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Go nuts for Japan’s fried chicken

Thighs were upheld in this week’s food section as the preferred cut of chicken. Here, here!

As recipes for the Daily Meal (see the e-edition) demonstrated, chicken thighs are moist, flavorful and resist overcooking. That’s in contrast to dry, bland, mealy breast meat, particularly boneless, skinless.

I couldn’t agree more. It’s been decades since I sought out chicken breasts for day-to-day consumption — or any consumption at all. I’ll eat chicken breast if it’s offered, but if given the choice at a restaurant or table that’s not my own, I’ll choose dark meat over white every time.

Even where thighs are concerned, bone-in, skin-on is the most cost-conscious and delicious choice. Still there are circumstances when boneless, skinless thighs are warranted. One of those is the Japanese way of frying chicken, karaage.

Cut into thin strips and marinated briefly in a highly seasoned mixture of soy sauce, sake, ginger and garlic, the chicken is then dredged through cornstarch for extra crispiness when fried. People go nuts for this stuff, reported St. Louis Post-Dispatch food writer Daniel Neman, counting himself among the crazies. Of five favorite chicken recipes he tested earlier this year, karaage likely was his favorite of favorites.

Do not — under any circumstance — prepare this recipe using chicken breasts, which will dry out during frying.

Karaage (Japanese fried chicken). (Hillary Levin/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)

Karaage

3 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons sake

1 tablespoon peeled and grated, fresh ginger

2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

3/4 teaspoon granulated sugar

1/8 teaspoon table salt

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut crosswise into 1- to 1 1/2-inch strips

1 1/4 cups cornstarch

1 quart peanut or vegetable oil, for frying

Lemon wedges, for servings

In a medium bowl, combine the soy sauce, sake, ginger, garlic, sugar and salt. Add the chicken and toss to combine. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.

While chicken is marinating, line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Set a wire rack in second rimmed baking sheet and line rack with a triple layer of paper towels. Place the cornstarch in a wide bowl.

Lift chicken from marinade, 1 piece at a time, allowing excess marinade to drip back into bowl but leaving any garlic or ginger bits on chicken. Coat chicken with cornstarch, shake off excess and place on parchment-lined sheet. Reserve marinade.

Add the oil to a large Dutch oven until it measures about 3/4 inch deep; heat over medium-high heat to 375 F. While oil heats, check chicken pieces for white patches of dry cornstarch. Dip back of spoon in reserved marinade and gently press onto dry spots to lightly moisten.

Using tongs, add half of chicken, 1 piece at a time, to oil in single layer. Cook, adjusting burner if necessary, to maintain oil temperature between 300 and 325 F, until chicken is golden brown and crispy, for 4 to 5 minutes. Using spider skimmer or slotted spoon, transfer chicken to paper towel-lined rack. Return oil to 325 F and repeat with remaining chicken. Serve with lemon wedges (lemon adds an important flavor note).

For even better results, fry a second time at least 1 or 2 hours, and as long as 24 hours, after frying the first time. Keep refrigerated before frying a second time. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Recipe adapted by Tribune News Service from “The Chicken Bible” by America’s Test Chicken.