The story of Doro Bet’s Lemon-Turmeric Fried Chicken, how it’s made, and why you should go out of your way to eat this newly invented Ethiopian dish.
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There’s fried chicken and then there’s lemon turmeric fried chicken from Doro Bet. Citrus-infused, peppery and earthy with turmeric, this chicken isn’t all that different from a lemonhead sucker candy that found its way into a seasoned car wash. Although it has only been fried once, its skin is still as rough and crispy as twice-fried Korean fried chicken, but with a totally different seasoning base.
Once you’ve eaten half a bird or a whole bird at West Philly’s new spot (mostly take-out) on Baltimore Avenue, you’ll be hard pressed to go back to fried chicken lacking the Ethiopian spices of Mebruka Kane and Hayat Ali. The business partners, who also happen to be the sisters who operate Salam Cafe and Alif Brew, opened Doro Bet in fall 2022 and features two types of Ethiopian fried chicken: the aforementioned lemon-turmeric version and a spicier, wackier option. No copiers of these dishes exist anywhere else in Philadelphia (or pretty much anywhere in the country saving for a new spot in dc.). Kane came up with the concept in his home kitchen during the pandemic.
“It’s my kids’ fault,” Kane said. “They are eight and six years old, and their tastes have changed. All they want is to eat chicken. During lockdown, Kane and her husband have taken to making fried chicken at home to satisfy her kids’ Chick-fil-A and Popeyes cravings. That’s when Kane realized his kids’ fast-food-style American fried chicken was missing something: “I like putting Ethiopian spices on everything. I said to my husband, ‘Imagine an Ethiopian fried chicken. Like if I could wake him up, it would taste so much better. “”Kane decided to marinate the chicken in his family’s Berber batter, sourced from a sister in Ethiopia and prepared according to a recipe that was passed down from his mother’s side. for at least three generations. According to Kane, most Ethiopian households have their own distinct methods of making berbere: “Some people put about 20 different things in it. Some people do two or three. His family’s Berber includes cumin, garlic, ginger, black cardamom, fenugreek and rue, as well as red chili peppers that have been sun-dried for days, giving the spice blend a strong smoke with a fruity aftertaste. As Kane expected, the awaze provided the pungent flavor she craved. But now the fried chicken was too spicy for the kids. Kane and her husband came up with an alternative: a milder version made with lemon and black pepper, like Lemon Pepper Chicken Game with even more lemon juice and the heat and bitterness of turmeric.
At Doro Bet, you can find that same chicken alicha Kane made for his children, now tweaked and available to the non-offspring masses. Kane and the team buy their birds from a halal distributor in Jersey – these usually arrive on the small side and they’re already broken down to save prep time. Then the chicken marinated in salt, turmeric, black pepper, black cardamom, and an undisclosed amount of lemon juice (from taste alone, I assume that’s an obscene amount). After two days, the bird is ready for a quick dip in buttermilk before being dredged in a mixture of teff flour and tapioca flour. Kane tells me flirting is key, because she keeps everything Doro Bet’s fryer touching gluten-free. Adding tapioca flour also allows the dredge to stick to the chicken better than a dredge containing only teff. Once an order comes out of the fryer, the team shakes a final layer of black pepper, turmeric and lemon zest on top. The result is thin, crackling skin, dark meat soaked in buttermilk on the inside, and a reminiscence of crystallized salty pops and lemon zings.
The word “alicha” literally translates to “sweet,” but don’t confuse sweet with bland. The truth is, Doro Bet’s alicha fried chicken is even more memorable than its berber-spiced counterpart. Perhaps because Philadelphia’s spicy chicken market is well established, with some really good varieties available at Korean fast food chains or neighborhood eateries like from Asad in the northeast and embers and ashes in East Passyunk. But the star power of the alicha version of Doro Bet has nothing to do with the spices (or lack thereof), and everything to do with the balance between acidity and fat. A combination so striking that it will make you think twice about automatically opting for spicy chicken the next time you see it on a menu.
Kane admits she wants every meal on her way to be hot enough: “I’m that person who walks around with hot sauce in her purse, but [the alicha version] made me realize that not everything has to be hot and spicy to taste good. As if it is well seasoned and well prepared, it can be good. And it’s my kids’ favorite. These kids have great taste, and we’re all better off for it.
What: Alicha fried chicken (ideally accompanied by green cabbage and fries)
Where: Doro Bet, 4533 Baltimore Ave
Cost: $9.50 for a half bird, $18 for a whole bird
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