aka chips), Chinese-style seasonings and hot chili peppers – for several months now. On a lark, I decided for once to post a preview to my personal Facebook account for the benefit of My friends and followers there – and was duly informed how awesome it was that I was doing this in honor of National Fried Chicken Day!
To be clear – I had no idea there was such a thing as National Fried Chicken Day, and as a fully-vetted Kentucky Colonel (seriously, I am!), you’d think I would know about such a red-letter opportunity…and thus, you see my point. 😀
Regardless of My committed relationship with Dame Fortuna (or Tyche, Lady Luck or whatever you choose to call Her) – this is one hell of a delicious dish, Citizens!
We have in the Irish spice bag yet another example of fusion cuisine, here between the Anglo-Irish world (chips/fries), Chinese cuisine (the seasonings and the fried chicken) and Indian cuisine (the curry dipping sauce) with a respectful nod to Southeast Asia, the original home of the wild chicken not to mention South America – the ancestral home of the potato! Proof that all modern cuisines (and virtually all ancient) are in fact fusions that resulted from trade across the millennia!
Americans may not be aware of the incredible (and very recent) popularity of Irish spice bag – as such, allow the Sagacious One to illuminate your cerebral cortex with the searing white-hot spotlight of bountiful knowledge!
A spice bag (or spicebag, spicy bag, spice box or spicy box; Irish: mála spíosrach) is a fast food dish popular in Ireland inspired by Asian cuisine. Typically, a spice bag consists of deep-fried salt and chili chips (fries), chicken (shredded/balls/wings), red and green peppers, sliced chili peppers, fried onions, and a variety of spices.
A vegetarian or vegan option is often available, in which deep fried tofu takes the place of the shredded chicken. It is sometimes accompanied by a side of curry sauce and has been available in Chinese takeaways and chippers since the 2010s, and the dish has developed quite a cult following. It was in fact most recently voted ‘Ireland’s Favourite Takeaway Dish’ in the 2020 Just Eat National Takeaway Awards!
According to RTÉ reporter Liam Geraghty, the dish was supposedly created in 2010 by The Sunflower Chinese takeaway in Templeogue, Dublin, with the first spice bag sold on Just Eat in 2012.
As noted in this most erudite story I found on dublin.ie:
For the love of spice bags…
In Dublin pubs, the conversation has now evolved from queries of ‘What is a spice bag?’ and ‘Have you had a spice bag yet?’ to more pressing issues of etiquette and availability.
Because everyone’s mother probably now knows what a spice bag is, that celebrated, moreish takeaway meal combo of chicken, chips and spices in a bag (foil or paper) and the occasional bit of onion and red pepper thrown in. She may have even eaten one. Once seen as something only millennials should let past their lips, it’s now gone properly mainstream, and was voted Ireland’s favourite dish at the Just Eat National Takeaway Awards last year. A mere culinary craze? We don’t think so.
If the spice bag has lost some of its mystery, it hasn’t lost any of the obsessive devotion it inspires. Dubliners are now posing searching questions like: ‘Would you eat a spice bag if you hadn’t had a few drinks?’; ‘Officially, where can you get the best spice bag?’ (The Daily Edge posit that Lin Kee on the Ballymun Road is one of the city’s finest); ‘Would you ever put some curry sauce into your spice bag?’ and perhaps the most urgent poser of them all: ‘Do spice bags only come out at night?’
Even though the spice bag allegedly has rural origins (it’s rumoured to have been invented at New World Chinese in Bagenalstown, Carlow, some time in the 2010s), it’s a very Dublin thing to run with it, as the city has. There’s always been a strong chipper culture here; give us some greasy goodness, with a bit of novelty value thrown in and, well, you’re laughing.
The proliferation of hipster fried chicken joints, the queues out the door for doughnuts at Aungier Danger and the huge success that was the pop-up Tayto sandwich shop last year is proof of that. Some suggest we may even be approaching peak takeaway.
For SB virgins who’d like an insight into the deep love fans have for all things spice bag, the Spicebag Appreciation Society on Facebook, with 16,931 members, explains everything. The rules are simple: only pictures of your own spice bag are permitted, the brown bag must be present in the picture, curry sauce is allowed (but not advised) and selfies mean instant ejection from the group.
The descriptions are magical. ‘It is hand-crafted from God, the chicken-to-chip ratio is solid and they always leave a few chicken bits at the end. If this isn’t a solid spice bag I don’t know what is,’ raves one member.
