My superlative and GLORIOUS Citizens! I, the Shishaku of Shibboleths, the Tennō of Tenderness – YOUR TFD! – today exemplifies the quintessential spirit of Nihon to share with you…fried chicken, specifically zantare karaage (Hokkaido-style fried chicken with dipping sauce). This is not just ANY fried chicken, but what I consider to be perhaps amongst the best in the world.
Yes, believe it or not, the Japanese (in particular, the denizens of the far-Northern island of Hokkaido) have taken up the challenge of America’s soul food and come up with a truly special version of the seminal dish. Zantare karaage (and as you’re about to learn, this is a VERY confusingly-named dish in Japanese!) is indeed today’s post. I have every confidence it will become a favorite dish in your kitchens and live on forever in the hearts and souls of TFD Nation!
Hokkaido (Japanese: 北海道); lit. ’Northern Sea Circuit’) is Japan’s second largest island and comprises the largest and northernmost prefecture, making up its own region. The Tsugaru Strait separates Hokkaidō from Honshu; the two islands are connected by the undersea railway Seikan Tunnel. Hokkaido is Japan’s winter playground and also offers a wide range of outdoors activities as well as hunting and fishing that is second-to-none.
There are three distinct populations of the Ussuri brown bear found on the island – in fact there are more brown bears in Hokkaidō than anywhere else in Asia besides Russia! The Hokkaidō brown bear is separated into three distinct lineages and there are only eight lineages total in the world. The climate is akin to Scandinavia – for such a small country, Japan has temperatures ranging from near Arctic in Hokkaido to tropical (Okinawa) and everything in between.
There are also hot spring loving monkeys on Hokkaido! 😀
The largest city on Hokkaidō is its capital, Sapporo, which is also its only ordinance-designated city (and also the home of サッポロビール株式会社, Sapporo Bīru Kabushiki-gaisha, aka Sapporo Beer!) Founded in 1876, Sapporo is the oldest brand of beer in Japan.
Sakhalin Island lies about 43 kilometers (26 mi) to the north of Hokkaidō, and to the east and northeast are the Kuril Islands, which are administered by Russia, though the four most southerly are claimed by Japan. Hokkaidō was formerly known as Ezo, Yezo, Yeso, or Yesso.
Although there were Japanese settlers who had ruled the southern tip of the island since the 16th century, Hokkaido was considered foreign territory that was inhabited by the indigenous people of the island, known as the Ainu people. While geographers such as Mogami Tokunai and Mamiya Rinzō explored the island in the Edo period, Japan’s governance was limited to Oshima Peninsula until the 17th century.
The Japanese settlers began their migration to Hokkaido in the 17th century, which often resulted in clashes and revolts between Japanese and Ainu populations. In 1869, following the Meiji Restoration, Ezo was annexed by Japan under on-going colonial practices, and renamed Hokkaido. After this event, Japanese settlers started to colonize the island.
While Japanese settlers colonized the island, the Ainu people were dispossessed of their land, forced to assimilate, and aggressively discriminated against by the Japanese settlers. An excellent summary on the Ainu and how they are preserving their indigenous culture despite modern Japanese influences is found in this fascinating BBC story.
Hokkaido cuisine is distinguished as being quite hearty and warming, for rather obvious reasons, using a range of ingredients harvested from the mountains, rivers and seas. Hokkaido-style fried chicken is quite new to the Japanese culinary repertoire – zangi first appeared in a harbor city in the early 1960’s called Kushiro located in East Hokkaido.
The city is one of the chicken farming centers on the island and a chef at a small local Chinese restaurant created this dish, making use of the local birds. The origin of zangi varies, but it is said to have started when a Chinese chicken restaurant in Kushiro City’s Suehiro entertainment district cut up a whole chicken and deep fried it, serving it with a secret dipping sauce (tare in Japanese – zantare = zangi sauce).
It is said that the name “zangi” was originally derived from the Chinese word for fried chicken, “炸鶏” ‘zagi,’ and added the letter “n”, which is used in the Japanese Kanji for good luck ‘運. The difference between typical Japanese fried chicken (karaage) and zangi is that zangi is usually larger in size and the ingredients for coating are marinated along with the chicken, which results in well-seasoned, flavorful batter. It also tends to have more seasonings and spices than Karaage.
What is Karaage?
Karaage is a dish or cooking method in which the ingredients are lightly coated with flour or potato starch (batter) and deep-fried in oil, without seasoning.
- “Karaage” is commonly used for fried chicken, but beef, pork, fish, and vegetables can also be fried.
The following two are the most likely origins of the word “karaage”:
- 唐揚げ/Karaage: Fried food introduced from China in the early Edo period (1603-1867). “唐” is an old name for Korea and China, but it was also used as the name of something imported from China.
- 空揚げ/ Kuraage: A deep-fried dish without seasoning. 空(kara) means “empty” or “nothing” in Japanese.
Zangi is a dish in which ingredients are seasoned thickly with various seasonings (soy sauce, ginger, garlic, etc.), coated with flour, etc., and deep-fried.
- There is no clear difference between zangi and karaage.
- In Hokkaido, Yamagata Prefecture, and Ehime Prefecture, karaage was called “zangi,” but is now called “zangi” in other prefectures as well.
- In Hokkaido, there seems to be a tendency to separate “zangi” as the more flavorful version and “karaage” as the less flavorful version.
Zangi marinades are the heart and soul of the dish, infusing each establishment’s unique recipe with special flavor and every zangi shop has their own, highly-secret version – many using different fruits to accentuate the taste AND to tenderize the chicken properly. Mine uses both grated kiwi (whose enzymes tenderize the chicken as it marinates plus adding sweetness) and grated apple, as well as a plethora of other (formerly) secret ingredients typically shared only with others on the Chef’s deathbed.
I instead will proffer My secrets voluntarily and without the threat of imminent existence to motivate Me. I have already sat by the palliative bedsides of enough zangi-sensei to gather this sacred and hidden knowledge on your behalf, Citizens! 😉
Wondra is a treasured ingredient for gravy making in Southern United States kitchens for over a century. Wondra, an instant flour that has been pre-cooked and dried, has a gritty cornmeal-like texture. With the addition of malted barley flour, Wondra flour fries up into gorgeously-crisped perfection.
Julia Child and Jacques Pepin also have used it to make smooth sauces, gravy, and yes, crispy chicken. Le Bernardin, a three-star Michelin restaurant, uses it to fry their fish – if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for TFD! 😀 Double frying at two different temperatures is another key to the shatteringly-crisp chicken pieces – please don’t skip this step!
Other ingredients I call for in My version of this recipe includes Kentucky Bluegrass soy sauce (don’t turn up your nose – it’s truly amazing and better made than 99% of all market-available Asian soy sauces!), Kadoya sesame oil, Japanese Bull Dog Sauce, (refreshingly canine-free – it’s akin to a thicker, sweeter Worcestershire sauce), green Yuzu Kosho condiment for citrus and heat, and rice bran oil for high-temp frying. My optional addition of miso soup mix adds another layer of umami that really elevates the recipe.
My Citizens – Zantare Karaage is one of my favorite guilty pleasures and once you have sampled the unspeakably delicious version that is TFD’s, you will be forever RUINED to any other – as it should be! I am EXTREMELY fond of Hokkaido recipes and have several here on the blog, including smoked salmon soup and teriyaki salmon.
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
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