Pepper-Lemon Chicken Karaage: gluten and soy-free

IMG: Chicken karaage - gfree

Happy New Year!

I had all kinds of plans for 2014, but at the moment my no. 1 priority is getting healthier. So, for the time being things on this site will be fairly low key. But I thought I would upload this alternate version of chicken karaage (Japanese-style fried chicken), which I've slowly been working on improving over the last few months.

This version is lighter in taste and color then the original, and it's totally wheat gluten and soy free. I originally made this for someone who is avoiding gluten, but being that I am me I needed it to be seriously tasty at the same time. The big difference compared to the original recipe is that it does not use any soy sauce in the marinade; the umami is added to the chicken instead by a rich chicken stock, and the saltiness is just pure salt. I have omitted the ginger too, and added a little lemon juice and a lot of black pepper. The result is still very tasty though. Since potato starch (katakuriko) or cornstarch are used to coat the chicken, as with the original, there's no wheat in this at all. We like this version so much that we've been having this more often than the original. If you find it hard to get the sake and soy sauce and so on called for in the original recipe, you may find this easier too.

The nuggets stay quite crispy when cold, so they're great for bentos.

I think karaage is juicier when made with dark meat, but you can use white meat too. Just cook it for a little less time.

Pepper-Lemon Chicken Karaage: Wheat, gluten and soy-free


This is a twist on classic Japanese chicken karaage, made without any soy sauce, flour or sake. The chicken is marinated in chicken stock to add umami.

Prep time: 10 min, plus marinating time (see directions) :: Cook time: 20 min :: Total time: 30 min plus marinating time

Yield: 10 to 12 pieces

Serving size: 3-4 pieces as part of a Japanese meal or in a bento


  • 10 oz (300g) boneless chicken thigh meat or breast meat
  • 1 1/2 US cups (about 350 ml) Rich chicken stock, homemade preferred (see Notes)
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons. Lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon Finely grated lemon zest (the yellow part of the lemon only)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Salt (see notes)
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml or so) Potato starch (katakuriko) or cornstarch, (enough to coat the chicken)
  • Oil, (for deep frying)


Cut up the chicken thighs into bite-sized pieces. You can take off the skin if you like, though it does make the chicken crispier. You can also use breast meat insteadd.

Combine the chicken stock, lemon juice, and grated lemon zest in a bowl. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and mix well. Taste - it should be fairly salty but not overwhelmingly so. Add a bit more salt if needed.

Put the chicken pieces in the bowl. Let marinate for a minimum of 30 minutes - an hour is ideal. If marinating for more than an hour (say, overnight), do not put salt in the marinade.

When you're ready to fry the chicken, take it out of the marinade and pat it dry. If you didn't add salt to the marinade, salt the chicken now and rub it in. Leave for a few minutes, and pat dry again. Grind a ton of black pepper on the chicken (it can stand a lot) .

Heat the oil; if using a temperature-controlled fryer or a thermometer, aim for 160°C / 355°F, a fairly low temperature. Toss enough potato or cornstarch into the marinated chicken so that each piece is completely coated. Fry the chicken pieces a few at a time at 160°C / 320°F until cooked through. The chicken will still be quite pale.

Take the chicken out of the oil, and drain off while you raise the temperature of the oil to 180°C / 355°F. When the oil is hot, re-add the chicken pieces and cook until a light golden brown - about 30 seconds to a minute. It won't get as dark in color as the soy-sauce marinated version. Don't overcook or the chicken will dry out.

Drain well on a rack, or old newspaper lined on top with paper towels.

Serve with lemon wedges, and even more pepper if you like.

Ingredient notes and substitutions

If you use chicken stock cubes or granules, it already has salt in it so be sure to taste your marinade before adding any more.

If you do use chicken stock cubes, don't marinate it for more than an hour or so (because of the salt).

The best version of this is to marinate the chicken in unsalted chicken stock with lemon juice and zest overnight in the refrigerator. Add the salt later, as per the directions. The chicken will be very flavorful and juicy.

