Koji Fried Chicken

cooking with ferments

The full potential of shio-koji, a mixture of koji, salt, and water hadn’t set in until a few days into the pandemic lockdown when a box of random food found it’s way into my home. Inside it was a curious array of items that provoked varying degrees intrigue and whatever the opposite of intrigue is. Tucked away with the mystery foods was a huge bag of blended rubbery meat peices, complete with fake grill markings called “fajita style” chicken strips. Considering the present circumstances, figuring heck- having something to eat is always a blessing, whatever it is, I drowned the pretend chicken into a pool of shio koji and after a few days cooked it up and was impressed- not with the “chicken,” but with the incredible and dynamic flavor imparted by the shio-koji.

Real quick to be clear, koji fried chicken likely has some origins that we can trace back fairly recently to a fella in Ohio. I mention that because the “repost” internet culture of regurgitating other people’s great ideas can feel disingenuous and deceptive. While my own connection to this style of meal I often eat nowa-days stemmed from the aforementioned story, the idea was something I’d heard of before and so gave a whirl in my kitchen and now post online primarily in support of our Pittsburgh-based monthly fermentation-inspiraton newsletter.

That asid, here is how I’ve been doing it:

Making Shio koji marinade

Shio koji is a slurry using koji rice, water, and salt that is left to ferment. The mixture matures with time into a sweet, salty, umami porridge that is perfect for using as a marinade as the enzymes in the koji asssist in breaking down the ingredients and infusing flavor. If you’re not familiar with koji, it is a fungus, usually grown on a grain with certain enzymes that are responsible for the unique flavors in products like miso, sake, and shoyu. Shio is great for almost any meat, including all poultry or even different vegetables to add another dimension to your cooking.

Making shio is very easy. Combine a koji inoculated grain to water at a 1:2 ratio. Add 1 tbs salt per 2 cups of mixture, or to your preference. Pop it all in a mason jar with lid fixed snug, give it a shake, and let it do its thing fermenting at room temperature.

If you’d like to get well acquainted with it, taste it every couple of days and note how it changes. After about 2 weeks you should be at a decent spot of maturity to do some marinating. However feel free to go as long as you wish. You can also put it in the fridge to mature slowly for a long time.

Marinating the Chicken

I’ll use about a quart of shio for a whole chicken, roughly without being exact, that’s about 1 1/2ish cups or two grabby handfuls in a quart mason jar, then topped off with water. Then add 1- 1 1/2tbs of salt depending on how salty of a person you are. Shake it up and let it ferment at room temp. You can make 2 or 3 of these at a time so you’ll have another one ready whenever you make your next chicken.

After at least a week, but more better to be three, take a leak-proof bag and empty the shio into it. Then add a couple cloves of minced garlic, a handful of thyme, some cracked pepper or pepper flakes, a couple slices of lemon, then plop in your whole chicken and tie the bag shut. Through the outside of the bag mix and massage the marinade into the chicken coating the whole thing and put it in the fridge.

Every 12 hours or so flip the bag over so the marinade is getting to the top and bottom. Marinate at least overnight, but a day or two is good too. When it’s getting near time for the meal, take the bird out of the marinade, give it a light rinse to get the koji goop off and dry it off. Drying can happen two ways depending on how much time you have. The long way is to place the bird in a colander with a liquid catch underneath and leave it openly exposed in the fridge for ideally a full day. The short way is to do the same thing except not in the fridge, but in the middle of the room with a fan blowing on it, turning every so often for a uniform dry skin. The second way is how we do it about 90% of the times.


Pre-heat your prefered frying oil to 375 degrees.

Meanwhile break down the chicken.

For the fried breading use flour as a base and season to heck out of it with your favorite seasonings or mix. Things like paprika, mustard, black pepper, thyme, onion powder, garlic powder, etc, etc. Or go whatever route excites you- 5 spice powder? We’ll add a handful of cornmeal too for texture. Don’t forget to add salt as well. Often we’ll mix everything together and cook a little test peice to check the salt level because there are a lot of variables at play here, like how long and strong your marinade was.

When the oil is ready, coat your chicken peices in the flour mixture, then plunge them thoroughly into a bowl of buttermilk, then bring them back to for a full coat of the flour mixture and drop in the frying oil. Fry for 10 minutes.