Fried chicken. Two simple words that have the power to whet appetites across the globe and set imaginations spinning, whether you’re in Louisiana, Mali or Scotland, you know that when you order your local rendition of the dish you’ll be getting moist, juicy meat in a crisp coating packed full of flavour. Karaage is the fried chicken of Japan- nearly always meat from the thigh of the bird, seasoned with soy sauce and ginger before being dusted in a light coating of potato starch and fried to crunchy perfection. Unusually for Japanese cuisine, large amounts of garlic are included in the marinade for karaage, along with the addition of some sake this helps to offset the slightly gamey flavour that chickens had before post-war American birds were imported to become the mainstay of local farms. The soy sauce used in marinating the chicken imparts a slightly reddish brown colour to the coating, which is said to resemble the reflection of maple leaves in the water of the river Tatsuta in Nara, and is how the dish received its second, more romantic name, Tatsuta-age.
We like to accompany our karaage with a fresh dipping sauce made from spring onions and shiro shoyu, or white soy sauce; brewed with more wheat than other soy sauces, it has a much milder flavour which makes it perfect for seasoning lighter meats such as chicken or seafood.
Whether you know them as karaage, Tatsuta-age or even as JFC, these two-bite-sized pieces of juicy chicken are a perfect way to start a meal or make a fantastic addition to a bento or lunch box.
Dipping sauce ingredients.
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons shiro shoyu
- 1 spring onion
- 2 teaspoons caster sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
- Mix together the vinegar, soy sauce, sugar and sesame oil in a small bowl, finely chop the spring onion and stir it into the sauce. Let the sauce rest for about half an hour before serving to allow the flavours to combine fully.
- 500g boneless chicken thighs (we prefer to leave the skin on for our karaage, you get a juicier flesh and a crisper exterior)
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sake
- 45g piece of fresh ginger
- 4 fat cloves of garlic
- a pinch of sugar
- 50g potato starch
- 50g plain flour
- salt and pepper
- vegetable oil for deep frying
- lemon wedges to serve
- Peel the piece of ginger using either a vegetable peeler or the side of a teaspoon, then grate the root into a large bowl, making sure you catch all the fiery juice that runs off in the process. Coarsely chop the garlic cloves and add these to the ginger along with the soy sauce, sake and sugar, then stir well to combine.
- Cut each chicken thigh into halves or quarters depending on how large you want your finished karaage to be (I like pieces that are just a little too big to fit into your mouth, so depending on my mood I can either take two delicate bites of the chicken, or greedily cram in the whole scalding hot morsel in one go) then add the chicken to the marinade mixture and stir thoroughly to ensure each piece is completely coated. Allow the meat to rest for about half an hour in this mixture, but no longer than an hour as the soy sauce has a tendency to draw some moisture from the chicken if you leave it too long.
- Fill a large saucepan about halfway with vegetable oil ready for deep frying, then slowly heat it to 160ºC. While you’re waiting for the oil to warm up, mix the potato starch, flour, salt and pepper in a large plastic food bag. Lift the pieces of chicken from their marinade and drop them into the flour mixture, seal the food bag and shake well to thoroughly coat the chicken. The chicken should have a variety of textures to it, some moist batter-like patches sitting next to a dusty area, and even a few places where you have nuggets of unmixed flour clinging to the meat- these all help make the fried coating delicate.
- When the oil has reached 160ºC, gently add the chicken piece by piece, being careful not to overcrowd the pan. Fry the meat for about two minutes until it is cooked and slightly golden coloured, remove the chicken and rest the pieces on a wire rack. Skim and discard any scraps from the hot oil using a wire mesh strainer, then turn the heat up until the oil reaches 180ºC.
- Fry the karaage pieces for a second time at this higher temperature for about 45 seconds, this helps the chicken develop a darker crust that stays crisp for longer. Once cooked, drain the pieces on a wire rack again before transferring to your serving plates. Serve the karaage with a generous sprinkle of coarse sea salt, a wedge of lemon to cut through the grease and a bowl of the dipping sauce.
Makes about 15-20 pieces of karaage, which serves 4-6 people as an appetiser.