Let’s Talk Food: Japanese fried chicken or karaage

  • Photo courtesy Audrey Wilson Prepared karaage chicken.

“Karaage” is Japanese fried chicken, created by a Toyoken restaurant in Beppu, Japan. You can find chicken karaage in convenient stores around Japan, such as 7-11, FamilyMart and Lawson.

It is also a popular item at izakayas and many restaurants.


Before the first Europeans on Japanese soil, the Portuguese missionaries and merchants, came to Kagoshima Prefecture in southern Kyushu in 1543, the Japanese did not fry their food in oil. It was the Portuguese who taught the Japanese how to fry foods, as well as baking bread. During the religious seasons like Lent, they fried fish to forgo eating meat.

There is a karaage festival in Oita, held in September, with over 60 different shops serving their unique versions of this wonderful dish. Why in Oita, you ask? The people of Oita are reputed to eat more chicken meat than any other prefecture in Japan and their two most popular ways of preparing chicken are toriten and karaage. Toriten is chicken tempura, originally from Oita prefecture, blends the karaage and the tempura to make this dish. The chicken is marinated like it is done in karaage and then dipped in a tempura batter instead of potato or corn starch. Toriten is usually a side dish or a topping on udon, or toriten udon. It is usually served with a salad with a citrus/shoyu dipping sauce and is an inexpensive yet filling meal.

Karaage is marinated in soy sauce, garlic, ginger then dipped in egg and potato starch and fried.

Several prefectures in Japan claim to make the best karaage.

In Miyazaki prefecture karaage is called nanban, which originated in China and means “Southern barbarians,” is a boneless, deep fried karaage served with white tartar sauce on top.

In Nagano, fried chicken is called sanzoku-yaku.

In Hokkaido, it is called zangi, imabari or sen-sangi.

In Niigata, fried chicken is hanba-age.

In Nagoya, in the town of Nakatsu, karaage tebasaki are fried chicken wings in a spicy sauce.

Okinawa’s version of karaage is called gurukun no kara-age, but gurukun is a banana fish, fried whole and served with lemon.

Chicken Karaage

Serves 2 as an appetizer or main dish

Peel and grate:

1-inch knob of fresh ginger

Place in large bowl, add:

1 clove garlic, pressed

2 tablespoons sake

2 tablespoons soy sauce

Cut each skin-on chicken thigh into 5 to 6 bite-size pieces:

1 pound boneless, skin-on chicken thighs

Season with:

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Add chicken pieces to marinade, let sit in marinade for 30 minutes.

In medium bowl, combine and whisk well:

4 tablespoons potato starch or cornstarch

1 tablespoon rice flour

In a deep frying pot, add to 1-1/2 to 2 inches:

Neutral cooking oil such as canola or vegetable oil

When oil is hot, drain chicken from marinade and coat each in potato starch or cornstarch and rice flour mixture.

When oil reaches 340 degrees, deep fry chicken for 90 seconds, or until it is light golden color. Work with a few pieces at a time, so the oil temperature does not drop. Transfer the chicken to a wire rack and drain excess oil.

Once all the chicken has been deep fried, increase oil temperature to 350 degrees and deep fry chicken for the second time for 45 seconds or until crispy and golden brown. Transfer cooked chicken to a paper towel lined platter.

Serve immediately with:

Lemon wedges



Shichimi togarashi (Japanese seven spice) for spicy kick

Mayonnaise, optional for dipping

Chicken Tempura or Toriten

Serves 2

Pound with a meat tenderizer for an even and faster cooking:

3/4 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast

Cut the chicken into roughly 3/4-inch wide and 3-inch long strips.

Season chicken pieces with:

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon sake

2 teaspoons soy sauce

Grate and add to marinade:

1 knob fresh ginger


1 clove garlic

Rub chicken with seasonings.

Set a medium bowl over a large bowl with ice water in it. Add and whisk well:

1 large egg

With a fine-mesh sieve, sift into the bowl with the egg:

1/3 cup cake flour

1/3 cup potato or corn starch

Gradually add:

1/3 cup water

Mix all together until just enough to combine but do not overmix

Add chicken pieces and coat well with the batter.

Using a tempura pan, heat to 350 degrees:

Vegetable or canola oil in pan to 1-1/2 to 2 inches

Add in 2-3 battered chicken pieces into hot oil.

Deep fry each batch until crispy on the courtside, about 4 minutes total, 2 minutes on each side. Pick up tempura crumbs to keep oil clean.

Serve with shredded cabbage and ponzu sauce or place a couple pieces on top of udon for toriten udon.

Chicken Nanban

Serves 2

Follow the recipe to make karaage, but the difference to make it nanbam, is this sauce and the tartar sauce.

Nanban sauce:

Boil together in a small saucepan:

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 tablespoons sugar

Add and turn heat off heat, otherwise the acidity of the vinegar will evaporate:

2 tablespoons Japanese rice vinegar


1 birds eye chili called Takanotsume or a dash of Shichimi togarashi

Soak the fried chicken briefly in the nanban sauce before serving, then drizzle with tartar sauce:

Japanese Tartar Sauce:

Boil til hard cooked, 10 minutes:

2 large eggs

While eggs are cooking, chop finely and set aside:

1/4 round onion

2 baby gherkin pickles

2 shiso leaves

Squeeze and zest from one lemon:

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon lemon rind

Place eggs in ice water, peel, smash with fork. Add chopped onion, gherkins, and shiso leave.

Add lemon juice, zest, and:

1/4 cup mayonnaise


Drizzle over fried chicken and serve.

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.

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