If the world had not been turned upside down by coronavirus, today would be the penultimate day of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics – closing ceremony eve if I can call it that. And this weekend, Japan would have been gripped by marathon fever. We might, just might, have seen a Japanese athlete win Olympic gold in the marathon on home soil – what history that would be! I’m getting goose bumps just thinking about it. Call me biased but I think the marathon is the best event in the Olympic programme.
So today, to keep the Tokyo 2020 fire burning in our hearts for one more year, I’m cooking up one of my all-time favourite Japanese dishes: kara age. It’s a simple dish – crispy fried chicken – but in a typically Japanese way, they’ve turned it into an absolutely delicious show-stopper.
You can find kara age everywhere in Japan – fresh, hot and crispy in ‘izakaya’ pubs, and on street stalls at ‘matsuri’ (festivals), or cold served in bento boxes in department store food halls, station kiosks and convenience stores.
Before I went to Japan, I rarely ate chicken with its skin on. I don’t know why, but chicken sold in the UK was mostly skinned. But in Japan it’s the opposite – and I soon discovered why. The skin has a higher fat content which gives more flavour and makes fried chicken much crispier. Any connective tissue will also be a good source of collagen, so I always try to make kara age with chicken with its skin on, if I can find it.
My sincere thanks to the owners and chef of Japanese restaurant Madoka in Malta, who kindly gave me this recipe.
Chicken thighs, ideally with skin on, 500g
Soy sauce, 60ml
Sugar, 1.5 tablespoon
Salt, a pinch
Cooking sake, 20ml
Root ginger, very finely grated, 2 tablespoons
Garlic, very finely grated, 1 tablespoon
Oyster sauce, 20g
Light vegetable oil for frying
Lemon, sliced for serving
• Cut the chicken into large bite-size pieces. Mix together all the other ingredients to make a marinade. Add the chicken, mix well, and leave for at least 30 minutes.
• Heat the oil in a large deep frying pan. Lift the chicken out of the marinade, allowing the liquid to drain off. Coat each piece well in cornflour.
• Fry for a few minutes until golden brown in colour and the chicken pieces are thoroughly cooked through.
• Place the fried chicken on kitchen paper to drain the excess oil. Serve immediately with sliced lemon squeezed on top.
Ideally kara age should be deep fried; my kitchen is not set up for deep frying, so I always shallow fry, with a generous amount of oil.