Tonight’s dinner: Tori no kara-age

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything, and I still have a backlog of recipes that I’d really like to write about, but I thought I would start off with something a little more immediate: tonight’s dinner, tori no kara-age, or Japanese-style fried chicken.

I just came back from a few days in Chicago, where I was able to go to Mitsuwa Marketplace, the Japanese supermarket up in Arlington Heights. If you’re in the Chicago area and like Japanese stuff or Japanese food (or just enjoy supermarkets in general), you should definitely go there. They’ve got Japanese books, cookware, a sake section, and a food court. 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. I grew up with tuna in cans, and so I had no idea that they were such big fish until then.

On Wednesday, I ate some tonkatsu in the food court, and then browsed the supermarket and wished that I lived in Chicago so that I could buy Japanese food every week. It (combined with all the coverage of the disasters in Japan in the news recently) made me nostalgic for my time in Japan. It was actually 10 years ago this August that I first went to Japan. I loved my time there.

This is a food blog, so let me just note that I loved the food, too. Tori no karaage was the first dish my host mom ever made for me – 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.

Karaage is deep-fried but not difficult, and I’ve actually made this recipe a handful of times. I think it’s been 3 or 4 years since the last time, and I forgot about it until I saw it on a menu board in the food court this week.

This recipe serves two, but it would be easy to adjust it to feed one person or several. Prep is simple. Cut chicken breasts into bite-size pieces. Make sure they’re uniform so that they’ll cook evenly. Make your marinade of soy sauce, garlic, black pepper, and ginger – soy sauce is salty, so I never add extra salt to anything I add soy sauce to. The ginger is given in weight – 30 grams would be about a 1.5-2 inch piece of gingerroot. I actually only had half of much gingerroot as I needed. I did not grate the ginger or the garlic, but I did pulverize the ginger in a bullet blender to make it more paste-like.

After the chicken marinated, I dredged it in the flour-cornstarch mixture (corn flour is usually just corn starch). The chicken isn’t that wet since it’s soaked up all the marinade, and it coats easily without becoming gooey (with a few exceptions). I’ve fried the chicken on the stove in the past, but it’s really easiest if you have a deep fryer. If you do it on the stove, be sure to leave plenty of room at the top of the pan so your oil doesn’t overflow; keep your oil hot enough; and don’t overcrowd the pan. I would also suggest a fry or candy thermometer so you can make sure your oil stays at 350F. I fried about one chicken breast’s worth of meat at a time, 5 minutes per batch.

Tori no karaage (Japanese fried chicken)

Even though I only had half the ginger I needed for this, they still turned out pretty good. Some were crispier than others, and I don’t have a good explanation for this. Some of the pieces must have been a little more damp on the surface from the marinade than others were. Normally these would be an appetizer, and in the past I’ve served them with rice, miso soup, and a vegetable (like a salad or sauteed spinach with sesame). I think these would be a good introduction into deep frying, technique-wise. These are also a great introduction to Japanese food, since the garlic-ginger-soy combination is amazing. Definitely give these a try.

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