Chicken karaage, or Japanese fried chicken, is made by marinating chicken in soy sauce and sake and then coating it in egg white and potato starch and frying it twice. The result is blissfully crisp and golden on the outside, tender and ridiculously juicy on the inside.
Employees at Union Square Tokyo have developed their own family meal repertoire. Their version of fried chicken has the requisite crunch thanks to potato starch, which is found in the baking or kosher food section of most supermarkets. Boneless chunks of marinated chicken are lightly coated in egg white and potato starch, then twice-fried briefly until crisp. The first frying cooks the chicken through, and the second frying, at a higher temperature, turns it to golden brown perfection.–Michael Romano and Karen Stabiner
Chicken Karaage | Japanese Fried Chicken
- Deep-fry or candy or instant-read thermometer
- 3 tablespoons grated garlic cloves (from about 8 cloves)
- 4 teaspoons grated ginger root
- 1/2 cup soy sauce (or substitute gluten-free tamari) preferably low-sodium
- 1/4 cup sake
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken preferably dark meat, cut into 1 1/2-inch (4-cm) pieces
- 3 large egg whites lightly beaten
- 3/4 cup potato starch*
- Vegetable oil for deep-frying
- About 30 minutes before you intend to cook the chicken, remove it from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature.
- Drain the chicken, discarding the marinade. Return the chicken to the bowl. Add the egg whites and stir and turn to coat all the pieces. Add the potato starch and mix well.
- Heat 2 inches of oil over medium heat in a wok or heavy, deep-sided pot until it reaches 325°F (163°C) on a deep-fry or candy or instant-read thermometer. Fry the chicken in batches, being careful not to crowd the pan, just until the chicken is cooked through on the inside and golden brown on the outside, about 4 minutes. Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon and let it drain on paper towels or a brown paper bag. The chicken will look done, although it won't yet be incredibly crisp. That's okay. That's what the second frying is for. Wait until the temperature of the oil returns to 325°F (163°C) before frying the remaining chicken in batches.
- Crank the heat underneath the oil to 375°F (190°C). Using the slotted spoon, return the chicken to the oil in batches and fry until crisp, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain on clean paper towels and serve while still hot.
*Is potato starch better than flour for fried chicken?You can definitely deep fry food without a coating—think unbattered chicken wings. But that little bit (or a lot) of extra starchy batter is what makes fried food so appealing. A starchy coating provides a few benefits. Less moisture loss because the batter fries first and seals in most of the liquid, more gentle cooking of the interior food because of this sturdy coating, and just good, old-fashioned mouth appeal. Now, as far as wheat vs potato starch, you’ll find that they both crisp up to the same extent because of their molecular makeup. However, potato starch is quite a bit finer, closer to cornstarch, and lets you create a thinner coating. And thinner means crispier and more delicate.
Recipe Testers' Reviews
When I was a kid, I disliked sushi, yet my favorite restaurant was a sushi place because they had the most amazing karaage chicken. This recipe is a close replica of that dish. The bite-sized pieces are packed with flavor and have an awesome crunchy outside. I rarely deep-fry but once I realized that this was a recipe for one of my favorite chicken dishes, 2 inches of hot oil seemed less intimidating to me. It really is worth the effort to marinate the chicken and to take the extra time to fry it twice.
A few notes to share: Use chicken thighs over breast meat. The chicken won’t overcook and stays juicy. Definitely use low-sodium soy sauce and if you don’t, reduce the amount of salt. I used low-sodium soy sauce and kosher salt and the results were just right. The timing of the first fry was accurate for pieces that were 1 1/2 inches. (I had some smaller pieces and they cooked in about 3 minutes.)
Since the chicken marinates in the soy sauce mixture, it already goes into the oil a bit dark, and the first fry darkens the chicken even more. It doesn’t look pale or light but keep an eye on the coating getting too dark because the second fry could result in a burnt coating. The chicken does tend to easily clump together so not overcrowding is really important. However, if the chicken pieces do clump together, they are easy to pull apart after the first fry.
This two-step method for frying boneless chicken pieces worked beautifully for me. The marinade made the chicken well-seasoned with a slight Asian flavor that wasn’t as obvious in the finished dish as you might expect.
I found the frying times and temperatures to be appropriate. After the first frying, the chicken pieces were already golden and a novice fry-cook might think they were done. While the meat is cooked through at that point, the texture of the coating will not be what it should be—it will be too soft, thus the second fry at a higher temperature to really crisp it. The end product is crunchy on the outside and tender on the inside.
It’s important not to crowd the pan, and to give the oil time to come back up to temperature between batches. For me, that meant letting the oil heat back up for about 1 to 2 minutes between each batch. It is really important to keep monitoring the temperature, otherwise, the oil will have a tendency to be cooler with each successive batch, and your results will be sub-par.
I think these chicken nuggets need a dipping sauce to go with them. I used a Burmese chile-garlic sauce, which was a great combination, but you have a lot of flexibility here. Despite the Asian flavors in the marinade, even a Western-style sauce could be good with this chicken.
Originally published June 3, 2013