Japanese Fried Chicken (Tori no Kara-age)
This Japanese fried chicken is near and dear to my heart. The recipe, called tori no kara-age, was the first dish my host mom ever made for me when I studied abroad – we ate it the night I moved in with my homestay family. My host mom was a fantastic cook, and this was the first of many delicious things she made for me.
That said, it’s been several years since I made this recipe. I’m not sure why I’ve waited so long to remake this garlicy, gingery, soy-saucy chicken. In fact, I originally posted this recipe 7 years ago. Interestingly, the date I planned to make it this year happened to be the same date I made it in 2011. How serendipitous!
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When I wrote about it years ago, I talked about my nostalgic trip to the Mitsuwa supermarket in Arlington Heights, outside Chicago. We lived a three hour drive away from it, so we could only go a handful of times when we lived in Illinois. Studying in Japan made a huge impact on me as a college student, so I adored going there.
I love supermarkets, but it wasn’t just a supermarket. They had Japanese books, cookware, a sake section, a food court, a pastry shop. The first time a friend took us there, it was a Saturday or a Sunday and the supermarket had a giant tuna. You just walked right in the front door, and you could buy a part of this fresh tuna, cut specifically for you. It wasn’t behind a glass case or anything! I grew up with tuna in cans, and so I had no idea that they were such big fish until then.
So after eating in the food court, and browsing the supermarket and wishing that I lived in Chicago so that I could buy Japanese food every week, I realized that I should make more Japanese food. So I specifically made this Japanese-style fried chicken, or tori no kara-age.
Kara-age is deep-fried but not at all difficult, and I’d actually made this recipe (from Bento.com; no, not my host mom’s recipe, but I wish it were) a few times before I started this website. I’d just forgotten about it as I tried my 365 recipe challenge in 2010, and with several moves and having a kid, I’d forgotten about it again until I started looking through my archives.
Fried Chicken in Japan
Fried chicken is actually huge in Japan. I was surprised at the number of Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants I found there. And the quality of the food at them was excellent. (Side note: apparently Kentucky Fried Chicken is a recent Christmas tradition in Japan!)
To my knowledge, deep fried food was not widely cooked in Japan before Portuguese missionaries introduced tempura-frying in the 1600s. But it took off (no wonder – it’s delicious!) and, the Japanese made it their own, putting a Japanese spin on it. There’s lots of good Japanese fried food to be had – karaage, tonkatsu (pork cutlets), croquettes, tempura, to name a few. And cooks in the United States love breading things in panko, which comes from Japan and is literally written “bread powder” or “bread flour.”
I originally said that this recipe serves two, but having just made it, I’d say it would serve more like four or five. It depends on the size of your chicken breasts, but ours clocked in at just under 2 pounds.
Prep is simple. Make sure your chicken is in uniform bite-sized pieces, so they’ll cook evenly. Soak in a simple marinade, which leaves little behind. I usually don’t add extra salt since soy sauce is salty. Remove the chicken from the marinade and coat it with a flour-cornstarch mixture. I recommend coating the chicken right before you put it in the hot oil; it can become a little gooey if it rests, and will stick to other pieces if they touch.
A tip – use chopsticks to flour your chicken, if you can use them. It’s much easier than using a fork, and cleaner than using your fingers.
I’ve cooked the chicken in both a skillet on the stove and in a deep fryer. Deep frying is easiest; you worry less about hot oil splatters, and it’s easy to keep the oil at 350F. If you use a skillet, you need to use a candy thermometer to monitor the temperature of the oil, which can drop dramatically – especially if you overcrowd the pan. Last time I made it on the stove, I overcrowded the pan, and the temperature of the oil dropped from 350F to 250F. Amazing, right?
In any case, if you use your stovetop, don’t overcrowd the pan. Monitor the temperature, and turn your heat higher if necessary. I start at medium or medium high heat on an electric range, and go from there. And, be sure you have plenty of room at the top of the pan so oil doesn’t overflow.
The original recipe has you garnish with a lemon twist, which is pretty and adds a bit of citrus, which goes well with the ginger. Tori no kara-age would normally be an appetizer, but I usually serve them as a main dish, along with a small bowl of Japanese short-grain white rice (that we do not cover with soy sauce), miso soup, and a vegetable (like sauteed spinach with sesame) or a simple salad with a gingery vinaigrette. If you can’t find Japanese rice or don’t want to buy it, Arborio will cook up similarly.
Making Japanese-style fried chicken is a great introduction to deep frying, technique-wise. The chicken pieces are small enough that they’ll be thoroughly cooked. But more importantly, these are delicious. The garlic-ginger-soy combination is amazing. This is definitely a recipe you should give a try.
Like this recipe or have questions? Leave me a comment below!
Japanese Fried Chicken, or Tori no Kara-age as it is called in Japanese, is bite-sized chicken marinated with ginger, soy sauce, and garlic, then lightly coated with a mixture of flour and cornstarch and deep fried. Bright and delicious, it's a great snack or meal!
- 1.5-2 pounds chicken breasts (cut into bite-sized pieces)
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce (I use lower sodium)
- 2 tablespoons ginger (grated or minced) (30 grams)
- 2 cloves garlic (minced) (1 teaspoon)
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- salt and black pepper (to taste)
- vegetable oil (for frying)
- a few lemon slices (for topping; optional)
Combine bite-sized chicken with soy sauce, ginger, and garlic. Add a little salt (only if using lower sodium soy sauce) and black pepper. Let marinate for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat your vegetable oil in a large skillet on the stove, or in a deep fryer. If using a skillet, use about 1 inch of oil, place a candy thermometer in the oil (with the bulb not touching the bottom), and heat the oil to 350F. It will take at least 10-15 minutes, if not longer, for your oil to come to temperature. I recommend medium to medium-high heat on the stove, but you will have to make adjustments as you cook.
Combine flour and cornstarch in a bowl or on a plate. If you can handle chopsticks, use them to pick the chicken pieces from the marinade (there won't be much left) and roll them in the flour mixture. (If you can't use chopsticks, use your fingers or a fork; the chopsticks make this process much cleaner, though.) Set aside in a single layer, not touching if possible. I recommend flouring just as much chicken at a time as you can fry in one batch, then flouring the next batch of chicken. Flouring it in advance doesn't work very well; the breading can become a little damp.
Fry chicken in batches in 350F oil for 4-5 minutes. If I fry them on the stove, I like to give them a gentle stir once. Do not crowd the pan. Remove chicken from the oil with a strainer, and place on a plate lined with paper towels.
Repeat with remaining chicken. Serve with a twist of lemon if desired.
You can fry the bite-sized chicken on the stove, but your heat will be most consistent in a deep fryer if you have one available.
For a delicious variation, swap the cornstarch for cornmeal, which is a mistake I made when I first started cooking and didn't know what "corn flour" was. It makes the chicken crunchier, and gives it a Southern flair.
Cooking note: You may have to adjust the stove temperature to keep the oil temperature at 350F. The temperature can drop dramatically. How much will depend on your pan size, the amount of oil in it, the amount of chicken in the pan, and the strength of your stove burners. Start with the burner on medium or medium high, and adjust from there.
Adapted from Bento.com
(Originally published March 2011. Updated with recipe, content, and photos.)