Japanese fried chicken puts a refined spin on arguably the world’s favorite hand-held nosh.
Lylo Swim Club
400 W. Camelback Rd., Phoenix
Fried chicken abounds on Valley menus, from Nashville hot to Korean. Recently, Japanese fried chicken has entered the fray. What sets it apart? Usually some marinade plus a quick tussle with potato starch prior to frying. At Lylo Swim Club at the new ARRIVE Phoenix hotel, chef Alex Resnick marinates chicken overnight in soy sauce, ginger, rice vinegar and sesame oil, but breaks tradition by breading the bird with mochiko sweet rice flour before plunging it into the fryer. Bite through Resnick’s mochiko chicken sando ($15) and you’ll find a crunchy, deep-fried thigh topped with peanut cabbage slaw and a swath of lemon-laced mayo wrapped in a pillowy potato bun. Also on the menu: buckets of fried chicken ($26, serves two; $42, for three to four) to eat poolside, loaded with crispy wings, drumettes and boneless thighs along with house-made shrimp chips. Wash down with beer. Repeat.
Hana Japanese Eatery
5524 N. Seventh Ave., Phoenix
The Japanese love their fried chicken so much, they have several different permutations of it. Chef Lori Hashimoto serves chicken tatsuta-age ($8) as an appetizer – around 10 bite-size chicken breast nuggets breaded in potato starch and deep-fried in cottonseed oil for its neutral flavor. Before frying, Hashimoto marinates the meat in sake, salt and a smidgen of chile sauce for a whisper of heat. She plates the crusty nuggets with a lemon wedge to counteract the oil and a simple dish of warm soy sauce mingled with rice vinegar for dipping. The craggy breading absorbs the sauce and literally melts on your tongue. Japanese cooks typically use potato starch instead of flour for breading because it fries up lighter and achieves a crispier crust, Hashimoto says.
1116 S. Dobson Rd., Mesa
Karaage is a Japanese cooking technique that means “empty fry” or “naked fry” – i.e. cooked without a thick batter. Most often, the technique is employed on chicken, but it can also be used for beef and fish. Typically, the meats are marinated in soy sauce, garlic and ginger to enrich the flavor, then lightly battered and fried, culminating in a crinkly, reddish-brown crust. At Daruma, a new, much-talked-about Japanese bistro in Mesa, chicken karaage ($7.95) is a filling appetizer plate sporting about 15 bite-size thigh nuggets lightly battered with potato starch and studded with sesame seeds. For dipping, there’s a side of spicy teriyaki mayonnaise sauce that you’ll gobble down in a hurry. In fact, you’ll probably need more than one ramekin of the stuff, so don’t be shy about asking for a refill.