As I was flipping through the pages of the cookbook "Essentially Japanese" by Hideo Dekura, I stopped at page 191 which featured a recipe for Vinaigrette Chicken (or Nanban-Chicken as commonly known in Japan). The words vinaigrette got my tastebuds tingling and my mouth watering as I could imagine eating succulent pieces of deep-fried chicken soaked in the sweet, tangy and spicy dressing (or sauce). I had never had this dish before, although once I ate it, it tasted very familiar, like something that would have been served as a side dish in one of those bento boxes.
I enjoyed the combination of the sauce made from rice vinegar, sake, soy and sugar, with onions and chopped chillies, which was used to "marinade" or steep the fried chicken in before serving. This allowed the flavours to be well-absorbed into the outer layer of the chicken. I was surprised that with so much vinegar in the sauce, it wasn't as acidic or sour as I thought it would be, but then again, a lot of sake went into making the sauce too. A generous squeeze of lemon juice adds an element of freshness and slight tartness to the dish. I reckon this is fantastic served with either white rice or simply as an appetizer. Add more chillies if you prefer more heat!
Nanban-Chicken (Vinaigrette Chicken)
Adapted from Essentially Japanese by Hideo Dekura
2 small white/brown onions, peeled and thinly sliced into rings
150ml (2/3 cup) rice vinegar
250ml (1 cup) sake
30ml (2 tbsp) soy sauce
2 tbsp sugar
1-2 red chillies (or bird's eye chillies if you like), de-seeded and thinly sliced
1 tbsp sake
2 tsp mirin
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp grated ginger
Pinch of salt
Pepper to taste
Sansho, to taste (optional)
600g (1 1/4 lb) chicken thigh fillets
1-2 tbsp potato starch (or substitute with cornstarch)
2 eggs, beaten
Vegetable oil for deep-frying
1 lemon, cut into wedges
- Soak onion in water for 30 minutes, then drain.
- In a pan, boil vinegar and sake to evaporate the alcohol (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat and add soy sauce, sugar and chilli. Stir to dissolve sugar. Add onion and set aside as marinade.
- Mix sake, mirin, soy sauce, ginger, salt, pepper and sansho in a bowl. Cut chicken into 2 inch pieces and combine thoroughly with the mixture. Set aside to marinate in the fridge for 1 hour.
- Heat up oil in a wok or deep frying pan. Gradually add potato starch to the eggs and whisk together.* Dip chicken into the batter and deep-fry the chicken until golden brown and cooked.
- Drain the chicken on a wire rack or absorbent paper. Place chicken in the marinade prepared in Step 2 above, for about 15 minutes.
- Serve with lemon wedges.