Left photo by Brittany Carvalho, right courtesy of Westland Distillery
Crunch Time: Chicken Karaage and Whiskey Recipe Pairing
by Julia Wayne

Chef Mutsuko Soma is hard to find on an ordinary day, but the chef-owner of the Kamonegi pop-up is a beloved member of the Seattle dining scene. The classically trained chef used to cook Spanish food, but was inspired years ago to go back to her native Japan and went to soba-making school. Upon returning, she gained a local following at Miyabi 45th, bringing in West Coast-grown buckwheat, milling it and making it into soba daily for lucky diners.

In addition to the slippery, toothsome, delightful noodles, Soma delighted patrons with small plates meant to pair with cocktails — and she truly loves a well-made drink. Her foie gras “tofu” with honey-roasted grapes is a delightful start to a meal, but her chicken karaage — fried chicken made in the Japanese style — is the juicy goodness she loves most alongside her libations. Although the chef has stepped away from the restaurant hustle, you can still find her operating pop-ups, demos and private dinners focused on showcasing soba and educating people about the culinary uses of buckwheat as well as pouring a glass of local whiskey.

Chef Soma’s Pairing: “Fried chicken is one of my favorite foods and whiskey is one of my favorite drinks,” she says. “They just happen to go well together. Westland Distillery‘s peated whiskey has the smokiness that I enjoy with fried chicken. It’s finger food, but complex. It has acid, heat, warmth, juiciness and crunch, and the peaty finish from the whiskey is the perfect added partner. ”

Chicken and Cauliflower Karaage
Serves 4-6

5 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon chili flakes
2 tablespoons Mirin
¼ cup soy sauce
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 shallot, chopped
2 pounds chicken thighs (either skin on or skin off)
2 quarts oil
Cornstarch for dusting
1 head cauliflower*

Prepare the marinade by blending the garlic, chili flakes, Mirin, soy sauce, black pepper and chopped shallot in a blender or with a hand mixer.

Pour into a container and add the chicken, then marinate for a minimum of 4 hours or overnight.

Set a fryer or deep pot with the oil heated to 350˚ F (176° C). When ready to fry, lightly dust chicken with cornstarch and deep fry for 8-10 minutes until golden brown.

*For a vegetarian version with cauliflower, cut florets off cauliflower head and follow the same instructions. Fry for 3-4 minutes until golden brown.

Chef Soma’s “Nashville-style” seasoning:
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon minced ginger
3 teaspoons fine ground chili powder
Pinch of salt
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup sesame oil

Combine seasoning ingredients. Heat vegetable oil to about 300° F (149° C), or until bubbling hot. Add the seasoning mixture — be careful as the wet seasoning mixture may cause the oil to spatter. Finish by mixing in room temperature sesame oil and toss with fried chicken.

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