Karaage (揚 げ) are formidable and crunchy little bites of marinated and fried chicken. They are one of the greatest classic recipes of Japanese cuisine.
What is karaage?
In Japanese cuisine, karaage (揚 げ) or kara-age, is the name of a cooking technique in which various ingredients, mostly meat or fish, are fried in a large quantity of oil.
How to make karaage?
To prepare karaage, the main ingredient is first cut into small pieces and marinated in soy sauce, garlic and ginger.
These small pieces coated with their marinade, are rolled into potato starch or cornstarch, and fried twice.
The chicken version, specifically called tori no karaage, is perfect when each piece remains juicy inside and crunchy on the outside.
Generally, chicken thighs are used for this recipe. More fatty than chicken breast, this part of the chicken contains more juice and flavor. It is also possible to leave the skin on for an even crispier exterior.
In some regions, certain recipes don’t use marinade, which is a shame. The soy, sake, and mirin trio accompanied by garlic and ginger is very common in Japanese cuisine, and it is this mix that gives karaage its typical Japanese flavor. In addition, the marinade significantly adds to the juicy aspect of karaage
Potato starch is essential for this recipe. It allows for frying in an airy, light and crispy way, or at least more than with classic all-purpose flour.
Some rules for frying karaage
These are very important cooking rules that apply to fried food in general and they can be applied to the recipe for karaage but also to all the recipes that involve frying of some sort.
When you put food in hot frying oil, if it reaches the bottom and stays there, it means that the temperature is below 300 F and therefore not high enough to fry it properly.
If the food reaches the middle of the oil immediately, it means that the oil temperature is between 300 F and 350 F and is ideal for frying.
When, on the contrary, the food remains directly on the surface and immediately begins to fry, it means that the oil temperature is above 350 F, usually around 390 F, the temperature above which oil starts to burn. This temperature is too high to cook the food inside and thus will only cook quickly outside, leaving the inside raw.
What is the origin of karaage?
One thing is certain, the end of the word, age means “fried”, but the meaning of kara is uncertain.
There are two interpretations depending on the kanji used:
Kara can indeed be written 唐, which means “Tang Dynasty” or “China” thus indicating a Chinese origin to karaage that would be translated into “Chinese frying”.
Kara can also be written 空, meaning “empty”, highlighting the absence of batter in this cooking technique, differentiating it from tempura for example. It is said that this fried food was originally a dish fried in oil without any seasoning, flour or any other ingredient.
These Japanese kanji are signs linked to Chinese characters and are used to write a part of the Japanese language.
It is therefore believed that karaage has a Chinese origin.
Karaage was introduced from China during the Edo period. The Edo or Tokugawa era is the traditional subdivision of Japan’s history beginning around 1600, with the takeover of Tokugawa Ieyasu during the Battle of Sekigahara, and ending around 1868 with the Meiji Restoration. It has been dominated by the Tokugawa shogunate of which Edo, the former name for the city of Tokyo, was the capital.
At the time it was not just called karaage but also toage and was only served with fried tofu and then cooked in soy sauce and sake.
It was at the beginning of the Shōwa era, the period of Japan’s history in which Emperor Shōwa ruled the country from December 1926 to January 1989, that karaage began to spread throughout Japan, the tofu giving way mainly to chicken, which has today become the most widespread version of karaage.
At the beginning of the Shōwa era, Japan suffered food shortages following the war and the country began to open many poultry farms as part of its new policies.
As a result of trial and error on how to eat chickens reared in these poultry farms, many people have come to know and appreciate the cooking recipe for karaage.
Karaage only became an essential dish in Japan after the Second World War.
Karaage has a very sacred place in Japan: the northern part of the Ōita prefecture, especially the cities of Nakatsu and Usa, where there were many chicken farms. This area has become the temple of karaage, and is recognized as such nationwide. In Ōita, a culture that favors this fried chicken has taken root.
In a nutshell, in Japan, there are two schools of thought: some admit that karaage is of Chinese origin since the kanji in Chinese refers to the Tang dynasty while the Ōita prefecture in Kyushu claims to be at the heart of karaage worldwide and indeed counts today many restaurants offering their version of this fried chicken.
Karaage is probably one of the most delicious fried chicken recipes in the world. It is exceptionally juicy and tasty and definitely worth a try! But beware, anyone who has tried karaage could become addicted to it!
- 2 lb boneless chicken thighs with or without skin, cut into small pieces
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sake
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 tablespoons freshly chopped ginger
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 4 oz. potato starch
- Frying oil
- In a large bowl, mix the chicken pieces (cold) with soy sauce, sake, sugar, ginger and garlic and marinate for 1 hour at room temperature, away from any heat source.
- Prepare a metal cooling rack.
- Heat a large volume of oil in a non-stick frying pan (no stainless steel frying pan).
- Bring the oil to a temperature of about 340 F.
- Roll each chicken piece, well coated with marinade, into the potato starch.
- Tap them lightly to remove excess starch.
- Using tongs or chopsticks, dip the chicken pieces in hot oil.
- Fry for about 1 minute on each side or until lightly browned.
- Remove the chicken pieces from the oil using a slotted spoon and let them stand on the metal rack until they are warm.
- Filter the oil and bring it to a temperature of about 340 F.
- Fry the chicken a second time for about 2 minutes, until it becomes golden and crisp.
- Drain again on the wire rack and eat while still hot.
Leaving the chicken to rest at room temperature means that the chicken will not bring the oil temperature down, and that it will be crunchier. In addition, it will cook faster than if you left it to marinate in the refrigerator.