"I love chicken skin," says Takashi Yagihashi.
The Chicago-based chef and native of Japan is leaning over a gurgling pot, cheerfully extolling the virtues of crisp-skinned fried chicken.
Today he's making karaage — Japanese-style fried chicken — with a twist: The glistening stuff in the pot is no mere cooking oil but lovely golden-rendered duck fat (see the recipe).
It's easy to see why the dish is in constant demand at Slurping Turtle, his izakaya/noodle shop. Legs and thighs are cut into bite-size pieces (easier to pick up with chopsticks), then marinated in a concentrated blend of soy sauce, sesame oil, zingy ginger, and garlic.
At the restaurant, chef Takashi ups the savory impact by repurposing melted fat used to make duck confit. "You get the flavors from the duck leg and bay leaf, garlic, and black peppercorns," he says.
But even without this step, the fragrant fat perfumes both the skin and meat with its deep, transporting duckiness. And if you've gone to the trouble (and expense) of buying enough duck fat to fry a chicken, do be sure to strain it and keep it in your freezer for future projects. Really, there are few things in the world that duck fat won't improve.
"I loved fried chicken as a kid," chef Takashi says. "We actually had a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Japan."
His version of the classic bar snack has little to do with the Colonel's, but he does like to pair it with slaw. In place of a wet, mayo-laden mess, he makes a refreshing version of Napa cabbage and carrots spiked with chile paste, fish sauce, and rice vinegar. The bright crunch offers a much-needed counterbalance to the fatty-salty juiciness of the chicken.
"I want the slaw to taste very tangy and a little acidic," he says. "That's what makes it refreshing in your mouth."
We're into all kinds of fried chicken, but consider us converts to chef Takashi's ingenious duck fat-method.
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