When I was a poor student in Paris, me and my then (also struggling) boyfriend (now my husband) used to love to hunt for great yet easy-on-the-pocket eateries in the city. One of our favourite joint was this Japanese canteen tucked up in the heart of the very chic quarter that is Opéra. My husband would order udon or ramen, and I would almost always order chicken nanban: gingery fried chicken pieces (aka chicken karaage) in a spicy sour broth with a serving of tartar sauce on the side. A small bottle of cold sake would accompany our very satisfying date-meal.
Having moved to Singapore, I have yet to find a great Japanese restaurant that serves chicken nanban. So I’ve decided to have a go at making them myself. And turns out, it’s quite simple to make. I have adapted the nanban sauce from the entertaining “cooking with dog” series (it really is not what you think it is): adding a splash of mirin and using granulated dashi rather than kombu kelp which I always have trouble finding. But feel free to use kombu if you prefer it.
- 300 grams (10 oz) skin-on boneless chicken thighs, excess fat trimmed, flesh poked many times with a fork, then cut into nugget-sized pieces
- 1 fat garlic clove, minced
- 2.5 cm(1 inch) ginger, finely chopped/ minced
- 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon rice wine
- 4 tablespoons corn starch
- canola oil, for frying
FOR THE VEGETABLES
- 1 small carrot, julienned
- 1/2 red capsicum, julienned
- 1 medium onion, cut in half then thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 3 tablespoons water
- 4 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon mirin
- 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
- 1 1/2 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon granulated dashi
- 1 red bird’s eye chilli, deseeded (or not) then thinly sliced
- 1 pinch salt
FOR THE TARTAR SAUCE
- 1/2 tablespoon capers, drained and roughly chopped
- 1 gherkin, finely chopped (a small food processor/ immersion blender would do the job perfectly), drained of excess liquid
- 4 tablespoons good quality mayonnaise (I used Kewpie)
- 2 tablespoons plain yoghurt
First, MARINADE THE CHICKEN. In a ziploc bag, mix ginger, garlic, soy sauce, rice wine and chicken pieces together. Give it a shake and leave to marinade in the fridge for an hour or so.
In the meantime, heat 2 tablespoons oil in a medium pan and stir-fry THE VEGETABLES over medium heat for about 5 minutes, just enough to wilt the vegetables a bit and cook the onions. You still want a bit of crunch to them. Lift from the pan and set aside.
Now MAKE THE TARTAR SAUCE. In a small bowl, mix mayonnaise and yoghurt together. Slowly fold in the capers and gherkin. Taste for salt. Refrigerate.
ON TO THE NANBAN BROTH: heat water, light soy sauce, rice vinegar and mirin in a small saucepan over low heat. Add in the brown sugar and granulated dashi and stir to dissolve. Bring to a boil then add the chilli slices. Taste for salt. Transfer broth to a serving bowl and TOSS IN THE RESERVED VEGETABLES. Set aside.
When you’re ready TO FRY THE CHICKEN, grab another ziplock bag and place the corn starch inside. Put marinated chicken pieces in the new corn starch filled ziplock (discarding any excess liquid from the marinade) and shake vigorously. In a medium pan (that has been used for stir-frying the veggies earlier) heat canola oil over medium heat until it reaches 180 degrees C (350F). If you don’t have a thermometer, stick a wooden chopstick into the hot oil and if bubbles instantly appear, you’re good to go. When the oil is hot enough, deep-fry the chicken pieces until golden. Whatever you do, don’t crowd the pan. You may need to do this in batches. When all chicken pieces are golden and crispy, toss them into the nanban broth, coating well.
Serve with hot jasmine rice and tartar sauce. Itadakimasu!