The ultimate guide to juicy, crisp and crunchy Japanese fried chicken karaage.
Have you ever watched Food Wars: Shokugeki no Soma? It’s an over the top and hilarious anime (based on a manga) that revolves around food and cooking battles. A couple of the episodes focus on chicken karaage, which both Mike and I love. Making chicken karaage and snacking on it while we watch has been one of our latest guilty pleasures.
What is chicken karaage?
Chicken karaage is Japanese fried chicken: bite sized, super juicy, intensely flavorful, with a crispy, cracker-y crunch.
What is karaage?
Karaage is a technique of Japanese cooking where an ingredient is lightly coated and deep fried. Most common is chicken karaage but you can also have things like ika karaage (squid) or geso karaage (squid tentacles).
How is chicken karaage served?
Just like fried chicken, karaage is a staple in Japanese cuisine. You’ll find it just about anywhere:
- home: lots of people make karaage at home as a main to serve with rice or as an appetizer
- restaurants/izakaya: super popular at restaurants as part of set meals or at izakaya to have with beer
- combini, supermarkets and depachika: you’ll always find chicken karaage at convenience stores, supermarkets, and the food halls on the bottom floors of department stores for people to buy and take home for bento, snacks, or dinner.
Chicken karaage ingredients
- Chicken – the main ingredient. skin on chicken thighs are best for juiciness and flavor. The skin adds an extra bit of crunchy deliciousness and fat and chicken thighs are tender and juicy
- Light Soy Sauce – We need just a bit of light soy sauce for umami and salt. We just want a hint of soy, not too much. Use a light Japanese soy sauce for the most authentic flavor. We like Yamasa.
- Sake – this helps to tenderize the chicken and balances the flavor of the soy sauce
- Sugar – We’re going to add just a hint of sugar to highlight the umami of the soy sauce
- Ginger – adds a warm, earthy undertone
- Garlic – because we love garlic!
- Starch – I like using potato starch for a coating that is light and crisp. The kind of starch you use for your coating is pretty important. More on coatings further down.
How to make chicken karaage
- Cut down your chicken: Start off with cutting the chicken into bite size pieces. Make sure you cut all your pieces the same size. You don’t want thin pieces because they tend to be drier, so try to make sure they are kind of chunky and thick.
- Marinate: From there you’ll want to marinate them in soy sauce, sake, sugar, ginger, and garlic. It’s a pretty dry marinade so be sure to mix everything up evenly so that all the chicken pieces are coated. You want them to marinate for at least 30 minutes. I like to leave them in a cool spot in the kitchen so the chicken can come up to room temp. This helps it cook more evenly and quickly instead of cooking it straight from the fridge.
- Coat the chicken: After the chicken has marinated, you want to coat it in potato starch. You dont need to drain the marinade, since it’s pretty much a rub, so just go ahead and toss the chicken in the starches, being sure to coat evenly and shaking off the excess.
- Fry: From there you can either deep-fry, air-fry, or oven-bake. The choice is yours!
If you’re air-frying or oven baking, you’ll need to spray the chicken with some oil. We like to use a simple oil mister bottle that we got on amazon so we can just use whatever oil we have on hand. Make sure there’s a good coating of oil on the tops of the chicken so it browns evenly, otherwise you might end up with chicken that’s not as golden.
For deep-frying, we’re going to do a double deep fry: once at a low temperature to cook the chicken through and then again at a higher temperature to get the chicken extra crispy and golden brown. Some tips:
- Make sure you use a heavy bottomed deep pot to deep-fry.
- You want a lot of headspace so the oil doesn’t boil and bubble over.
- A kitchen thermometer is best, but if you don’t have one, you can check the temperature by putting wooden chopsticks into the oil. There should be a bunch of little bubbles that come out the end. The ones that come with your take out orders are perfect.
- Gently add some pieces of chicken into the pot, being sure not to crowd, and fry until lightly golden. Drain on a wire rack and then turn up the heat and deep fry again until crisp and deeply golden.
What is the best type of coating for chicken karaage?
If you ever look closely at chicken karaage, you’ll notice that the coating looks different from fried chicken coated with flour. This is because karaage is made using potato starch or katakuriko 片栗粉. The crust of chicken karaage looks a bit powder-y with little balls of crunchiness. It’s not as golden as regular fried chicken because the starches used don’t brown up the same way. Starches tend to give a lighter, yet crisper coating because there’s no gluten in it.
Look for coarse potato potato starch for extra crunchy chicken. Coarse starch has slightly bigger granules that make the chicken even crunchier.
First off, what is starch?
