April 11, 2021

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Mister Karaage’s mission? Spreading the gospel of Japanese fried hen

Some dining establishments — Burger King, Pizza Hut, Subway — make no top secret of their culinary forte, proclaiming it in their brand name title.

By that logic, it’s a little bit of a no-brainer to deduce that Mister Karaage — a food cart running out of Kirby Lane, an open up-air community house in the coronary heart of Nelson, New Zealand — would specialize in Japan’s karaage fried hen.

The guy guiding the moniker is Kenji Usui, 55, a native of Ogaki, Gifu Prefecture, with a enthusiasm for the addictive snack. Alongside one another with his New Zealander wife, Rachel, he relocated from Gifu, where by they ran an English-language college, to Nelson. There, they ran the Balmoral Motel from 2009 till 2019. Significantly less than a yr after providing the business, Usui, riding a area meals truck boom, kicked off his culinary career.

“I’d been self-employed for a lengthy time and was utilized to that (life style), so I understood I preferred to operate for myself,” Usui claims of his changeover from motel operator to chef. “In Japan, karaage is fairly commonplace, and every person enjoys it to the extent that it is essentially ‘Japanese soul foods.’ But no one particular definitely thinks about it also closely. … When I made a decision to commence a (new) company, I pondered various strategies and then had a realization that ‘come to consider of it, I really appreciate karaage. And no one particular is executing it (in Nelson).’”

Usui goes on to make clear that Japanese restaurants are well-liked around the globe — not only do Japanese chefs and dining places continuously dominate intercontinental rankings these types of as La Liste, Michelin Information and Asia’s 50 Finest, the quantity of overseas places to eat serving Japanese foodstuff jumped 30% in the past two many years. Having said that, there aren’t quite a few specialty karaage joints, particularly in New Zealand.

With the help of his spouse, Usui started creating karaage at house when a 7 days to acquire a recipe. Right now, he marinates his hen in soy sauce and dredges it with a batter of katakuriko (potato starch) in its place of flour, both for its “Japanese image” and crispier texture. At Mister Karaage, Usui now features his karaage in a few flavors: normal, black pepper (encouraged by vintage Nagoya-style tebasaki rooster wings) or piquant shichimi (“seven flavors” spice), and served both on its own, on rice or, as of early March, as portion of a combined bento.

Savory snack: Kenji Usui marinates his rooster in soy sauce and dredges it with a batter of katakuriko (potato starch) rather of flour for a light and crispy texture. | CLAIRE WILLIAMSON

The hen is juicy and crisp without the need of staying oily, with a savory umami undertone from the shoyu marinade. Closing your eyes, you can very easily picture that you’re consuming en plein air at a summer matsuri festival.

Questioned if he manufactured any variations to localize the recipe for the Kiwi palate, Usui gives a definitive “no.”

“Everyone in the earth understands what fried hen is,” he suggests. “And everyone in the West is now common with soy sauce, so I did not see the need to have to regulate it. Even while I present a variety of Western sauces, I wished (the rooster) to be as traditional as achievable.

“Although I give teriyaki sauce or okonomiyaki sauce, the reality is those people are not Japanese-model,” he continues.

A single condiment Usui is keen to encourage, however, is classic Kewpie mayonnaise, which is manufactured with vinegar and egg yolks, fairly than whole eggs, for a thicker texture and tangier flavor than conventional white mayo.

“It’s actually crucial for me to use Kewpie mayo,” he says. “I want to spread karaage, but I also want to spread the thought of ‘mayo and (a further sauce).’ I utilized to assume that ‘karaage did not have to have condiments,’ but a Japanese-talking buddy instructed me that ‘Kiwis enjoy condiments so you have to have them,’ and my mentality modified to discovering unique sauce variants, which was a great factor.”

Whilst Usui has goals of a person working day opening a brick-and-mortar karaage chain across New Zealand, or a “nostalgic” izakaya pub in Nelson, for now he’s committed to frying rooster at his Mister Karaage cart. It’s been a one-gentleman labor of enjoy, down to the distinct, sharp-toothed rooster logo. Usui built it himself, riffing off the distinct eyeglasses worn by a single of his most loved characters in “Macaroni Horenso,” a Showa Period (1926-89) slapstick manga by Tsubame Kamogawa.

“I do not know if I’ll be equipped to do it but … Japan has a large amount of delicious dishes, like karaage, that are almost unfamiliar abroad,” he claims. “I never have any business ideas, but following karaage, perhaps I’ll introduce Japanese karēraisu (curry with rice) or onigiri (rice balls) to Kiwis.”

For additional details, take a look at misterkaraage.co.nz.

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