When I worked in Japan on the JET Programme, my adopted hometown of Nakatsu took pride in the local specialty of karaage (kah-rah-ah-gay), a kind of fried chicken. Locals told me that when Kentucky Fried Chicken, which is pretty popular across Japan, opened up in Nakatsu, it couldn’t stay in business because Nakatsu residents preferred karaage. Here’s my personal take on karaage:
This recipe serves 2 people as the main protein in a meal, or about 4 people as a shared appetizer.
- 400 grams (14 ounces) of chicken, cut into roughly uniform chunks, about the size of a McNugget (I don’t know how else to describe it). In Nakatsu, skin-on chicken thigh is usually used, but I used boneless skinless chicken breast for the batch in the picture and they came out great.
- King Arthur’s Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour, for dredging – the mix of tapioca, rice, and potato starch make for a light and crispy crust. Traditional recipes often call for katakuriko (Japanese potato starch)
- Canola or vegetable oil for shallow-frying
- 1 fresh lemon, lime, or kabosu
For the marinade:
- 1 scallion, minced
- 1-2 cloves of garlic, grated or pounded with a mortar and pestle
- 2-3 cm (~inch) piece of peeled fresh ginger, grated or pounded
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon shichimi togarashi, Japanese mixed chili pepper powder – optional
- 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce, Kikkoman organic is my go-to brand; Use tamari instead soy sauce and the whole recipe is gluten-free
- 1/2 tablespoon sake, cooking sake or the cheap stuff is fine
- 1 teaspoon mirin, I prefer the all-natural traditional method mirin from Eden Foods. The mirin is optional, you could substitute half a teaspoon of sugar instead.
- 1/2 tablespoon Kewpie Mayonnaise, What is this mayonnaise madness you ask? It helps the marinade adhere to the chicken, helps keep the chicken moist (important if you are using breast), and adds a bit of sweetness and umami as well.
Finely mince or pound the solid marinade ingredients in a mortar and pestle. Combine with all of the liquid marinade ingredients in a bowl and add the chicken pieces.
Coat the chicken with the marinade and let sit for 30 minutes.
Then dredge each piece of chicken in the all-purpose gluten-free flour. There is enough seasoning in the marinade itself, so there is no need to season the flour. Each piece of chicken should be lightly coated in flour.
Heat your oil in a cast iron or other sturdy pan. You only need enough oil for each chicken piece to be halfway submerged in oil. On my electric stove, I do this on medium heat. You will know when the oil is ready when you insert a wooden chopstick or skewer and it bubbles.
Fry three or four piece of chicken at a time until golden brown. Mine took about a minute and a half on each side. Be careful not to fry too many piece at a time, or you will cool down your oil too much.
Drain the chicken on a paper towel or cooling rack. Then serve with a squeeze of the lemon, lime, or kabosu. I also like to dip mine in some more Kewpie Mayo and a sprinkle of the shichimi togarashi.
To give you an idea of how serious Nakatsu is about karaage, here is a video (in Japanese) about how Nakatsu broke the Guinness World Record in 2019 for the largest serving of fried chicken made in a single day.