Toriten (とり天) is a beloved specialty of Oita Prefecture on the southern island of Kyushu. The name of this Japanese dish literally means "chicken tempura". Unlike its more common relatives like shrimp tempura or kakiage, Toriten is made by marinating the chicken before coating it in an egg and flour-based tempura batter. This makes the meat juicy and flavorful, with an irresistibly crisp fluffy shell surrounding the tender meat. In this Chicken Tempura recipe, I'm going to show you all the tricks you need to know to make this Japanese fried chicken at home.
Why This Recipe Works?
- The key to light and crispy tempura is to minimize gluten formation in the batter. This is achieved by:
- Keeping all of the batter ingredients very cold
- Using a mixture of low-gluten cake flour with potato starch
- Mixing the batter as little as possible
- This tempura batter has a high moisture content, which will cause the water to vaporize on contact with the oil and puff it up into a feathery crust.
- The key to juicy chicken is to take the time to brine it with sake, salt, and ginger before coating it with tempura batter.
Ingredients for Chicken Tempura
- Chicken - I like using chicken tenders for my toriten recipe due to their tenderness and quick cooking time. They absorb the marinade beautifully, ensuring each bite is flavorful and they're the perfect shape and size. Skinless chicken breast meat will also work as an alternative, and you can cut it into ¾-inch strips. Boneless chicken thighs will also work.
- Sake - Sake adds umami and a subtle sweetness to the marinade. If you prefer not to use it, you can substitute 1 tablespoon of water.
- Salt - Ingredients for tempura are not usually pre-seasoned, but because chicken is a dense protein, giving it a base level of seasoning is helpful.
- Ginger - Ginger adds a fresh, zesty kick, which complements the chicken strips, but it also contains an enzyme called zingibane, which tenderizes the meat. Some people also like to add some grated garlic or garlic powder to their marinade.
- Cake flour - The low protein content in cake flour is key to a light, crispy chicken tempura batter. It results in less gluten formation. All-purpose flour can be used as a substitute, but the crust won't be quite as light and airy.
- Potato starch - Mixing the flour with starch further reduces the gluten content of the batter. I've also noticed that adding starch to the mixture helps keep the tempura crust crispy for longer.
- Egg - Adding egg to tempura batter is not very common, but it's almost always added to the batter for Toriten.
- Soda water - The carbonation in chilled sparkling water (club soda) creates a light and airy batter. If you don't have any, ice cold water will work.
- Oil- Use vegetable oil with a high smoke point for deep frying. Canola oil, sunflower oil, grapeseed oil, and rice bran oil are all great options.
How to Make Chicken Tempura
Prepare the chicken
To ensure the chicken strips cook through uniformly, cut them into ¾-inch strips. For tenders, I usually cut them diagonally, which should turn the teardrop shape into two strips that are about the same thickness. If you're using breasts, just slice the breast in half lengthwise (there should be a visible seam in the center where the direction of the grain changes). Then, cut each half into even strips against the grain.
Next, marinate the chicken pieces in a medium bowl with sake, salt, and grated ginger (optional: add garlic) to season and tenderize it. It's best to give this some time for the salt and enzymes do their thing, but if you're in a rush, even a few minutes is better than none.
Make the batter
The batter for the chicken tempura is the most important component, and I recommend mixing it right before you're ready to fry the Toriten. That's why I recommend prepping the oil and chicken strips first. Preheat your oil to 340°F (170°C) in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. You can also use a deep fryer. You'll also want to prepare a cooling rack lined with paper towels to drain the Toriten. To ensure good adhesion of the batter, use a paper towel to pat off any excess marinade from the chicken strips.
I recommend using very cold ingredients for the batter to minimize gluten formation. When your oil is up to temperature, beat the egg in a large bowl until it's uniform in color. Then, sift the dry ingredients into the egg. Stir the flour mixture into the egg and then add the cold water. Now, you want to mix the fluffy tempura batter until no dry spots are left, but be gentle and don't overdo it.
Deep fry tempura chicken
To fry the tempura, coat each piece of chicken in the bowl of batter and then swiftly lay them in the hot oil. The high moisture content of the batter will cause it to puff, so leave some room between the chicken pieces. Flip the tempura occasionally to ensure even cooking and a uniformly crisp texture. When the batter is crisp and just starting to take on some color (it doesn't need to be golden brown), transfer the Toriten to the prepared rack. This should take about three minutes.
