When someone says Karaage, you automatically think of small bite-sized pieces of fried chicken. Karaage refers to the Japanese cooking technique of deep-frying proteins in oil. The most common protein being chicken; however, on my travels, I’ve had squid, fish, octopus and even oyster karaage.
Let’s be clear, karaage isn’t your regular, run of the mill “fried chicken”. The meat is marinated, coated in a light dusting of starch/flour mixture, and gently fried to perfection. The meat is moist, incredibly flavourful, and soft. The exterior is crispy yet light. There's a reason why people love this dish, often served as a snack food in bars, or tea houses here in North America.
Karaage, in particular chicken karaage, became popular after World War II after Japan experienced shortages of everything. Chicken was cheaper, easier to raise, readily available, and already a popular ingredient used in family cooking.
What’s the difference between tempura and karaage? Isn’t tempura fried as well? And yes, the method of deep frying food existed in Japan before the 1920s; It has been popular since the Edo period (1603-1868). The difference is not in the way the items are cooked but in the coating. The simplest explanation is that tempura’s coating is a batter, while karaage’s coating is dry. The two frying techniques are also heavily influenced by other cultures that visited/interacted with Japan throughout history.
You can learn more about karaage and the history of frying techniques in Japan here.
Here’s my take on Japanese Chicken Karaage.
1 pound of boneless, skinless chicken thighs (if you’re making a lot, grab two trays of chicken and double the recipe)
1 egg yolk
1 inch piece of ginger finely grated
3 garlic cloves finely grated
1 tablespoon sake, or Chinese cooking wine
1 tablespoon sesame oil
3 tablespoons good quality soy sauce
¼ cup of rice flour
¼ cup of potato starch
Cooking oil to fry or cooking spray for the air fryer
Cut your chicken into small 1-2 inch pieces and place the chicken into a bowl. I prefer 2-inch pieces. Add your egg yolk, sake, soy sauce, sesame oil, grated ginger and garlic. Stir until combined. Leave to rest in the fridge for an hour.
In a bowl or a tray, combine the rice flour and potato starch.
When ready, dredge each piece of marinated chicken into your flour/starch mixture and place it on a clean tray in preparation for frying.
Heat at least 4 cups of cooking oil to 325ºF (163ºC)
I don’t own a thermometer… I know when my oil is ready to fry when I place the end of my wooden spoon in the oil, and if I can see small bubbles appear around it, the oil is ready.
Fry 3 to 6 pieces at a time until the chicken is crispy; using your skimmer or chopsticks gently "stir" the chicken, preventing them from sticking together while cooking.
Remove from the oil and place on a wire rack to drain.
Place your coated chicken in your fryer basket or your fry rack. Arrange the chicken, ensuring the pieces do not touch.
Fry at 390ºF (198.9ºC) for a total of 12 minutes (depending on your air fryer). Make sure you flip the chicken at the halfway mark.
Serve with your favourite dipping sauce. I like to serve mine with a side of yam or sweet potato chips. It’s easy, slice your sweet potato and fry in the same oil until crispy.
There was no difference in taste; and only a slight difference in texture. The deep fried karaage was smoother. On the green plate, the air fried karaage is on the right. They were both delicious. I ate mine in front of my computer, while composing this post and catching up on work emails.