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A Little Heartbreak and Karaage

July 1, 2010 · 29 comments

in Japan,Mains

japanese fried chicken

When we were kids, my brother and I spent a lot of time with our grandparents in Sapporo in their tiny apartment. I can still picture it very clearly: the old black rotary telephone under a quilted cover, the tatami rooms we slept in – empty until we pulled our futons out from the oshiire – and my ojiichan sitting cross legged on the floor peering down through his thick black glasses at the dictionary.

ginger and garlic minced

He stopped going to school when he reached double digits but he knew more kanji than anyone I know. He loved to read and would write for the pleasure of it, spidery characters running down the sides of circulars and later, in letters to us, all the while holding forth to my obaachan who would be standing in the kitchen using up every last scrap of everything and telling me that every grain of rice raises a bead of sweat on a farmer’s brow.

marinated chicken thighsI remember her pickling watermelon rinds so no part of the fruit would be wasted and she taught me how to smooth down a plastic bag and tie it in a knot so you could use it again and again. She was always doing something with her hands; she taught me how to hand-stitch using an old rag for practice, how to make misoshiru, how to handwash my smalls.

chicken thighs in flour

Sometimes we would go over to see my cousins and play on their coveted famicon. The cartridge slotted into the game console with a satisfying click and we spent hours playing Mario Brothers in glorious 8-bit colour. When my aunt Yukie told us it was time to eat though, we’d promptly stop. Especially if she was making karaage. I loved her karaage: juicy within, crisp without and with the faint imprint of ginger and sesame in every bite.

deep frying chicken

I suppose every kid feels like nothing will ever change, but that apartment is gone now, my obaachan lives in Tokyo and I don’t get to Japan as often as I’d like. Even when you’re contented in your life I think it’s a little bit heartbreaking when there’s no way back to a place either because the people or the places are gone.

But karaage heals all wounds, see if it works for you.

chicken tatsutaage

What place or time do you feel nostalgia for?

Chicken Karaage

Make these with boneless chicken thighs, they will taste so much better. It’s worth boning the meat for if you can’t buy them already done, or sweet-talk your butcher into doing it for you. And leave the skin on too – hey, I never said this was health food. This should serve 2 hungry people but if you have leftovers, they’re great cold with Kewpie mayo the next day, or a small revelation at midnight standing in the light from the door of the fridge.

5 boneless chicken thighs, each piece chopped into about 4 equal sized pieces

A thumb sized knob of ginger, grated

1 clove of garlic, minced

3-4 tablespoons of shoyu

1-2 tablespoons sake (both of these depending how much chicken you have)

A tiny drop of sesame oil

Cornstarch seasoned with a bit of salt and white pepper if you have it, for dredging

Oil for deep frying

Combine the ginger, garlic, shoyu, sake and sesame oil in a tupperware or bowl and put the chicken in to marinate for up to an hour, preferably out of the fridge. If it’s too hot, stick it in the fridge but bring the meat out to come to room temperature ten minutes before you’re ready to fry it.

Heat the oil so that a cube of bread dropped in will turn golden in 10 seconds (scientific, aren’t I?)

Meanwhile, remove the chicken from the marinade and wipe off the moisture with paper towels.

Dredge the chicken in the cornflour and shake off excess.

Carefully put the chicken into the hot oil and fry until golden.

Drain on paper towels and serve with rice, misoshiru and maybe a salad.

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Carla July 1, 2010 at 4:40 pm

Lovely post and, yes, I know that feeling of nostalgia and how one dish can make it all better :)

I look forward to trying the recipe!

chasing bawa July 1, 2010 at 4:46 pm

My sister and I love karaage too! Brings back memories of our childhood in Japan.

Vanessa July 1, 2010 at 4:53 pm

As you know, I feel great attachment to places and things so can imagine how your heart aches for that time in Japan. As Proust said, “The only paradises are those we have lost”. Wonderful recipe and a beautiful, touching post. I can taste a little ginger and sesame now.

sasa July 2, 2010 at 4:31 pm

Smart Proust, it’s true. I gotta work on seeing my now as paradise, have a bit of an Eyeorish tendency not to.

Big Boys Oven July 1, 2010 at 5:38 pm

wow, so lovely, crisp and golden brown. how can’t anyone resist such! I would dive in for a piece! :)

The Grubworm July 1, 2010 at 6:38 pm

Lovely post – it’s so interesting the strength of feeling and memory that food can evoke. It’s what turns the act of cooking into something approaching magic. This karaage looks like it will do just that.

