Recipe: Chewy, crunchy Mochiko chicken

While you may not be attending a lot of potlucks these days, this easy fried chicken dish travels well, so pack it up in a picnic basket for a socially distanced hike or outdoor meal.

A bowl of fried Mochiko chicken, garnished with sesame seeds and green onion, shot from above.
Mochiko chicken is a favorite dish in Hawaii. Photo: Benjamin Seto

Mochiko chicken, or what I always referred to simply as mochi chicken growing up, is a popular dish in Hawaii. It’s what many people bring to potlucks because it’s easy to make and is always a sure winner with guests.

While you may not be attending a lot of potlucks these days, this fried chicken dish travels well, so pack it up in a picnic basket for a socially distanced hike or outdoor meal.

Mochiko is the Japanese sweet rice flour used to make mochi. When used in chicken batter it creates a chewy texture, and combining equal parts cornstarch provides a nice crunchiness. The resulting dish is similar to chicken nuggets or karaage (Japanese fried chicken) — but not exactly. You’ll just have to try the recipe to see what I mean.

Mochiko chicken

Makes six servings

2 pounds chicken thighs, boneless and skinless
1/4 cup Mochiko flour (Japanese sweet rice flour)
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup sugar
5 tablespoons soy sauce
2 eggs
1/4 cup green onions, finely chopped (including green parts), reserve some for garnish
Oil for frying (Peanut oil, grapeseed oil, etc.)
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds for garnish (optional)

In a medium bowl, make the marinade by combining Mochiko flour, cornstarch, sugar, soy sauce, eggs and green onions. Mix well. Then cut chicken thighs into bite-size pieces, like nuggets. Try to get them all uniform in size so they’ll cook evenly when deep-frying.

Add the chicken to the marinade (use your hands to make sure the chicken pieces are evenly coated), cover and refrigerate for at least six hours or overnight.

When ready to cook, fill a large heavy-bottomed pot with grapeseed oil (or other healthy frying oil) at least up to two inches high (I ended up using about 2 quarts of oil). Over medium heat, warm the oil until it’s at least 350ºF (use a thermometer to make sure the oil is always around 350ºF-365ºF while cooking).

When the oil is hot, add the chicken one nugget at a time to fill the pot but leave enough room between pieces. Cook in batches to make sure you don’t overcrowd the pot. The nuggets will tend to find each other in the flurry of deep-frying, so use wooden chopsticks or a wooden spatula to gently separate them. Cook until golden brown, typically you’ll know they’re ready when the nuggets start to float up. But if your pot is too crowded or the oil too bubbly, it might be hard to tell when the nuggets float up. Cook one for about five to six minutes then remove and let cool. Cut into it to make sure it’s cooked inside. If it’s cooked, use that cook time as the basis for the rest.

A bowl of Mochiko chicken, garnished with green onion and sesame seeds. Photo: Benjamin Seto
Both crispy and chewy, these chicken nuggets are unlike any other you’ve had before. Photo: Benjamin Seto

Remove cooked chicken from the oil, place on a wire rack covered with paper towels to absorb as much of the oil as possible. Let cool and then plate and garnish with sesame seeds and fresh green onions.

TIP: If you’re traveling with your fried mochi chicken, let it cool completely before covering otherwise the chicken will get soft and lose some of its crunch.

Benjamin Seto is the voice behind Focus:Snap:Eat, where you can find additional recipes from his Oakland kitchen.