This method of cooking seems to have been known in Japan already in the Nara period (8th c.), but was not very popular. It only became important in the Edo period (17th-19th c.), after contact with similar techniques from the Portuguese and the Chinese, and thanks to the availability of vegetable oils. As usual, the Japanese have elevated this imported technique to the very apogee of refinement. Tempura was the most typical food cooked in this way in the Edo-period.
Agemono (ageru) is one of the fundamental categories of Japanese cooking, like aemono, yakimono, nimono, suimono, sashimi etc.
[Katsudon, deep fried pork cutlet over rice]
Some of the fine points of the deep-frying technique in Japan are:
- Ideally, the foods should be eaten seconds after cooking.
- Deep-fried foods in Japan are light, thanks to controlling the temperature of the oil (if it is too low, the ingredients will take up more fat) and exercising restraint in blending the batter. Different types of frying and different ingredients ask for different temperature settings.
- Only pure vegetable oil is used. See my post on abura.
There are four techniques for deep-frying in Japan:
- Su-age 素揚げ, deep-frying without dredging the ingredients in flour or dipping them in batter. Lit. "naked frying." Not suitable for soft ingredients. This technique is the least common of the four. Used with green beans, small eggplants, sliced lotus root and sweet potatoes.
- Kara-age 唐揚げ Lit. "Chinese frying," but originally "empty" or "dry" frying." The ingredients are dredged or dusted in flour, kuzu starch or cornstarch. This thin outer coating seals the surface, so that the flavor of the food is not markedly changed by the deep-frying. Popular ingredients are: chicken, tofu and flatfish (karei).
- Koromo-age 衣揚げ "Batter frying." The batter should be loosely mixed and lumpy. The most typical dish is Tempura.
- Kawari-age 変わり揚げ "Different deep-frying." So called because a different or novel technique is used, viz, that of breading (which came from the West). The most typical dishes are Tonkatsu, deep-fried, breaded pork cutlet, or Ebi Furai, deep-fried, breaded prawns (the English name "furai" also points at the foreignness of this technique).
[Tori no Kara-age, deep-fried chicken]
Some popular fried dishes are:
- Agedashi-dofu (kara-age) - deep-fried tofu sprinkled with katsuobushi and served with grated ginger and daikon in a soy based sauce. Quickly heated, so that the tofu is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.
- Tori no Kara-age (kara-age) - chunks of chicken dusted in flour and deep-fried; one of the most popular izakaya foods and a favorite with beer. Dry on the outside and juicy inside.
- Tori no Tatsuta-age (kara-age) - chunks of chicken marinated in soy sauce and then dusted in flour and deep-fried. The soy sauce gives the ingredients a reddish color, which has led to the name "Tatsuta-age:" Tatsuta is an area in Nara traditionally famous for the red color of its autumn leaves.
- Karei no Kara-age (kara-age) - flounder (flatfish) dusted in flour and deep-fried. The whole fish, including the bones, is eaten. A crispy dish, again popular in izakaya.
- Tempura (koromo-age) - ingredients as seafood and vegetables deep-fried in light batter. See my post about Tempura.
- Kaki-age (koromo-age) - finely chopped seafood and vegetables fried in tempura batter. See my post about Kaki-age.
- Ebi-furai (kawari-age) - large prawns dipped in egg, coated in panko (breadcrumbs) and deep-fried. Eaten with tartare sauce.
- Kaki-furai (kawari-age) - same as the above, in which oysters are used. A dish popular in winter.
- Tonkatsu (kawari-age) - deep-fried, breaded pork cutlet. See my post about Tonkatsu.