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What is Karaage?

By Celeste Heiter
Updated May 16, 2024
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Karaage is a popular Japanese dish that is most commonly made with chicken. To prepare the dish, small pieces of chicken, meat, or fish are marinated, dredged in flour, and deep-fried. The crispy bits of meat are traditionally served with fresh lemon wedges and mayonnaise for dipping.

The Japanese word “karaage” is pronounced “kah-rah-ah-gay” and is actually a combination of two words. “Kara” means “China,” and “age” means “fried.” Together, the two words mean “deep-fried Chinese-style.”

Boneless meat is typically used for making karaage. The meat is usually cut into thin strips or bite-sized pieces. Chicken is the most popular choice, although boneless beef, pork, or firm fish may be prepared karaage-style as well.

For chicken karaage, either breasts or thighs may be used. The skin may be left intact, or it may be removed. Chicken wings may also be prepared karaage-style. A variation on the dish is called nankotsu karaage, which is made from the breast cartilage of the chicken. The crispiest, most flavorful karaage is made from chicken thighs with the skin intact.

The marinade for karaage usually includes soy sauce and sake seasoned with minced garlic, grated ginger, and a little sesame oil if desired. Ponzu, a citrus-flavored soy sauce, may be used instead of plain soy sauce. Mirin, a sweet Japanese cooking wine, may be substituted for sake. Chinese plum wine or xiaoshing cooking wine may also be used for the marinade. If these Asian wines are not available, sherry may be substituted instead.

In Japan, a finely ground wheat flour called karaageko is used for coating the meat. It forms a light, crispy crust that does not become saturated with cooking oil. If karaageko is unavailable, cornstarch or potato starch may be substituted. Peanut oil, canola oil or vegetable oil are the best choices for deep-frying.

Fresh lemon wedges are traditionally served with karaage, and Kewpie brand mayonnaise is the most popular condiment for the dipping sauce. If Kewpie is unavailable, a homemade version may be made with plain mayonnaise and rice vinegar or cider vinegar, seasoned with a little monosodium glutamate (MSG). A small amount of hot mustard or cayenne pepper may also be added for spice.

Karaage is a favorite dish in Japan’s izakaya pubs. Since it may also be served cold, it is also a popular choice for bento lunchboxes. Karaage is also included on menus in many Japanese restaurants outside Japan.

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Discussion Comments

By tolleranza — On Sep 01, 2011

@alfredo - I love the risk-taking in making it yourself! I think I will have to try it first at a restaurant, especially with all of the rave reviews in the comments here.

As far as the karaageko breading for the meat, I have seen it on an online grocery! Makes it easy - you do not even have to go anywhere, and it is inexpensive. But I did see that you might see the name as karaage ko instead of the karaageko (easy enough to remember that difference)!

By aLFredo — On Aug 31, 2011

@sinbad - Yep, mayonnaise is used in all varieties of Chinese food. I have seen recipes that not only use mayonnaise for a dipping sauce but in the actual preparing of the food.

Some of the tastier sounding recipes with mayonnaise are honey walnut shrimp, mayonnaise shrimp, and there is even a sweet and sour chicken recipe that calls for mayo.

Now we just have to wonder if they are strictly a mayo country or if they are split like the United States between those who love mayonnaise and those who love Miracle Whip!

Either way, I cannot wait to try karaage, but would like to try and make it myself, is the karaageko coating for the recipe relatively easy to find in grocery stores?

By Sinbad — On Aug 30, 2011

I know this sounds silly but I had not thought of mayonnaise as a condiment that went with Asian foods. Is mayonnaise an ingredient used in many other Chinese recipes like it is used for a dipping sauce for this karage dish?

By Mykol — On Aug 30, 2011

I am not always real keen on trying new foods that I haven't heard of before. Once when we were eating at Japanese restaurant I saw karaage on the menu and wondered what it was.

It sounded like something that was safe to try so I went ahead and ordered it. It was wonderful, and I found a new favorite.

I went online and found a chicken karaage recipe that sounded like it would be good and ended up making some myself. It reminds me of sesame fried chicken which I have always loved.

If this is something you have never tried before, don't let the name fool you. It sounds like something strange, but it really is very good. I used sesame oil to fry the chicken. I like mine best with a dipping sauce, but my kids like to eat the fried chicken without any sauce.

By SarahSon — On Aug 30, 2011

We have some friends who had a foreign exchange student from Japan living with them for a year. She wanted to fix some Japanese food and invite us over for dinner.

One of the things she prepared for us was karaage. I had never heard of it before, but when she told me what was in it and how it was prepared, it sounded really good.

She said that most karaage recipes use chicken, but she fixed this with pork. I loved the combination of the fried meat with the sauce. I could really taste the garlic and ginger in the sauce, and I love both of those ingredients.

After eating this tasty dish, I can see why it is so popular in her country. I haven't tried making it myself, but my husband keeps asking me when I am going to try it.

By shell4life — On Aug 29, 2011

I suppose it’s kind of strange, but my cousin and I liked to dip karaage chicken in honey mustard instead of mayonnaise or lemon juice. This probably stemmed from a lifetime of ordering chicken fingers from fast food restaurants with honey mustard dipping sauce. We just came to expect it, like ketchup for fries.

