Something that I love is getting a chance to chat with Japanese travelers to Kentucky. They have many reasons, obviously, but it’s fun to chat about the shared loves like bourbon (and the Japanese own a lot of the distilleries these days), or bluegrass music, or other reasons that makes a stop in Kentucky seem worth it, even if it is “on the way” to a further east coast US destination such as New York. (An amusing twist to the “flyover country” badge of dishonor we sometimes see ourselves branded with that, rarely, but sometimes on the mental map of some Japanese travelers Kentucky makes a good stop in the long flights between San Francisco and New York to drink a bourbon closer to its distillery and maybe see some sights.)

Among the stories and the reasons, I enjoy tales of Japanese Christmas. In the 1960s in Japan the KFC franchisee there in a somewhat desperate bid to build marketing buzz and sell a lot of Kentucky Fried Chicken hit on the idea of selling the Americanized brand of Christmas to the Japanese: sleigh bells, Rudolph, Santa, giving gifts to family and loved ones, and of course America’s “traditional” Christmas dinner of a bucket of KFC to share with those family and loved ones. It was a marketing scheme that worked and to this day Japan associates Christmas with eleven herbs and spices and Santa with his friend Colonel Sanders. They say Japanese Christmas is one of the biggest, most regular sales days for KFC in the world. I love that.

A simple recipe that I picked up on social media at some point in the weird few years we’ve been having lately is what some do with the leftovers from Japanese Christmas:

  1. Add rice to your rice cooker
  2. Replace the volume of water you would normally use with chicken stock (or add chicken bouillon to the water) and a heavy splash of soy sauce
  3. Set your leftover chicken on top
  4. Run your rice cooker on the usual rice cycle

It’s incredibly simple, but steaming leftovers from a bucket of KFC I’ve found really does seem the best way to reheat fried chicken. Steamed like that the chicken is moist and “fall off the bone” tender. Those eleven herbs and spices infuse the rice to make a delicious KFC rice bowl to accompany the chicken.

In my case, I haven’t been buying KFC much, despite being in Kentucky, but instead my big craving has been Nashville Style Hot Chicken. It’s partly a Yelp event’s fault but when that craving hits I usually buy a “Family Pack for Four” from Joella’s (if you are curious: Hot, with Kickin’ Gravy Mashed Potatoes, Green Beans, and the Cheerwine BBQ sauce). That huge amount of food makes for three good days of full plate meals, eating by myself, and a couple tenders left after all the sides are done. For that last meal of those tenders I’ve been reheating them with this “Japanese Christmas Leftovers” recipe and it’s fantastic. After a couple days of reheating chicken tenders boring American style in a Microwave, the different in reheated texture of the chicken steamed with rice is such a welcome and amazing shakeup. I mostly buy tenders so there’s no bone for them to fall off of, but it’s still great how the chicken flakes into chunks as you prod with a fork while eating it in a bowl. The Nashville Hot spices with their heat infuse the rice to give the whole thing a nice spicy kick.