Potato starch, or katakuriko, is standard for karaage in Japan. It creates a wonderfully light, crispy, greaseless surface. It's not that easy to get a hold of in many places though (look in a Japanese grocery store), so cornstarch(cornflour in the UK) is an acceptable substitute. If you must avoid gluten for medical reasons, be sure to use a cornstarch that is guaranteed to be gluten-free.

The lemon juice acts in a way like the sake in the original recipe, in that it eliminates some of the gaminess of the chicken. Adjust the amount to taste; I like to squeeze on more when I eat the karaage.

If you use white meat instead of dark, cook it for a bit less time or the chicken will dry out.

You can marinate a pound or more (or around 500g) of cut up chicken in this marinade. To marinate more, just increase the amount of marinade.

Try using yuzu juice and peel instead of the lemon if you can get them, and sprinkle with sansho pepper or shichimi tohgarashi (seven-ingredient chili pepper) instead of black pepper.

(metadata for this recipe:)

  • Author: Makiko Itoh
  • Published: January 14, 2014
Filed under:  japanese chicken favorites bento gluten-free washoku chuuka soy-free variation

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Hi Maki San!

Have you tried using coconut aminos? That would be a good soy-free option, but tastes identical to soy sauce... it could get a bit expensive, though!

Thank you! This looks and sounds amazingly yummy!
I'm gonna try this with potato starch, I can't eat gluten myself and I don't know how I never thought of that.

I'm so impressed by your dedication to this blog and the quality of posts you've maintained during your illness.

I wish you health and can't wait to read your next post!

This is definitely going onto the list of recipes to make this weekend because it sounds fabulous!

Maki, do you prefer the potato starch or the corn starch versions? I was just wondering if there is a texture difference to it. As a celiac, I have plenty of both around but I'm leaning towards trying this with the potato over the corn starch.

I think the potato starch gives a lighter, crispier finish, but I usually use cornstarch since it's much cheaper here!

This is awesome! Thank you!
I'm so amazed at your dedication and

I need to avoid carbohydrates due to medical reasons. Any tips on how to make karaage without coating it in carbohydrates?

Hmm. Well, it won't be karaage, but try dipping your chicken in egg and coating it in sesame seeds (provided you can have that). You will still have crispy chicken this way.

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Warm regards,

Thank you! Wheat-free alternatives are always appreciated. I've got a wheat sensitivity but I'm fine with non-wheat gluten so I've been doing fried chicken with barley flour but I've got to try this version.

This may be a bit of topic but I wanted to ask about ゆず胡椒 yuzukoshou.

We only have one Japanese resturant where I live (northern sweden :D ) and they also happen to sell some Japanese ingredients. I got this Japanese cook-book and many of the recipes have ゆず胡椒 in them. Now they said they didn't have ゆず胡椒 but that I could just take lemon zest and black peppers and it would taste the same. They even told me I could use lemon pepper seasoning

I wanted a second opinion about this since from what I've read Yuzu isn't really anything like a lemon.

I also don't get why she told me to use black peppers, when yuzu koushou is made with green or red chili peppers... which obviously is nothing like black peppers.

Just a quick note... 180C is indeed 355, but 160C should be 320.

The Blonde will LOVE this recipe, many thanks!

Spring and new, clean fresh life just around the corner, bless you and bring you to joyful health, maki-san!

Looks delicious!

An odd tip: if you live anywhere near a Jewish community, keep an eye out for potato starch in March/April. It's very common then because of the restrictions in place for Passover (corn starch is a no-no).

That's when I stock up!

Alternatively, I think you could try Amazon for Manishewitz brand potato starch. that may be available year-round.

Delicious recipe!!!
I like it that you use lemon cests for the chicken. It looks great. Thank you.

I have always loved the Chinese versions of lemon chicken but thought they were always a little too starchy. This concoction is a perfect blend of crisp and lightness. Way to delicious to not try. Thanks for sharing.