The first time we ordered karaage from a Japanese restaurant, we asked for honey mustard sauce. The waiter looked really confused. He had to tell us that they did not have any. We should have known better.

The karaage turned out to be so delicious that it needed no sauce. We were so used to ordering Chinese takeout and using the sauce we keep at home as a dip that we had never tried it bare. We found that we were really missing out on the natural flavor of it by smothering it with something else. Now, we eat it as it’s meant to be enjoyed.

By cloudel — On Aug 28, 2011

I absolutely love karaage chicken. My friend and I order it every time we visit any Asian restaurant that offers it on their menu.

She just found a karaage chicken recipe that we are going to try this weekend. It is really simple, so I am confident in our ability to pull it off.

First, we have to make a marinade out of 2 teaspoons of grated ginger, 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, and 1 tablespoon of sake. We must marinate pieces of chicken thighs cut into nuggets for thirty minutes.

Then, we will need to coat the chicken with corn starch. I suppose that this will thicken the sauce and turn it into a breading.

We are supposed to heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil to 350 degrees. Then, we will fry the chicken until it turns brown.

By Oceana — On Aug 28, 2011

I have never tried mirin by itself, but I know that it is an ingredient in teriyaki sauce, so it must be delicious. I have tried karaage, but it was hard to tell what the marinade was. I could taste the garlic, but I could not tell if soy or mirin was used. All I know is that it tasted great.

I have a chicken recipe that uses garlic, soy, and ginger. The chicken is sauteed in peanut oil rather than deep fried, but I can see how those flavors would make fried chicken taste awesome.

When I ordered the karaage chicken from a Chinese restaurant, it came on a bed of noodles with a side of egg rolls. I think that soy sauce was used to make everything on the dish. I really enjoyed the entire meal, though the chicken was indeed the star of the plate.

By StarJo — On Aug 27, 2011

A Chinese restaurant serves karaage on their buffet, so I guess it’s a good thing that this chicken tastes good even when cold. They have a couple of different flavors of karaage. I have tried the honey coated kind and the regular, and both are delicious.

I like to get a big serving of kung pow three, which is a spicy combination of marinated and cooked broccoli, red peppers, and sliced chicken, and top it off with pieces of karaage. I stir it all together and let the flavors combine.

I also love to scoop some low mein noodles onto my plate to enjoy with the karaage. That crusty little chicken goes well with all things Chinese flavored.

By animegal — On Aug 27, 2011

To me karaage has always been what I consider Japanese chicken nuggets. While karaage does have a unique flavor the whole idea is basically the same.

My mom used to make karaage at home and her recipe was delicious. She had traveled to Japan extensively when she was in her twenties and I guess she picked up a few cooking tricks while she was there.

When I ask my mom what her secret is to making karaage she always tells me to use high-quality ginger and only to use the proper potato starch. I guess her words of wisdom should be heeded because her karaage is delicious.

By wander — On Aug 26, 2011

Karaage is an awesome dish to try if you are visiting Japan and are not sure if you're going to like the cuisine or not. I find that it is one of the foods that a lot of westerners enjoy when traveling through the country.

If you stop at convenience stores in Japan it is not unusual to see Karaage sold in little containers near the rest of the meals on the go. The meat isn't as good as if you had it in a restaurant but if you just want to try karaage you may as well try it cheaply instead of wasting a lot of cash on something you might not end up eating.

By summing — On Aug 25, 2011

When I was in Japan I came to really start to like Kewpie mayo and I had a few jars sent to me in the states. Now I use it in place of regular mayo on almost everything.

Much like karaage, it tastes great as part of a tartar sauce to put on fried fish. And it ads a great little zing to normally boring turkey sandwiches. I've made a great chicken salad out of it and even put it on burgers. The addition of the vinegar gives the Kewpie a nice bight where most mayo is just creamy. Buy some yourself and start experimenting. You will not believe how versatile this stuff is.

By chivebasil — On Aug 24, 2011

There is a great Japanese restaurant close to my house that serves a delicious karaage. It is one of those big open grill Japanese restaurants where they cook everything in front of you and do a lot of tricks. My husband and I will often go in and sit at the bar and avoid the cooking spectacle all together. Really the only thing we want is to sip on some sake and share a big plate of karaage together.

By ZsaZsa56 — On Aug 24, 2011

I lived in Japan for a few months and in that time I absolutely fell in love with karaage. I know it seems kind of weird to be so into what is basically just little pieces of fried chicken that you dip in mayo, but there is something about the way the Japanese prepare it that is absolutely irresistible.

Karaage is a popular bar food over in Japan. It is not uncommon to see every person at the bar snacking on a plate of this stuff it is so popular. Once I came back to the state I craved karaage every time I went out drinking but a chicken tender is a pretty weak approximation.

I think what I probably need to do is break down and buy a deep fryer and learn how to make this stuff myself. Just in the process of writing this article and thinking about karaage I have become extremely hungry for it. Honestly, my mouth is watering like crazy right now.

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