Kara-age served with lettuce and lemon
Credit: Hirotomo T Flickr
Kara-age from the konbini
Kara-age, Japanese style fried chicken
Credit: Big Ben in Japan
Kara-age is one of the great classics of Japanese popular cuisine. You'll find this dish of fried chicken in izakaya, and sold in konbini at the counter or in bento boxes.
Kara-age: what is it?
Kara-age is chicken that's fried and marinated in soy sauce. The pieces of meat are coated with flour or potato starch before frying. Then it's eaten however you like: with lemon, mayonnaise or simply plain. The crispness of the coating contrasts with the chicken, which melts in your mouth. Usually accompanied by a small salad, this dish is easily enough for a full meal.
After the Second World War, there were shortages of everything in Japan. With food, a major state reform introduced new methods, such as industrial breeding: necessary to feed a large population for less money. Chicken was favored as it was already popular in the family kitchen for it's use in many recipes. The frying method has long existed in Japan since the Edo period (1603-1868), when tempura was in fashion.
In Japan, you'll rarely see a whole roasted chicken being eaten, as we would in western cuisine. Kara-age is an everyday dish for all social strata. To make the preparation easier in the kitchen, everything is sold pre-prepared in the supermarket - chicken is usually sold boneless, cut into pieces, with kara-age ko, the special flour for the coating stocked right next to it. Or even simpler, you can usually find fried chicken hot and ready to eat at the prepared food counter!
As is often the case in Japan, there are regional differences. Traveling through the archipelago, you will discover different tastes, depending on whether you are in Nagano (sanzoku-yaki), Hokkaido (zangi), Imabari (sen-zangi), Niigata (hanba-age, half chicken fries), Seki, Gifu (seki kara-age, which is black because it's mixed with a type of algae).
In the recipe for kara-age tebasaki, fried chicken wings are soaked in a spicy sauce, which is a speciality of Nagoya. In the town of Nakatsu (in Oita prefecture, Kyushu), about sixty shops and restaurants offer kara-age, which is why it's called the sacred city of kara-age: a good reason for a visit!
Read also: Tonkatsu
The recipe for kara-age
Take a boneless chicken thigh and and cut into bite-size pieces. Marinate in a mixture of soy sauce, sake, or white wine, grated ginger, and a little sesame oil. Roll each piece in seasoned flour (or even better, a mixture of flour and potato starch), then deep-fry in oil until crisp. Serve hot with shredded cabbage or salad, and enjoy!