The skin crisps to crunchy cracklings and the meat melts with juicy tenderness – Chicken Karaage 鶏のから揚げ is an iconic and timeless go-to dish that many Japanese children would expect their mothers to learn by heart and cook deliciously well for them.
Always been a classic in Japan and immensely popular, everyone can’t seem to resist Karaage.
From traditional Iza-kaya restaurants to colourful food stalls along the streets, they can be found everywhere with least hassle. Whilst back at home, this is likely to be one of the most wanted dishes countless Japanese children hope their mothers make for them all the time.
Surely my son is one of them. George plays baseball and mostly on weekends, he has long hours of practice which required him to bring along a packed lunch. Last Sunday he asked me again – to make him some Karaage for lunch despite the fact that he just had them barely a week ago!
So what are the secrets behind these Japanese-style fried chicken that makes George and other Japanese kids coming back for more time and again.
Karaage is made only with boneless chicken meat.
First of all, I would say Karaage is very “easy to eat”. Conveniently, you can pop one or two pieces into your mouth neatly anytime without worrying about getting a mess. Uses only boneless chicken thigh meat, they really make an irresistible finger food choice.
Karaage has a different way of making.
The way to make Karaage is slightly different from typical fried chicken drumsticks whereby no premix flour is used. Instead boneless chicken thigh meat is cut into small chunks and prior season with a simple marinade, then coat with potato starch before frying them all to a golden brown colour.
I personally find this way of making straightforward, what’s more it is natural and healthier without any artificial food additives included.
Make the most succulent Karaage ever at home, season the chicken meat first …
Do you have a habit of seasoning your meat before cooking them? Seasoning isn’t just about flavouring, it tenderises that piece of meat too. For example of Karaage, the acidity from soya sauce and cooking sake softens the chicken meat by breaking up the muscle fibers which eventually allows salt and the unique tang of ginger to seep in.
Ginger further enhances the meat by giving it a bit more of juicy tenderness, and what I’m most happy about is it helps to remove the metallic smell/taste that often found in meat – something which I really hate.
On the other hand, there are people who find it too dominant and often shun the idea of using ginger. If you’re one of them, not to worry – because once exposed to heat, ginger will lose its pungency, leaving only a tinge of mellow sweetness behind.
… but for no more than 30 minutes.
For some tougher meats like pork and beef, we can leave the marinade in for longer hours. But since poultry are relatively more tender, the acid from soya sauce and cooking sake will dry out and toughen the meat easily. So for best results, leave it in for no more than 30 minutes.
Make the most succulent Karaage ever at home, use potato starch …
We often use potato starch Katakuriko 片栗粉 to thicken soups, sauces or even puddings – have you tried using it to deep-fry with meat before?
Try it with Karaage! You will be amazed only one thin layer is all it takes to give us that to-die-for texture.
Also consider a 50-50 blend of potato starch and rice flour — personally I love this combination — the result is so exceptionally good I don’t even have to return the meat back into the oil for a second round, unlike some recipes which require you to.
… but don’t blend it together with meat in the marinade.
The key is never add the starch (and rice flour) onto the meat while they are still soaked in the marinade. The liquid will dissolve it, clump up and even form lumps before frying. See instruction no.5 for details.
For a 2 persons’ share
Prep time 15 mins, Idling time 20-30mins, Cook time 20 mins
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What You Need
300g of chicken thigh meat (without bones)
1½ Tbsp of Koikuchi dark soya sauce
1½ Tbsp of cooking sake
1 tsp of salt
A dash of white pepper
2-3 tsp of ginger juice
1 tsp of grated garlic (optional)
1-2 wedges of sudachi lime/lemon (optional)
For deep frying
3 Tbsp of Katakuriko
3 Tbsp of rice flour (optional)
Vegetable oil for deep-frying
1- Squeeze fresh ginger juice.
Cut off the skin of ginger and grate it coarsely on a grater. Some juice will flow out naturally as you grate, however, collect the gratings and give a little squeeze with your hand as shown, to juice out more. Transfer the juice to a bowl and discard gratings.
2- Tenderise meat and cut into small chunk size.
Remove any unwanted fats you possibly can find on the piece of meat, or skin it completely if you prefer. Next, get a meat tenderiser to run a few times across the front and back surface of the meat. If you do not own a tenderiser, you can use a fork too. Once done, roughly cut into 8 small equal sizes.
3- Marinate meat.
Place a plastic bag over a bowl like the way you see here, drop in the pieces of meat. Add in soya sauce, cooking sake, salt and pepper. Then follow by the freshly squeezed ginger juice. If you prefer garlicky flavour, add a teaspoon of grated garlic.
4- Combine meat with seasonings in a bag.
Lift the bag up from the bowl, press out any excess air then secure it with a knot. Gently “massage” it for a while to allow the meat and seasoning blend evenly. Place it on a tray and chill for 20-30 mins at most.
5- Coat meat with starch.
Prior frying, take the bag out from fridge and return the meat to room temperature. Meanwhile, combine the rice flour and potato starch in a tray. Subsequently, coat thinly on every piece and give it a little squeeze so that the flour sticks on well.
6- Deep-fry in oil.
Prepare a deep pot, fill up with oil but no more than half. Heat it up to a temperature of 170°C, then drop the meat in one at a time. Under medium heat, fry for 3-4 mins. Use chopsticks/tongs to flip them a few times as they brown evenly. Then gradually increase the heat and continue to fry for another 2 mins or so.
Once completely turned golden brown, carefully remove them from the oil and place on a tray with wire rack to drain off any excess oil. Lastly, transfer to a plate and serve them with 1 or 2 wedges of sudachi lime/lemon.
I prefer to use freshly squeezed ginger juice – if you do not have access to fresh ginger, add 1 tsp of ginger powder will work fine too.
Tenderising the meat helps to soften fibers, making the meat easier to chew and to digest. If you do not own a meat tenderiser, use the back of your knife to gently pound on the meat instead.
Draining off excess oil on a wire rack is more effective than on kitchen towels. Leave them out on the rack to cool and dry off, they will stay crispy throughout.
For a complete gluten-free dish, just replace the soya sauce with a gluten-free substitute.
What do I like about this dish?
It’s definitely a little dish to please your little ones, well even the adults too.
I do likewise – Japanese mothers serve Karaage warm and crispy as part of a main meal at home. When there is leftovers, they would either pack them into children’s lunch boxes or turn them into a simple lunch with onigiri rice balls.
I even bring it to pinics or dinner parties, so it’s really never too much when it comes to Karaage.
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