Kushiage is, simply put, deep fried food served on sticks. In fact, “kushi” means stick, and “age” (pronounced “ah-gay”) means fried. Though they may read as being merely “fried sticks,” kushiage has been elevated to an art form by chefs in Japan. Incidentally, chefs in Osaka and nearby areas tend to say “kushikatsu,” but rest assured it is one in the same.
Enough talk about semantics; it’s time to get to the meat of the matter. The process for making kushiage starts the skewering of various meats, seafood, and vegetables onto thin bamboo sticks, but straight into the fryer they do not go. First they are dipped into melted butter, coated with breadcrumbs, and only then deep-fried to a golden crisp. Immediately before eating, you are to dip each stick into the provided Japanese-style BBQ sauce only once. The italics don’t come close to doing justice to precisely how important that last statement is.
What exactly gets fried up for kushiage? There are the standards, most obvious being pork and beef. Then there some outliers such as squid, cheese, onions, or even cocktail wieners. The Japanese have an uncanny penchant for quail eggs, so you should not be surprised to see three little eggs lined up a on stick. As for the single dip sauce, it’s a water and Worcestershire sauce base, with varying amounts of ketchup, soy sauce, rice wine, mustard and sugar in it, though recipes may vary from kitchen to kitchen. It’s a very thin sauce, so the sticks slip in and out quite easily.
Generally, wherever kushiage is served, so is raw cabbage. Cabbage and kushiage pair very well, as both are crispy, but only one has heft to it. You can dip the cabbage into the sauce, or just munch on it in the raw. Refills are free, so don’t hold back! Speaking of pairing, it goes without saying that beer pairs well with fried food, but so does hot sake! When in Japan, right?
Looking to try Kushiage in Tokyo?
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