Tokyo fried chicken

Japanese fried chicken lunch

So many places around the world call to us. We’re so enamored with traveling that our daughter’s placemat at the table is a map of the United States. (We study the states we might visit this year, not so she will memorize her capitols. We want her to know the geography of the road we’ll be traveling.) We go to Italy every year, twice a year this year, but we still hunger for more. There is nothing like eating a good meal in a culture not our own.

Still, for all the traveling we have been lucky enough to do these last seven years together, Danny and I have never had the intensity of experience our friends Matthew, Laurie, and Iris did by spending a month in Tokyo last year.

Matthew Amster-Burton is one of the funniest human beings I have the pleasure of knowing. He has a keen eye, a skeptical mind, and a genius for condensing what you need to know in a handful of sentences. So trust me when I say this: you want to read Pretty Good Number One: An American Family Eats Tokyo. It’s a consistently riveting book that might make you want to slap the bed as you laugh.

And hey! Matthew ate natto and described it so well that you don’t have to eat it. What more do you need?

I could write all this on Twitter. But I also wanted to give you food. So Matthew, Laurie, and Iris (their hilarious, precocious daughter who was the subject of Matthew’s other book, Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father’s Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater, and more importantly for us, one of Lucy’s favorite people) came over for lunch a few weeks ago. We made some food for you.

Well, and for ourselves as well.

ingredients for Japanese chicken

Whenever we see Matthew, we remind ourselves: must go to Uwajimaya more often. His penchant for Asian cuisine inspires us to look for toasted sesame seeds, skinny cucumbers, and a better brand of mirin.

chicken with ginger grated

We decided to make fried chicken together, the kind of fried chicken eaten in Tokyo. Guess what? It’s naturally gluten-free. Tokyo fried chicken is not heavily breaded, with a crust so thick it has a texture and taste all its own. Dredged in potato starch and fried twice, Tokyo fried chicken is dangerously delicious. It’s best to have a lot of friends over when you make this. You’ll want to eat both plates by yourself.

Share, people.

frying the Japanese chicken

Look at that hot oil! Don’t be afraid of it. Matthew sure wasn’t afraid of it.

Having a spider strainer makes all frying easier.

Japanese fried chicken

Look at that gorgeous fried chicken. Ready to dive in?

Wait. You need one more fry for extra crispness.

making the sesame seed paste for Japanese chicken

While Matthew was frying us some chicken, Lucy and Iris took turns bashing up the toasted sesame seeds. This is a special bowl the Amster-Burtons brought back from Tokyo just for this purpose.

green beans with sesame seeds

And then, there was lunch. Tokyo fried chicken. These delicious green beans. Pickled red cabbage. Japanese cucumbers with a simple rice wine vinegar dressing. A sorghum-lentil salad (sorry, that didn’t fit the theme at all). Watermelon.

It was all gone pretty quickly. And I’m pretty sure I slapped the table while I ate, since Matthew made me laugh so hard. Again.

Japanese fried chicken plate


Tokyo Fried Chicken

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I know that the idea of frying foods scares some people. However, if you keep the kids away from the hot stove and have a reliable thermometer, there’s no reason why frying should be terrifying.

And there are numerous studies to show that the occasional fried food isn’t as bad for your health as people assume. Fry your food at the right temperature, and with a good oil (we like rice bran oil here), and you’re good to go.

All you need to do is set up your ingredients ahead of time and get those plates covered with paper towels and you’re good to go. Gather round, everyone! It’s time to eat fried chicken.


Feeds 6 to 8
2 pounds chicken thighs, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 large nub ginger (about 1 inch long), peeled
1/4 cup gluten-free tamari
1/4 cup mirin
1/2 cup potato starch
rice bran oil for frying
kosher salt


Here is the rice bran oil we use:

16 comments on “Tokyo fried chicken

  1. EmSewCrazy

    I will have to try this . The family loves fried stuff and mourn that they can’t eat it at home because of me anymore. Maybe we can all enjoy some fried chicken together again.

  2. Tagati

    Ah, reminds me of my last visit to see relatives in Japan. I gorged myself on the wonderful food whilst traveling between relatives.

    Okay, now I’m hungry and have to make some okara!

  3. Patti May

    I have read everyone of your book recommendations, so it goes without saying Matthew Amster-Burtons will be next!!

    P. S. I have LOVED every single one of your suggestions! Food, of course, looks wonderful..

  4. diane harris

    Wow….i will need to try this recipe for fried chicken. My public library doesn’t have the books you recommended so I asked that they order them….my tax dollars at work.

    Thanks for your writing and sharing!! Keep it coming.

  5. Delia

    The best part of traveling has to be the food! I’ve never been to Japan but I hope to one day and this chicken sounds delicious! Thanks for sharing!

  6. Carol

    We’ll be moving to the Tokyo region this fall, and what I read about eating GF in Japan is not encouraging. How can I be sure that fried chicken in Tokyo will always be made with potato starch?

  7. Jennifer McKinney

    This looks so yummy–can’t wait to try. “Hungry Monkey” made me laugh so hard even though I was crying inside because my child would only eat three foods. Thankfully dear child has evolved and he would probably devour this fried chicken.

  8. leela

    these green beans are calling to me!!! EAT ME EAT ME!! love matthew’s work as well – neat to see you two collaborate in the kitchen.

  9. JensCooks

    I just bought boneless chicken thighs for dinner, then had to remember why. This was why. This has been in the back of my mind since I read it. Tonight, it will be dinner. It’s no accident that every other ingredient is a staple in our house.

  10. Casey

    This looks sooo good! One of the things I’ve missed most after being diagnosed with celiac is FRIED FOOD!! Thank you so much for sharing!

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