Toriten is a regional dish that hails from Oita, Japan. Made with succulent, marinated chicken breast which is then coated in a fluffy tempura batter and deep fried, it's served with a bright and citrusy dipping sauce. When it comes to flavour, this regional chicken tempura ticks all the boxes!
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What is toriten (Japanese chicken tempura)?
You might think chicken tempura is simply a deep fried chicken with tempura batter, but technically this is not the case. The batter is thicker to coat the smooth surface of the chicken and the chicken meat itself is marinated. I would say it's more like a cross between tempura and karaage.
Toriten is a regional dish of Oita Prefecture which is located on the South Western island of Kyushu. Incidentally, the locals of Oita Prefecture are well known for eating a lot of chicken.
Brief history of chicken tempura
"Toriten" is said to have originated at Toyoken, a restaurant in Beppu City, Oita Prefecture in the early Showa period (1926-1989). The existing karaage (the most famous type of Japanese fried chicken) on their menu was made with chicken thigh on the bone.
Toriten was originally made by cutting boneless thigh meat into bite-size pieces and arranging them tempura-style, out of concern that the karaage with bones would be difficult to eat for some people.
As a result, the batter, which cooks faster than karaage and is both crispy and soft, quickly became popular and can now be found in restaurants throughout Japan.
Toriten vs Tempura: what are the differences?
As I mentioned already, even though toriten can be translate as chicken tempura, they are actually different dishes. The first critical difference is that while toriten is seasoned before frying, regular tempura ingredients are not seasoned at all. This is because tempura is deep-fried in an mild batter and then dipped in sauce or salt, the purpose is to let the flavour of each ingredient shine through.
Because of this aspect, the regular tempura has a whitish appearance, while the toriten has a brownish finish due to the marinating sauce. I personally do not recommend making chicken tempura with the usual thin tempura batter. Instead, use this toriten marinade and batter recipe created especially for chicken tempura.
The contents of the batter itself are quite similar, but toriten batter is slightly thicker. As for the dipping sauce, toriten does not use the usual tempura dipping sauce (tentsuyu) as well.
Toriten vs Karaage: what are the differences?
Okay now, how is toriten different from karaage? Aren't they both "fried chicken"? In the broadest terms, yes they are both deep fried chicken dishes that are marinated beforehand. The biggest difference between the two is in the batter.
This is because karaage is basically deep-fried with a floury coating, whereas toriten is deep-fried with a tempura-style batter made with egg. If you compare them side by side, you will definitely notice that karaage is more crispy and crunchy, whereas toriten is still lightly crisp, but also fluffy due to the eggs adding air to the batter.
Furthermore, karaage is often made with chicken thigh meat, whereas toriten often uses chicken breast. Incidentally, I personally prefer thigh meat for karaage, but prefer breast meat for toriten. So if you want to make Japanese style fried chicken with chicken breast, I definitely recommend making toriten over karaage.
Chicken tempura vs Chicken katsu: what are the differences?
Unlike these above, chicken tempura and chicken katsu are completely different. While toriten is basically a battered chicken, chicken katsu is coated with flour, egg and panko breadcrumbs then deep fried.
If you look at my pictures above, you can see how they are very different. In addition, chicken katsu is usually served with a thicker dipping sauce.
Ingredients to make chicken tempura at home
Toriten roughly comes with 3 different components: marinade, batter and dipping sauce. So I will break them down into sections and make ingredients lists here:
Ingredients for toriten marinade
Toriten uses a similar marinade to chicken karaage. This marinade includes:
The soy sauce adds saltiness, umami and brings out the flavour of the chicken. The sake softens the meat and the ginger/garlic/sesame oil mixture makes the overall result fragrant and flavourful.
Ingredients for chicken tempura batter
The batter is made with typical tempura ingredients:
- All-purpose flour
- Potato starch (or other kind of starch such as corn starch)
Although the ingredients used are the same as regular tempura batter, the quantities are different. See the recipe card at the bottom of the page for exact measurements.
Dipping sauce ingredients
Unlike regular tempura, chicken tempura is served with a sour and refreshing sauce made with:
Kabosu is a citrus fruit closely related to Japanese yuzu. Oita prefecture is well known for it's kabosu production so to keep with the regional theme, I used kabosu in my recipe. Of course, it can be hard to come by outside of Japan so feel free to use more accessible citrus fruits such as lemon, lime etc. You can also buy bottle kabosu juice from Oita on Amazon (affiliate link) but it's pretty expensive so if you only plan to use it for this dish, it's better to use a substitute.
Instructions on how to make homemade chicken tempura
Here is a run down of each step of my chicken tempura recipe including tips and tricks to make it perfect every time!
Cut the chicken
The first step is to cut the chicken breast into bitesize pieces. It sounds straight forward, but because we only deep fry for a short time, it's important that they are not too big otherwise the batter will brown too much before the chicken is cooked all the way through.
I recommend just a little larger than bitesize. Try to cut the chicken to similar sizes so that the pieces cook evenly.
Mix the soy sauce, grated garlic, grated ginger, sake and sesame oil in a bowl and add the chicken pieces. Once every piece is evenly coated, cover and allow to marinate in the fridge for 30 minutes.
30 minutes is plenty of time for the marinade to work it's magic, you don't need longer than 30 minutes. In fact, if you marinate too long, the flavour can become overpowering, 30 minutes is the sweet spot!
Mix the egg and water
One of the most important things to mention in this step, is that you should use chilled water from the fridge to make the tempura batter. I recommend measuring out the water right at the beginning and chilling it while the chicken is marinating. (Some people even add ice to tempura batter.)
Whisk the chilled water and the egg together until combined, whisk slowly and gently so that the egg doesn't become too foamy.
Sift in the flour and starch
In a separate mixing bowl, add the flour and potato starch and whisk them together until combined. I recommend sifting the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients to make it extra light and airy.
Again, mix gently so that lumps remain in the batter. Tempura is known for being a bit lumpy!
Dip and fry
Preheat your oil to 170°C (340°F). Use a neutral flavoured oil with a high smoke point such as vegetable oil or canola oil. (Some tempura restaurants use expensive oils such as rice bran oil or white sesame oil, they do improve the tempura but are not essential.)
If you've already mixed your tempura batter and you're waiting for your oil to heat up, store it in the fridge to keep it chilled. Cold tempura batter works best and should be kept chilled while you're not using it, this includes the time between batches if you're making a lot!
Once your oil is hot, transfer all of the chicken pieces into the bowl of batter, coat thoroughly and then add to the oil one by one. Avoid overfilling the pot as this will reduce the temperature of the oil and not only will the chicken tempura cook more slowly, but the batter could become saturated and oily.
Cook for 4 minutes in total, turning halfway through. The end result should be fluffy and golden!
Once cooked, place on a wire rack to allow any excess oil to drain off. This will prevent it from going soggy.
Make the sauce
Lastly, mix up the kabosu juice, soy sauce and rice vinegar in a bowl. It probably takes about 30 seconds and it's so zingy and refreshing, a perfect balance for a deep fried dish!
Substitutions and variations of chicken tempura
In this section, I will list all the alternative ingredients, substitutions and variations against the recipe card below to make the best chicken tempura to your preference:
- Chicken thigh (instead of breast)
- Chicken wings (instead of breast)
- Dry and not too fruity white wine (instead of sake)
In the making of batter, I used potato starch. But you can substitute potato starch with other starch below:
- Corn starch
- Tapioca starch
- Rice flour
For the citrus in the dipping sauce, I used kabosu or sudachi, but you can also use other citrus juice like these below:
- Yuzu (You can buy concentrated yuzu juice on Amazon)