Most people think that karaage translates to fried chicken but that’s not really accurate. Karaage is a Japanese cooking method that involves dredging small pieces of uncooked food in starch and deep frying them until golden and crisp. In short, karaage can be fried seafood or vegetables too.
Chicken karaage is just fried chicken fillet. But there’s so-so chicken karaage, good chicken karaage and great chicken karaage. We ate a lot of it in Japan. The worst I ever had was at the Rinku food court but the best we ever had was from a food truck.
One morning, we were walking towards Dotonbori planning on having late breakfast there. We diverted from our usual path and discovered a food truck parked in front of a hostel called NanNan Stay. Chicken karaage! We stopped, just curious at first, but the curiosity grew because the signage was in Korean.
Korean chicken karaage? Yes, the food truck owner said. We set aside the initial plan to have breakfast in Dotonbori and ordered. The food was amazing.
What set the Korean food truck’s chicken karaage from the others we’ve had? The light but ultra crisp coating, the spices and the perfect frying. With the wrong kind of oil and cooking temperature, chicken karaage, as simple as it may be, will never be a good experience. The food truck owner knew how to cook and season chicken karaage correctly. And I had the perfect peg for a homecooked version.
We always use chicken thigh fillets for our karaage. It’s the default in Japan where breast meat is not as favored as it is in the West. Skin on thigh fillets are best but if the chicken is fatty enough (like what you see in the photo above), it’s alright if the fillets are skinless. What’s important is that the chicken has enough fat to help it stay moist during frying.
The fillets are cut into bite-size pieces and marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, mirin, grated ginger and grated garlic for at least half an hour.
Then, each piece of chicken is rolled in potato starch and the excess is shaken off. Right, the coating is just starch. No batter.
Next comes the frying. Like most fried chicken dishes in Japan and Korea, karaage is fried twice. First, over medium heat for two to three minutes. The chicken gets cooked through at this stage but the lovely crispness happens during the second frying which is done over high heat. In the photo above, you can see the difference in the color and texture of the coating after the first and second frying.
How you serve chicken karaage is up to you. Treat it as a snack or serve it with rice as a main course. What goes on the side is up to you as well. Shredded white cabbage is the most common side vegetable served with fried food in Japan but other greens are just as good. And the dipping sauce? Okay, let me show you a photo.
That’s the chicken karaage I ordered in Dotonbori. The fried chicken came smothered with a sweet spicy sauce and topped with nori, scallions and sesame seeds. So, while Japanese mayo is the most common accompaniment of chicken karaage, you may serve it with just about any sauce that goes well with fried chicken. In fact, if you want something simpler, just squeeze lemon juice over the chicken and that’s good too.
- 500 grams chicken thigh fillets - (skin on is recommended)
- ¼ cup Japanese soy sauce
- ¼ cup mirin
- 1 teaspoon grated garlic
- 1 teaspoon grated ginger
- 1 ¼ cups potato starch - you may need more, or less, depending on the size of your chicken pieces
- peanut oil - or other oil with a high smoking point
- Wipe the chicken thigh fillets dry with paper towels then cut into cubes. We like 2"x2" cubes but you can make them slightly larger or smaller than that.
- Place the chicken cubes in a bowl, add the soy sauce, mirin and ginger, and mix well. Cover the bowl and marinate in the fridge for 30 minutes.
- In a fryer, heat enough cooking oil to reach a depth of at least three inches.
- Drain the chicken and dredge each piece in starch.
- Over medium heat (310F to 325F if you're using a thermometer), fry the chicken cubes in batches. Three to four minutes per batch or just until the coating starts to turn crisp. Let the chicken rest on a rack as you fry the next batch, and so on.
- When all the chicken cubes have been fried, turn up the heat to high (that's 350F to 375F with a thermometer).
- Fry the chicken cubes a second time, in batches, for another two minutes.
- Serve your chicken karaage immediately.