Like most countries, Japan has several types of chicken sandwiches, including Chicken Katsu sandwich and Chicken Salad sandwich, but the closest thing to the ones at Chick-fil-A and Popeyes is a fried chicken sandwich stuffed with Karaage.
Both Chick-fil-A and Popeyes use breast meat for their sandwiches, but I suspect they’ve been heavily processed, or at the very least brined. For my sandwich, I prefer using thigh meat which tends to be more juicy and flavorful. I also like to use skin-on chicken as the fat in the skin renders out while frying, leaving it ultra-crisp. It also helps insulate the meat on the skin side from the high-temperature oil, which keeps the meat from getting dry.
This is a matter of personal preference, but thigh meat will always be juicer and more flavorful as it contains more fat, and the muscles tend to get more exercise. Thigh meat is also more forgiving, especially if you don’t have an instant-read thermometer to check the temperature of the chicken.
That being said, you can still make breast meat work, by cutting or pounding it to roughly the same thickness, and being very careful not to overcook it.
Karaage (a.k.a. Japanese fried chicken) is chicken that’s been marinated with soy sauce, sake, and ginger and then coated in potato starch before frying it. Potato starch has relatively large granules and a high ratio of amylopectin to amylose, which gives it a unique texture as a coating that ends up being quite similar to potato chips when fried. Unlike wheat flour or cornstarch which tends to end up more crunchy than crispy, potato starch creates an airy crisp coating that’s a delight to bite into.
Although Japan is traditionally a rice and noodle culture, western-style bread has been around for at least three hundred and fifty years. Over the past hundred and fifty years, eating bread has gone mainstream, and you’re more likely to find a bakery than shops selling rice. Butter rolls are a staple in Japanese bakeries, and they have a light, fluffy texture that’s similar to brioche. They’re most commonly shaped like croissants, but you can also find dome-shaped ones that look like a hamburger bun. Similar bread is often available in Asian bakeries, but if you can’t find one near you, you can substitute a brioche bun or a challah roll.
There are no hard and fast rules, here, but after trying many different combinations, I like spreading a mixture of Japanese mayonnaise (Kewpie) flavored with yuzu kosho (yuzu chili paste) on the buns. Kewpie is a little more tart than American mayonnaise and has a more eggy flavor, which makes it closer to a homemade mayo or aioli. Yuzu kosho is a chili paste that’s made with chili peppers and yuzu zest, along with salt. It’s wonderfully fragrant and imparts a spicy kick to the sandwich without being overtly spicy.
To balance out the savory chicken, I like to include a thick slab of tomato, which adds a hint of balancing sweetness to sandwich, while making it even juicier.
In Japan, fried foods are often served with a thinly shredded cabbage salad, so it’s the natural choice to include in the sandwich. When soaked in water and sliced into thin threads, it makes for a refreshing addition to the sandwich which works hand-in-hand with the yuzu mayo to make a kind of coleslaw in your mouth.
- 380 grams boneless skin-on chicken thighs (2 large thighs)
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons sake
- 2 teaspoons grated ginger
- ⅓ cup potato starch
- vegetable oil (for frying)
For Yuzu Mayo
- ¼ cup Kewpie mayonnaise
- ½ teaspoon yuzu kosho
- ½ teaspoon yuzu juice (optional)
For Chicken Sandwich
- 2 butter rolls (sliced in half horizontally)
- 1 large tomato (cut into 1/4-inch thick slices)
- shredded cabbage
- Combine the soy sauce, sake, and ginger in a bowl and add the chicken thighs. Let this marinate for around 3 hours.
- To make the yuzu mayonnaise, whisk the mayo, yuzu kosho, and yuzu juice together in a bowl.
- When the chicken is done marinating, add 2-inches of oil to a heavy-bottomed pot and heat to 320 degrees F (160 C).
- Drain the marinade from the chicken, and add the potato starch to a bowl.
- Dust the chicken in a thick coating of potato starch.
- Fry the chicken until it's golden brown and it has reached an internal temperature of 160 degrees F (71 C). This will take about 8-10 minutes, depending on how thick your chicken is. If your chicken starts browning too quickly, turn down the heat.
- When the chicken is done, transfer it to a paper towel-lined rack and let it rest for about 5 minutes.
- To assemble the sandwich, divide the yuzu mayo between the four halves of bun and spread it around.
- Top the bottom bun with the fried chicken.
- Top the chicken with a slice of tomato and a pile of shredded cabbage and finish with the top bun.
- Give the sandwich a little press to make sure everything holds together.