Making your own DIY healthy version has also become a thing. This makes sense if you’re trying to lose weight, given that your average bag contains in excess of 1200 kcal. But this also misses the point. Clean eaters who don’t want to embrace the ‘dirtiness’ of a spice bag should probably stick to their coconut oil and spelt ways.
It might seem obvious that the next step to take after the spice bag is to graduate onto the munch box, a pizza box filed with any variation of stuff including chicken wings, ribs, chips, spices and onions. While it can be a decent group sharing experience, for the SB purist, it’s overkill. A true aficionado knows that a simple spice bag, eaten alone on the walk home from a Dublin night out is all that is required for salty satiety.
Basically, a spice bag is Irish late-night takeaway at its greasy, salty, spicy best – and thanks to the Glory who ALONE is TFD, I shall show you the one true path to spice bag glory so that you too may enjoy this delectable meal without boarding Aer Lingus for an emergency takeout run to Dublin! 😉
Being TFD, I have made a few adjustments to the classic spice bag recipe, mostly to bring it a wee bit closer to its ancestral home of China and the recipe that almost assuredly gave the dish its primary seasoning blend – the glory that is Chinese Salt and Pepper Chicken! Despite the name, the pepper is actually minced hot red and green peppers, along with a nice hit of Sichuan peppercorns as well as – of course – salt.
Rather than the flour-only breading used in Dublin on the chicken pieces, I go back to a blend of flour and cornstarch used by the Chinese to attain supremely-crispy results! The spicing blend is my own, of course, and is second-to-none IMHO!
In addition to my formerly-proprietary spice blend, I also added in a goodly hit of one of my favorite condiments – chili crisp, made up of crunchy bits of fried chili flakes, garlic, and more. Chili crisp adds a truly addictive bit of spice, and an even more necessary hit of MSG to bring this recipe truly over-the-top! This is my preferred chili crisp vendor, and please don’t sneer at MSG, it’s what makes all takeout moreish and really pops the flavors onto your palate – there is barely any in use in this recipe!
Omit if you so prefer, but I personally wouldn’t. I also prefer to mash a few fermented black beans into my chili crisp for extra umami – this is a totally optional ingredient but I do dearly love it. Buy it here.
The curry sauce traditionally served with Spice Bag is also optional, but I really find it complements the salty, spicy goodness and as such, I include a recipe for it that I conveniently found on irishcentral.com – you can certainly substitute your favorite dipping sauce of any kind for use with the fried chicken strips and fries/chips! One way or the other, the unmatched members of TFD Nation are in for a truly sumptuous repast this National Fried Chicken Day – courtesy of My unmatched largesse!
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
The Hirshon Irish ‘Spice Bag’ Fried Chicken And Chips With Curry Dipping Sauce – Mála Spíosrach na hÉireann
- 2 free-range boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or chicken thighs, if you must), sliced in long thin strips
- 100ml buttermilk (or regular milk with 1 tsp fresh lemon juice)
- 1 Tbsp. freshly-ground cumin
- 1 1/2 Tbsp. plain flour
- 1 1/2 Tbsp. cornstarch (TFD change for extra crispiness, use flour for original)
- 4 large russet potatoes, peeled
- 1 red Fresno chili, sliced (de-seeding optional for lower heat)
- 1 green Serrano chili, sliced (de-seeding optional for lower heat)
- 1 medium white onion, sliced into half moons
- 4 garlic cloves, finely-chopped
- Vegetable Oil for frying
- The Hirshon Spice Bag Spicing Blend:
- 1 Tbsp. Chinese Five Spice
- 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
- 1/4 tsp. freshly-ground Sichuan peppercorns
- 1/8 tsp. freshly-ground cardamom
- 1/8 tsp. ginger powder
- 2 1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
- 2 1/2 tsp. granulated sugar
- 1/2 tsp. freshly-ground white pepper
- 1/4 tsp. freshly-ground cumin
- 1 Tbsp. chili crisp, drained of oil and mashed with 1/2 Tbsp. fermented black beans (TFD optional addition – add this mixture in only AFTER you have reserved the other dry spices to mix into the chicken flour coating in step 1 – the chili crisp and black beans combo is far too chunky to work into the flour coating)
- Irish Curry Sauce:
- 1 large onion (peeled and diced)
- 1 large apple (peeled and diced)
- 1 tsp. minced garlic
- 1 tsp. minced ginger
- 2 Tbsp. Madras curry powder
- 1 tsp. turmeric
- 1 tsp. freshly-ground cumin
- 1 tsp. freshly-ground coriander seeds
- 1 tsp. freshly-ground cinnamon
- 3 Tbsp. canola or vegetable oil
- 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tsp. sugar
- 1 Tbsp. tomato puree
- salt and pepper (to taste)
- 1/4 cup golden raisins (optional)
- For the curry sauce:
- Prepare the spice blend for the sauce. In a small bowl or ramekin add the curry powder, turmeric, cumin, ground coriander seed, and cinnamon. Add the oil to a large skillet over medium to high heat. Add the onions and sauté for 4 minutes. Caramelized onions add a delicious sweetness to the sauce. Next, add the peeled and diced apple to the pan and sauté for another 2 minutes.
