Tebasaki(手羽先) literally translates to "wing tips" and refers to the cut of chicken as well as to a dish popular in izakayas around the city of Nagoya. Unlike the other Japanese fried chicken, Tebasaki is always made with bone-in chicken wings, has little to no breading, and is seasoned after it's fried. Despite the absence of any significant crust, the wings are fried until the skin is rice cracker crisp before being dunked in a sweet and peppery soy sauce based glaze. Think of it as the Japanese cousin of Buffalo wings, and Korean fried chicken.
So how does one go about making chicken so crispy without a batter or breading, and then maintain the crisp crunch after being drenched with a glaze? There are a few tricks to getting these restaurant-good without an industrial deep fryer or the use of lard.
Anyone familiar with making crispy french fries already knows the first few tricks to making crispy fried chicken wings. The surface of the wings need to be very dry before going into the oil, and then they need to be double fried. The first fry at a lower temperature cooks the meat and greatly reduces the moisture content of the skin. After the wings have had a chance to cool and the remaining moisture has equalized, the second fry at a higher temperature finishes the job, crisping up the skin, while making it golden brown.
So now you know how to make a batch of super crispy wings, but how do you glaze them without making the crust go soft? The trick is to dunk the wings in the glaze as they come out of the hot oil. This does two things. The first is that there's still hot steam escaping from the chicken, preventing too much glaze from seeping into the crust and making it soggy. The second is that the hot wing actually caramelizes some of the glaze around the wing, giving it a ton of flavor, without soaking up a ton of moisture.
If you don't pile the wings too high, you should have some mighty crispy wings that stay crispy for at least half an hour (although nothing beats the crunch of the piping hot wings as they come out of the glaze). In Nagoya these are often served with some sweet, tender cabbage leaves, but cucumber or celery stick also make a great accompaniment. Lastly if you want to add a bit of heat, try mixing in some gochujang (Korean chili paste) into the glaze, then dusting with gochugaru (Korean chili flakes) before serving.
- Put the chicken wings in a large bowl and sprinkle the pepper and salt. Toss the chicken to coat evenly and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or preferably overnight. This step not only infuses the chicken with the black pepper, the salt draws out extra moisture from the chicken, which will help in making the skin crisp.
- Make the glaze by putting the sugar, soy sauce, sake, mirin, ginger juice, and garlic in a shallow pan. Heat over medium high heat until the glaze is at a rolling boil, like in the photo above. Add the vinegar, then transfer to a large bowl and allow the glaze to cool.
- Add about 2" of vegetable oil to a heavy bottomed pot and heat to 320 degrees F (160C). Take the chicken out of the fridge and use paper towels to remove as much moisture from the surface of the chicken as possible. Sprinkle on the potato starch, and toss the chicken to evenly coat each piece with a thin layer of starch.
- Fry the chicken wings for 10 minutes in batches. You can actually cram quite a few wings in, as long as they are fully submerged and get the oil temperature back up to 320 relatively quickly. Transfer to a plate and continue frying the rest of the wings.
- Increase the heat of the oil to 375 degrees F (190C). Fry the chicken in smaller batches, being careful not to overcrowd the pan. The chicken is done when the wings are golden brown (about 2-3 minutes). Transfer the wings directly to the bowl of glaze and quickly toss to coat. Don't let them sit in the glaze too long.
- Transfer the tebasaki to a serving platter, and sprinkle on some toasted sesame seeds and black pepper. Serve immediately.