as babies, most of us regularly ate and bathed in our food at the same time. and even though we are all adults (some more than others), i think a small morsel of that glorious messy-eater mentality remains in each and every one of us, regardless of how cultured, well-preened, and properly educated we may be. somewhere deep inside, we all have a soft spot for getting really super messy at meal time.
it follows, therefore, that there are very few people in this world who don’t enjoy a good chicken wing.
some sandwich traditions are time-honored. they whether the ages, beat the odds, and become immortalized in the proverbial sandwich hall of fame. they become so famous we can no longer imagine a world without them. everybody knows their names by heart. names like blt, reuben, hot ham and cheese, and club sandwich.
but this post isn’t about their stories. this post is about the other guys. the underdogs. this post is about one of the sandwiches which is still fighting the good fight, climbing the ladder to infinite fame and eternal sandwich recognition. this post is about a sandwich which has faced countless obstacles and still kept on keeping on.
this is the sad sad story of the chicken cutlet.
you know those meals that make you feel like you could smash a cinder block with your forehead, or ramp a jet ski over a wrought-iron fence into a pool, or do some other heinously dangerous and extremely manly activity? even if you answered no, just pretend like you answered yes for a few minutes. humor me.
in my world, those meals that make you feel like a reckless man more often than not begin with fried chicken. and most of the time, they end with fried chicken, too. sometimes, in the middle i eat something other than fried chicken, but those occasions are rare.
in the usa, fried chicken and arnold schwartzenegger’s commando is about the manliest night i can think of. so last night, when i decided to watch toshiro mifune in yojimbo, i thought that because my action movie had taken a decidedly japanese turn, i would be remiss if my fried chicken did not follow suit. and so i made an immense batch of kara-age.
put on your fried food pants and get some napkins ready, because we are about to get messy.
japanese fried chicken. this ain’t no kfc, let’s just put it that way. the skin is crunchy and the meat is juicy, piping hot, and jam-packed with flavor. why, you say? well, because you marinate it, silly.
- 2 chicken thighs (or breasts) skin on
- black pepper
- soy sauce
- sesame oil
- seven-spice (or chinese hot pepper)
- a little bit of mayo
- japanese sake
- oil for frying (vegetable is probably best)
- katakuriko (potato starch)
- rinse your chicken and pat it dry with some paper towels. use a really super sharp knife to cut it into non-bitesized pieces. the goal is to have pieces big enough that they require two or more bites. chomping into a giant nugget of super crispy delicious chicken and being able to see the delicious succulent white meat you are about to dig into on bite number two is nothing short of bliss.
- go to town with a fork. puncture a bunch of holes all over the chicken. tenderizing will make your bits of chicken soak up the flavors of the marinade a lot better.
- peel the garlic and the ginger. you are going to want to use about 3 or 4 cloves of garlic and about a thumb of ginger. grind them on an oroshi board, a microplane, or a very fine grater. put them into a large non-reactant mixing bowl.
- add seven-spice, black pepper, a dash of sesame oil, and soy sauce and sake in a 2:1 ratio. add a touch of mayo to firm up the marinate just a little. remember, if you firm it up too much the chicken won’t suck up the flavor like you wanted to, and all that tenderizing will go to waste. stir to combine all the ingredients.
- add the chicken, and stir with your hands to coat. cover with some saran wrap and set it in the fridge to marinate for about an hour.
- once the chicken is about finished marinating, add enough oil to deep fry to a frying pan and bump the heat. you want to oil to be hot enough to fry the chicken, but not hot enough to smoke or burn. test the oil with a little piece of chicken if you aren’t sure of the temperature. on my stove, which has temperature markings that read “off, 1, 2, 3, high,” i got the oil to the temperature i wanted using the “3” setting, and kept it from getting too hot by reducing to “2” once i started frying.
- pour some of the potato starch onto a plate. one thin layer at a time is best (as opposed to emptying the whole bag at once). dredge each piece of chicken in the starch and pop it into the oil. the marinade on the outside of the chicken should make the breading stick super well. try to keep from adding so much starch to the chicken that it becomes crumbly. you really only want to add enough to coat each piece, and no more. too much starch will make a dusty, starchy layer between the fried outside and the juicy chicken meat, effectively ruining the texture and flavor of all your hard work.
- the oil should bubble, but not spit. you will probably want to turn each piece one or twice in the course of frying. once the chicken is golden brown and done all the way through, take it out and put it on a few sheets of paper towels to soak up the extra oil.
- dig in and eat until you can feel the flow of your blood slowing from cholesterol intake. or, if you are generous, share with your friends, and watch them become lethargic under the weight of the epic cholesterol. your choice.