I’ve always had a thing for fried foods: french fries, onion rings, corn dogs, and doughnuts. You name it, if it’s fried, chances are good that I’d love it. Without a doubt, my favorite fried food is fried chicken. When I make it at home, I used to use a traditional Southern fried chicken recipe with buttermilk until I discovered chicken karaage, Japanese fried chicken, or JFC, for short. Now, it’s my go-to fried chicken recipe.
Chicken karaage, pronounced kah-rah AH-geh, is made with pieces of thigh meat (Chicken breast will be dry, trust me!) that is briefly marinated in soy sauce, sake, sesame oil, ginger, and garlic. The secret to these light and crispy Japanese chicken “nuggets” is potato starch, which is traditionally used in Japan instead of flour. Potato starch is a gluten-free thickener that gives soups and sauces a silky, smooth texture. Japanese cooks also sprinkle it on chicken and other meats before frying to achieve a light, crispy texture.
This recipe calls for frying the chicken twice, first at 325 degrees F to thoroughly cook the pieces of chicken, and then at a higher temperature to crisp them up and achieve the golden brown color. If you don’t want to fry twice, increase the temperature of the oil to 350 degrees F and fry until chicken is cooked all the way through. It’s worth double frying, though, as the chicken is full of flavor from the marinade and comes out tender and juicy on the inside and super light and crispy on the outside. Also, the chicken is not greasy or soggy when cold, which is why chicken karaage is often used in bento box lunches and potlucks.
A note on potato starch: It is different from potato flour and is sometimes hard to find. However, I have had good luck in finding it in the “Kosher” or “Asian” sections of major grocery stores here in Southern California as well as in larger Asian markets and, of course, online. If you can’t find it, cornstarch or a combination of equal parts all-purpose or cake flour and cornstarch are good substitutes.
A note on gluten free chicken karaage: To make this recipe gluten-free, make sure to use potato starch or a brand of cornstarch that is certified gluten-free as well as gluten-free soy sauce or tamari.
Chicken Karaage: Japanese Fried Chicken
Yields 2 to 3 servings
1 pound boneless, chicken thighs, with or without the skin, cut into bite-sized pieces
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 piece of ginger, about 1-1/2 inches, grated
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sake
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup potato starch, or as needed to lightly coat chicken pieces (cornstarch is a good substitute)
peanut or other vegetable oil, for deep frying
a few drops sesame oil, optional, to add to frying oil for extra flavor
1 lemon, cut in wedges
Lightly season chicken pieces with salt and black pepper. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine grated ginger, minced garlic, soy sauce, sake, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, and sugar. Add chicken pieces and let marinate for at least one hour in the refrigerator.
Pour enough vegetable oil into a large pot to reach a depth of 2 inches. Attach a deep-fry thermometer to the side of the pot and heat the oil to 325 degrees F over medium heat.
Lightly pat chicken pieces dry with a paper towel. Working in batches, toss chicken in the potato flour until lightly and evenly coated. Fry the chicken pieces a few at a time, until cooked through, about 3 to 4 minutes. Repeat until all the chicken is fried, letting the oil come back up to temperature before frying each batch.
Once all the chicken is cooked, turn up the flame and heat oil to 375 degrees F and fry the chicken nuggets a second time, in batches ,until crisp and golden brown, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove fried chicken pieces and drain on a wire rack or on paper towel. Repeat until all the chicken is fried, letting the oil come back up to temperature before frying each batch.
Serve with plenty of lemon wedges.
Adapted from Just Hungry.
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