Perhaps Japan’s most ubiquitous bar food, or at least the one most well known outside of Japan, yakitori is a firm favourite with us. Visiting a traditional yakitoriya is a daunting experience, normally lacking in menus, the bill of fare is hung from banners near the ceiling written in kanji completely indecipherable to most westerners, but they offer a fantastic insight into how the locals wind down after work. Charcoal grilled chicken, offal and skin, served on sticks, glossed over quickly with a brush dipped in an almost magical concoction of drippings and soy sauce, the perfect accompaniment to a beer, or two.
The first thing to prepare when making yakitori at home is the deeply savoury yet sweet sauce known as tare. This tare is a pretty versatile sauce which can be used for basting grilled meats and also as a dipping sauce or as the seasoning for ramen broth.
- Raw bones and skin from a whole chicken carcass, or from 5 thighs. (Adding a couple of wings or a whole chopped up thigh is a nice extra to give more flavour)
- 200ml soy sauce
- 100ml mirin
- 100ml sake
- black pepper to season
- Place the bones and skin in a frying pan and cook over a medium heat until they start to brown and release their fat. Scrape the brown deposits aside and reserve for later. Repeat this step a few times until you have about two tablespoons of sticky brown crispy chickeny bits (these are really the soul of your tare). Add a little water to the pan to loosen any more brown goodness.
- If you have a pressure cooker (ours is an Instant Pot, which doubles as a rice cooker, highly recommended) put the sake, soy, mirin, bones, chickeny bits and pan juices in and cook at high pressure for around 20 minutes. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, just do it in a regular saucepan but cook it out for approximately an hour with a lid on, stirring regularly.
- Strain through a sieve discarding your bones, then reduce in a saucepan until slightly thickened- you’re not after a thick syrupy glaze, just a gently clinging sauce that will run off your meat leaving a light coating.
- Taste your tare, it should be quite salty and savoury, but still complex with the sake flavours and the chicken should be identifiable too. Season with some black pepper and then allow to cool.
Tsukune are one of our favourite parts of a yakitori meal, minced chicken seasoned and formed into meatballs or long patties before being grilled and glazed. They are a good introduction to yakitori for children or those who’re more nervous about eating the offal selections offered in the yakitoriya.
- 200g minced chicken (thigh mince is fattier, and thus tastier than breast mince)
- 1 heaped teaspoon potato starch (or corn starch)
- a thumb sized piece of ginger
- 1 spring onion, finely chopped
- pinch of salt
- Finely chop or grate the ginger, then squeeze the juice into a mixing bowl, discarding the flesh.
- Add the rest of the ingredients and mix into a firm paste. Divide into four portions and then form into either eight meatballs or four sausage shapes. Thread two meatballs or one sausage onto each skewer and put aside ready to grill.
- 4 boneless chicken thighs
- 200g mixed chicken offal, livers, hearts, gizzards.
- 100g chicken skin (preferably from the thigh)
- 4 large spring onions or baby leeks
- sanshō pepper to serve
- Cut the thighs into bite sized pieces and the spring onions into 1.5″ lengths. Thread them onto your skewers alternating between chicken and onion.
- Trim the offal if necessary and cut the gizzards and liver into bite sized pieces. Thread them onto skewers, using just one type of offal per skewer.
- Cut the skin into inch wide strips and thread them onto your skewers in a concertina style, bunching them up as you go along.
Cooking the yakitori.
- Once you have assembled all your different skewers it’s time to cook them. Yakitori works best either barbecued or cooked under a hot grill, either way you want to baste the meats regularly with the tare (except the skewers of skin, which are normally left plain) and give them one final glossing of tare just before serving. The different yakitori will all take around 7-10 minutes to cook through, you want slightly charred edges and a glazed appearance.
- Immediately before serving, dust the chicken skin with a generous amount of sanshō to cut through the fat.
Serves 4 people as a filling snack or accompaniment to drinks.