Plate the tempura on a sheet of paper to absorb any excess oil.
Serve it With
In Oita, Toriten is served with salt and lemon juice or a dipping sauce. The dipping sauce can be an umami-packed tempura dipping sauce, a light and citrusy ponzu sauce, or a simple mixture of soy sauce with hot mustard. As for dishes that go with Chicken Tempura, I usually like to use any leftover tempura batter to fry up some vegetables like green beans, green peppers, shiso, or kabocha pumpkin to add some color to the plate. I'll accompany this with a light salad made with iceberg lettuce and cucumbers, dressed with either my ginger miso dressing or creamy sesame dressing. Serve this with a bowl of Japanese short-grain rice and miso soup, and you have a full Japanese dinner. Or for a less traditional spin, pair Toriten with my Rainbow Five Spice Pickles or my Pear and Celery Salad from Marc's Recipes.
Other Japanese Fried Chicken Dishes
Toriten (とり天) is a distinct variation of tempura, originating from Oita Prefecture on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu. While the exact origin of Toriten is shrouded in some mystery, it's commonly believed that Tōyoken, a restaurant in Beppu, was among the first to feature a similar dish on their menu in the early Showa era. What sets Toriten apart from other types of tempura is that it is marinated like karaage in a flavorful mix of sake, salt, and ginger.
You can easily turn Toriten into chicken tempura nuggets by slicing the meat into ½-inch thick medallions before marinating them and coating them with batter. This turns the classic into a kid and bento-friendly entree that will fry up in minutes, and it increases the batter-to-chicken ratio.
Toriten is a X-syllable name pronounced as follows (read the italicized parts).
to like toad
ri the “ri” sound does not exist in the English language, and the best way to make it is to say the word "ream" with the tip of your tongue at the front of your mouth.
ten like the number ten
The batter for chicken tempura is too loose to make in an air fryer or oven. However you can use an air fryer to reheat tempura that's been deep fried.
Toriten can easily be turned into a tempura chicken roll. You can follow this recipe to make the tempura and then follow my tempura roll tutorial to turn it into sushi.
- 500 grams chicken tenders
- 2 tablespoons sake
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon grated ginger
- vegetable oil (for frying)
- 75 grams cake flour (chilled, ~½ cup)
- 25 gram potato starch (2 ½ tablespoons)
- 1 egg (3 tablespoons)
- ½ cup soda water (chilled)
- Cut the 500 grams chicken tenders into ¾-inch thick strips roughly the same thickness from end to end. If you're using large tenders, you can cut them in half diagonally. Small tenders can be used without cutting them.
- Add the chicken pieces to a medium bowl and marinate with 2 tablespoons sake, ½ teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon grated ginger. Ideally, you want to let this marinate in the fridge for an hour or more, but even a few minutes is better than none if you're in a rush.
- When you're ready to fry up the Toriten, add an inch of vegetable oil to a heavy-bottomed pot with high sides or a deep fryer and preheat it to 340°F (170°C) over medium heat. Prepare a paper towel-lined cooling rack.
- Use a paper towel to soak up any excess marinade from the chicken strips and dry off the surface. This helps the batter to stick to the meat.
- Once your oil is up to temperature, make the airy tempura batter in a separate bowl, by beating 1 egg in a large bowl until it is uniform in color.
- Sift 75 grams cake flour and 25 gram potato starch into the egg mixture.
- Partially stir the flour mixture into the egg.
- Add ½ cup soda water and mix until there are no dry areas, but be careful not to over-mix the batter.
- To fry the tempura, dip the chicken pieces in the batter to fully coat and add it to the oil. The batter is thin, so you need to work quickly so it doesn't drip off.
- Fry the chicken until the batter is crisp (about 3 minutes). It will start to brown around the edges, but it won't be golden brown. Flip the tempura over periodically to ensure even cooking.
- Transfer your tempura chicken fingers to the prepared rack to drain. I recommend lining your plate with paper to absorb any excess oil. Serve your Toriten with ponzu, tempura dipping sauce, or salt and lemon juice.