Chicken nuggets to be precise. Japanese chicken nuggets. I loved these savory bites of goodness for a long time but never knew how to make them until I started to serve at United Japanese Christian Church in Clovis, CA. This historically Japanese church had some of the best lunches anywhere and they did it virtually every week. They also served the homebound once a month with free homemade bento box lunches. They were delicious. What these church chefs could cook up was astounding and it was these ladies that taught me the technique for making these scrumptious Japanese nuggets. I looked up different recipes online and most are similar, but with slight tweaks. Mine is the same. I tweaked it for our taste and added some instructions to help you understand the choices I made.
The nuggets have this lightly sweet, umami-laden juiciness with enough of a crunch to give it just the right texture in your mouth. Just thinking about it makes my mouth start to water! Pairs great with some Japanese sticky rice and the cool thing is you can use the fried crumbs from the batter to flavor your rice (kind of like furikake). The key to the flavor is in the ingredients. While chicken thighs are vastly superior to chicken breast for this recipe (I’ve tried both), it’s the soy sauce that is the star. The right soy sauce will heighten that umami flavor and give it that “umph” you need.
4-5 lbs of boneless, skinless chicken thighs – we like to use Mary’s because it’s air-chilled which seems to make a difference. Plus, Mary’s tends to have less fat on it, thus making for more nuggets per thigh.
1/4 cup Mochiko sweet rice flour – makes no difference if it’s organic or not, but the Mochiko brand is what you are looking for.
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup white granulated sugar
salt to taste (I use about 1 tsp)
2 large eggs
5 tbsp soy sauce – this is the KEY for me! We use Kikkoman Gluten-Free Soy Sauce. Not tamari. Not regular. Not Aloha Shoyu – all of which I have tried, but the Kikkoman Gluten-Free Soy Sauce. Even if you’re not gluten-free, the taste is richer and deeper and gives it more UMAMI. Of course you can use regular soy sauce, too.
2 tsp minced garlic (the kind from a jar, but you can also use fresh garlic)
1 bunch of green onions sliced into about 1/4 inch pieces
sesame seeds to taste (I use about 1 to 2 tbsp and now I like to mix it up with both black and white sesame seeds but either works)
Cut green onions and set aside (I do this first to minimize the number of cutting boards I have to use)
In a bowl big enough to hold your chicken, mix together the Mochiko flour, cornstarch, sugar, and salt
In a little bowl mix together the eggs, soy sauce, and garlic
Whisk the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until smooth and combined well
Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces – about 1/2 inch to an inch square and add them to the marinade
Fold in green onions and sesame seeds then cover and refrigerate
You CAN cook them immediately, but I’ve found if you let them rest at least 1-2 hours, you get better results. You can marinade it overnight if you like also for a deeper, richer flavor
Deep fry the chicken until golden brown. They will darken slightly more after you pull them out of the oil. I use a non-reactive oil like canola oil but peanut oil works great too. Don’t use olive oil unless you REALLY like that taste because it will absorb
Remove and let dry on a paper towel coated plate
When prepping the chicken the ladies at UJCC taught me to use a small knife and whittle away the fat. You don’t have to be perfect at it, but cutting the stringy fat especially makes it more meaty and flavorful. Make sure to flip over thigh as you can find fat everywhere. Take note of any pockets of fat too. They like to hide sometimes. While cooking, I like to skim the top of the oil for all those flavorful crumbs to put on my rice afterward. The onions do double duty here – both as part of the flavor in the marinade AND as a rice topping. When all is said and done though, you’ll have a very flavorful and tasty main dish to serve friends and family! Enjoy!