Starch is a white, tasteless powder made up of two molecules: amylose and amylopectin. When heated, the molecules cross link with each other to form a rigid, brittle network that holds its shape. This translates to a crispy, crunchy feeling when we eat it. Bonus, starch is gluten-free!
Potato starch, made from potatoes, has a fairly high amylose content (20-22%). The amylose content is what makes it crunchy/crispy. It’s really easy to find at the grocery store. Note: potato starch is not the same as potato flour!
Cornstarch, made from corn kernels, is probably the most common starch for thickening sauces, baking, and coating things for frying. Its fairly high amylose (25-28%) makes it a really good choice for a deep fry coating. I always include it as the default choice for coating Asian fried chicken because it’s probably in your pantry already.
Coatings to avoid
Stay away from flour, rice flour, tapioca starch, and rice starch if you want a crispy crunchy crust that will stay crunchy.
Chicken karaage dips
Usually karaage is served on it’s own with a lemon wedge or some Kewpie mayo, but you can definitely serve up some dips too!
- Kewpie mayo: The classic, just squeeze it right out of that iconic bottle!
- Spicy mayo: mix 2 tbsp kewpie mayo with 2 tsp sriracha
- Garlic mayo: mix 2 tbsp kewpie mayo with 2 cloves minced garlic
- Ranch: mix 2 tbsp kewpie mayo with 1 tbsp buttermilk, 1 tbsp sour cream, 1 tsp rice vinegar, 1 tbsp finely chopped parsley, and pinch of garlic powder
- Jalapeño ranch: mix the above with 1 jalapeños, reseeded and diced
- Creamy parmesan: mix 2 tbsp kewpie mayo, 2 tbsp finely grated parmesan, 2 tsp milk
- Honey mustard: mix 1 tbsp honey and 1 tbsp mustard
- Honey lemon: mix 2 tbsp kewpie mayo, 2 tsp fresh lemon juice, and a drizzle of honey
What to eat with chicken karaage
Happy fried chickening!
Bite sized, super juicy, intensely flavorful, with a crispy, cracker-y crunch.
- 1 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs cut into 1″ cubes
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp sake
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tbsp ginger minced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1/2 cup potato starch
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- High heat oil for deep frying
- In a bowl, marinate the chicken in the soy sauce, sake, sugar, ginger, and garlic for 30 minutes at temperature, in a slightly cool spot. Letting the chicken rest at room temp means that the chicken won’t drop the temperature of the oil, which means that it’ll cook up crispier. Also, it’ll cook faster than if you cook it cold from the fridge. If you are air frying or baking, add a 1/2 tablespoon oil to the marinade.
- Place the potato starch and cornstarch in a bowl and, working in batches, toss and coat several pieces of chicken, making sure they are well coated. Alternatively, put the potato and cornstarch in a bag or container, add the chicken, and shake to coat. The chicken should be well coated and look fairly dry.
Deep Fry Instructions (see notes for air fried and oven baking instructions)Prepare a wire cooling rack over a paper towel lined rimmed baking sheet. Heat up 2 – 2.5 inches of oil in a deep heavy bottomed pot until it reaches 325°F. It doesn’t need to be too deep, it depends on the size of your chicken. Use a pair of tongs to gently add a couple of pieces of chicken to the hot oil, being careful not to overcrowd. Fry in batches until lightly golden, about 1 1/2 minutes.
- Remove from the oil and let rest on your prepared wire rack. Repeat with the remaining chicken until all of it has been fried once.
- Turn the heat up to 350°F and fry the chicken a second time around until deeply golden and crispy, another 1-2 minutes.
- Enjoy as soon as possible!
Lightly oil or use cooking spray on the air fryer basket. Place the coated pieces of chicken in the basket, with at least 1/4” of space in between pieces. Lightly spray the tops of the chicken with cooking spray. Cook at 400°F for 5 minutes, then flip and lightly spray with extra cooking spray. Cook for 5 more minutes at 400°F. If your pieces of chicken are large, you might need an extra minute or two. Let the chicken cool for 5 minutes, then air fry for an extra 5 minutes at 400°F to crisp it up.
Oven Baked Chicken Karaage
Heat the oven to 450°F. Oil or use cooking spray to fully coat a wire rack in a foil lined baking sheet. Place the coated pieces of chicken on the rack, with at least 1/4” of space in between pieces. Lightly spray the tops of the chicken with cooking spray.
Bake for 20 minutes, then flip, lightly coat with extra cooking spray and bake for an extra 5 minutes. The pieces of chicken should be golden brown, crispy, and cooked through.
Amount Per Serving
Calories 380 Calories from Fat 106
% Daily Value*
Saturated Fat 3.2g20%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.