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.