- Toss in the minced garlic and ginger. Next add in the aromatic spice blend. Mix the spices and onions together as they cook for another minute. Flour is my sauce thickener of choice. Cook it over medium heat for 2 minutes, scraping the bottom of the pan as you combine the mixture completely. The flour can burn and stick to the bottom of the pan very easily, so be careful!
- Now let’s get saucy. Gradually add the stock while you constantly stir the mixture to prevent lumps forming. Scrape the bottom of the pan as you mix everything together. Bring it to a boiling point, then reduce the heat so the sauce is just simmering.
- Now comes my secret ingredient. I add a teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce, not a typical curry requirement. I just love the extra dimension it adds to the exotic flavors of this sauce. A hint of sweetness is next. Add the tomato paste and two teaspoons of sugar. Season with salt and pepper and mix everything together. Simmer the sauce for 15 minutes to allow the flavors to meld.
- Some cooks like to add a teaspoon of lemon juice at this point, but I prefer not to detract from the sweetness of my curry sauce. Feel free to try it if you want to add a little freshness at the end.
- Decision time has now arrived. To blitz or not to blitz that is the question. If you prefer a textured sauce with lumps of apple and caramelized onion then skip this step. In our house, there is no skipping a little spin in the blender. My husband likes onion flavor but detests their texture, so I always make a smooth curry sauce.
- Before blending, turn the heat off under the pan and allow the sauce to cool a little. This is a precautionary step just in case of blender accidents. Sticky, boiling curry sauce can easily burn. Believe me – I know. I’ve had a few blender explosions in my day. I now always hold the lid down with a dish towel when I switch the beast on.
- When ready pour the sauce into the blender and blitz until smooth (1 to 2 minutes depending on how powerful your blender is).
- Return the sauce to the pan and turn the heat back on. Time for another decision – to add raisins or not. I love the sweet surprise of golden raisins in this spicy sauce. If you decide to go with them, then just toss them in and stir them around. Then you’re ready to serve your spicy sauce with perfectly golden chips or fries.
- Next, prepare your chicken by steeping it in buttermilk and cumin for an hour to tenderize. In another bowl, add 2 tsp. of the spice bag blend to the flour and cornstarch to season the breading mixture.
- For truly crispy chips, it’s a three-step process but totally worth it. First off, parboil the peeled and cut chips in boiling, salted water for two minutes to begin the cooking process as your oil gets to 170ºC / 340 F. Drain the chips well and then fry for 4-5 minutes at this lower temperature to cook through, then remove. You don’t want a lot of color, just a firm exterior (and they will be fluffy inside!) Then, just before serving, crank the heat up to 190ºC / 375 F to fry for a further 90 seconds or so to get that gorgeous golden color.
- For the chicken, you’re also going to fry at 170-180ºC / 350 F for around five minutes. Take your chicken strips from the buttermilk (shaking off the excess) and dunk into your seasoned flour to coat, then gently lower into the hot oil. You may need to do this in two batches. When golden brown and crisp, drain and remove to a wire rack over a baking sheet, lined with kitchen paper.
- For the flash-fried vegetables, heat a wok or frying pan to a high heat and add 1/2 Tbsp. of neutral oil. When the oil is hot, introduce the onions and keep moving, you want them to soften but not color if you can help it. After a minute or so introduce the garlic and then just before you finish frying add in the sliced chili. Remove from the heat.
- In a large mixing bowl, sprinkle 2-3 Tbsp. of the spice bag mixture (or use as much as you like) over the chicken, chips, onion, garlic and chilies mix and toss everything together to combine. Serve it with curry sauce alongside (preferred for the true Irish experience!) or not, as you prefer.
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