In Japan, you can find karaage everywhere, from high-end izakayas to convenience stores to the home kitchen. It’s an everyday food, something you’d have for dinner, then put in a bento for lunch the next day. There are a few key things that make Japanese fried chicken extra special. First, it’s made from the best part of the bird—dark meat—which gets marinated in an alchemical combination of ginger, garlic, soy sauce, and sake, making it extra succulent. The crust is lighter and crispier than others, thanks to the cornstarch in the breading, and the chicken is boneless, making it easy to devour in a couple of bites. In Japan, fried chicken is also a Christmas food, thanks to a successful marketing campaign launched by Kentucky Fried Chicken in the 1970s, which linked the holiday to eating buckets of KFC. A typical Japanese Christmas meal might include fried chicken, Japanese Strawberry Shortcake, and a bottle of bubbly for adults, or sparkling juice for the kids. Instead of buying the fried chicken, my mom made it from scratch. This recipe is an adaptation of hers.
Karaage (Japanese Fried Chicken)
- 2 pounds boneless, skin-on (if possible) chicken thighs (see Note), cut into quarters
- 3-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
- 3 garlic cloves, grated
- 1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more for sprinkling
- 1/4 cup sake
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 large egg
- Canola or other neutral oil, for deep-frying
- 3/4 cup cornstarch or potato starch
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 lemon, cut into wedges
- Place the quartered chicken thighs in a large bowl or a resealable plastic bag.
- In a bowl, mix the ginger, garlic, salt, sake, soy sauce, and egg together until well blended. Transfer the marinade to the container with the chicken and mix to coat. Marinate, covered, in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or up to overnight. The longer the chicken marinates, the more tender and flavorful it will be.
- Line a baking sheet with two layers of paper towel. Pour 2 inches canola oil into a Dutch oven and heat over medium high heat to 350ºF on a deep-fry thermometer.
- Drain the chicken in a colander to get rid of excess liquid. In a shallow bowl, whisk the cornstarch with the flour. Dredge 4 or 5 pieces of chicken at a time, dusting off any excess. Using dry, heatproof tongs or wooden chopsticks, place the dredged chicken carefully into the hot oil, taking care not to splash.
- Fry 4 or 5 pieces at a time (depending on the size of the pot) without overcrowding. Turn after 3 minutes and cook for 3 minutes more. The color should be a nice and golden brown. Transfer to the paper towels and sprinkle with salt. Serve with lemon wedges.