Maria July 1, 2010 at 8:28 pm

This has been on my to make list for so long and I know my bf would love it! He gets very nostalgic about certain places in Japan :)

SMITH BITES July 2, 2010 at 2:07 am

I’ll say it again Sasa ~ your words just melt me . . . and I love you for it. Pot roast at my grandma’s house, ‘Snow Star’ vanilla ice cream – those things provide great memories

H July 2, 2010 at 2:52 am

I got all teary reading this. Roast chicken always reminds me of Big Family Christmas at my Nanna’s. The biggest tree we could cut from the roadside, ‘sleepouts’ on the verandah with all the cousins, go-kart races, water fights, and lots and lots of hugs.
I also love Karaage so I’m going to test this recipe on the weekend.

amber July 2, 2010 at 3:06 am

Oh, Sasa, thank you! I feel better already. Can’t wait to try this on the weekend. xoxo

sasa July 2, 2010 at 4:32 pm

Welcome! Hope it works ^_^

Zoë July 2, 2010 at 3:56 am

Here’s to small moments of revelation in front of the fridge. (And they’re calorie free too, you know, as long as the door is open…)

sasa July 2, 2010 at 4:33 pm

Why, you’re perfectly correct – as I’m sure any nutritionist will agree.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella July 2, 2010 at 4:04 pm

Lovely story Sara! I do get nostalgic for places I used to live in. We went back a few months ago to the house that I grew up in and it was similar to before! It was quite comforting :) And I LOVE karaage too!

sasa July 2, 2010 at 4:34 pm

I’m very grateful to all of you for your sweet comments and for telling me your favourite memories, they make my day x

Marietta July 2, 2010 at 11:43 am

a post on food made me cry and filled me with emotions and memories… you are such a “rich” girl sara… rich from everything and eveyone you have experienced.

(btw..its soga-yaki for me!! :) )

Stella July 2, 2010 at 3:29 pm

This is a very sweet post. At least you have such sweet memories. This is a great thing in and of itself. Some don’t have such niceness to think back on…

aforkfulofspaghetti July 2, 2010 at 5:13 pm

Never heard of this before, but something tells me it’s soon to become an integral part of my diet ;) Sounds and looks terrific.

Lovely post.

Nic July 2, 2010 at 5:18 pm

Great blog with lovely photos – wonderful recipes too! Have added to my reader.

foodieinberlin July 2, 2010 at 5:32 pm

Sasa, those thighs look heavenly. I do love fried food. I will try them next week when we are finally in Berlin because my husband LOVES chicken (I reserve all my chicken cooking for him) Thanks for sharing!

Su-Lin July 3, 2010 at 1:40 am

Ah… your posts always make me think…. in a good way! This one brought a little tear to my eye – I’m nostalgic for the times I had with my mother! Ah… love karaage and I should try cooking it at home!

Stephfret July 6, 2010 at 9:34 am

Excellent post- very evocative! I think people like us who straddle several cultures have a little extra bit of nostalgia for the past. Because we’re surrounded by people who don’t share the same background, we have to work extra hard to hang on to our memories. Anyway, the recipe looks great, the new blog looks great, well done!

jared July 8, 2010 at 5:24 pm

What a lovely story. I love eating karaage off the street on a cool night in Japan or with an ice cold beer in any izakaya joint.

hapacheese November 21, 2010 at 1:47 am

Hey Sassles,

Great post, by the way! Just wanted to point out one thing – Famicon is 8-bit ;) I’m too geeky to let that one slide haha

Sasa November 21, 2010 at 7:39 am

Klay! Thanks for dropping by ^_^ I’ll change it, thanks for the heads up, I need all the technical help I can get…

Genie December 16, 2010 at 6:19 am

Mmm…I looooooove karaage chicken but for some reason never considered making it at home. This could be dangerous. I like to call it JFC. Japanese Fried Chicken! I always feel like I don’t quite get enough chicken when eating it at Japanese restaurants. My local Japanese lunch place just gives me 3 tiny pieces for lunch. More! More! More! I want to say. But if I could make this at home, I could make Godzilla sized portions if I wanted to and no tiny Japanese person could judge me for it.

p.s. I just stumbled on your blog today and I want to read all of it. Please excuse me if I randomly comment on old posts!

Sasa December 22, 2010 at 6:44 pm

I love comments on any post, fire away! ^_^

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