Karaage (唐揚げ), pronounced kah-rah-ah-geh, literally means “Tang fried” (Tang as in the Chinese dynasty), and is an umbrella term for any chicken that's coated in either potato starch or flour and fried. Like Gyoza and Ramen, Karaage is an example of Wafu-Chuka (Chinese-style Japanese) cuisine, whereby dumplings, noodles, or in this case fried chicken, was adapted from the Chinese culinary repertoire and turned into something uniquely Japanese.
The most common type of Karaage, is known as Tatsutaage (竜田揚げ), which is usually defined by the chicken first being marinated in soy sauce and then coated with potato starch. The name is in reference to the reddish brown color imparted by the soy sauce, which was thought to resemble the color of the Tatsuta River in autumn, when the surrounding Japanese maple trees turn the river a similar hue. After being marinated in soy sauce, ginger and garlic, the two-bite nuggets of chicken are dredged in potato starch and deep fried until crisp. The potato starch creates a golden shell around the karaage with a lasting crispness which makes it perfect for packing into a bento lunch. Karaage also makes for a great summer picnic with some onigiri (rice balls)
I know someone is going to ask so I'll address a few substitutions up-front. You can make Karaage with breast meat, but it will be dryer and less flavorful for the same reason why breast meat is healthier: it has less fat. Cornstarch can be substituted for the potato starch, however the texture won't be the same. Karaage made with cornstarch has a dense crunchy texture like tortilla chips, while karaage made with potato starch fries up with a light crispy crust like a potato chip.
Personally, I also prefer potato starch to cornstarch as a thickening agent, so I've done away with cornstarch in my kitchen. In the US, you can get potato starch at Whole Foods under the Bob's Red Mill brand.
- Add the ginger, garlic, soy sauce, sake and sugar to a bowl and whisk to combine. Add the chicken, then stir to coat evenly. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
- Add 1 inch of vegetable oil to a heavy bottomed pot and heat until the oil reaches 360 degrees F. Line a wire rack with 2 sheets of paper towels and get your tongs out. Put the potato starch in a bowl
- Add a handful of chicken to the potato starch and toss to coat each piece evenly.
- Fry the chicken in batches until the exterior is a medium brown and the chicken is cooked through. Transfer the fried chicken to the paper towel lined rack. If you want the chicken to stay crispy longer, you can fry the chicken a second time, until it's a darker color after it's cooled off once. Serve with lemon wedges.