Succulent pieces of skewered chicken and green onion glazed with a sweet and salty sauce, and grilled over fire? Sounds like a perfect way to spend a weekend with some friends at the beach or a summer house party! Just pass me a beer and we’ll call it a date….
Of course, I’m referring to yakitori here, yaki meaning grilled and tori meaning bird (or in this case, chicken). Technically kushiyaki is the formal word that refers to anything skewered and grilled, (including yakitori), but today the word yakitori has become interchangeable with kushiyaki, and encompasses all sorts of skewered foods, poultry and non-poultry items included.
Yakitori shows up in a lot of anime, mostly in the context of a casual gathering either at an outdoor barbecue in the park, or at a shop that specializes in such grilled foods. It’s almost a guarantee that beer will be served in these cases…. For example, in episode 9 of Beck, Koyuki, Saku, Chiba, Ryusuke, Taira, and Togo meet up at a Japanese pub to discuss the future of the band, all the while chowing down on yakitori and drinking beer.
Another recent depiction of yakitori in anime can be found in episode 20 of Zetsuen no Tempest: The Civilization Blaster where we see the always lovely, Shakespeare-quoting Fuwa Aika walking down the street while eating a skewer of yakitori!
I swear, Aika makes everything look amazing, an yakitori is no exception. In this episode, she’s eating it as an after school snack from a nearby shop that she describes as delicious and reasonably priced. I think this scene really highlights just how easy it is to eat yakitori… your hands don’t get dirty because the meat is on a skewer, you don’t need any cutlery, and when you’re finished eating all you need to do is toss the skewer!
Yakitori is delicious and lots of fun to eat…. So, let’s get to the recipe!
Oh, and did I mention it goes great with beer?
About the recipe:
Yakitori makes for a great appetizer for a crowd, or a light meal for 4 deserving people. It’s fairly easy to make, but it does require some assembly. The good news is that the meat can be skewered and the sauce can be made ahead of time, so that when you’re ready to eat, all you have to do is heat up your grill!
Like I mentioned previously, yakitori doesn’t necessarily have to be chicken. You can “yakitori” many other foods, such as chicken meatballs, enoki mushrooms or asparagus wrapped in bacon, pork belly, green peppers, beef, etc.. The recipe I’m posting is specifically for chicken.
If you use metal skewers, I suggest skewering the chicken twice through, with the skewers paralel to each other. Doing so will prevent the chicken from turning around on the skewer as you cook it. If you use bamboo skewers, soaking the skewers in some cold water before hand will help prevent them from burning on the grill. It may not be necessary to double skewer if using bamboo skewers.
The most involved part of this recipe is making the yakitori sauce. It takes the most preparation and ingredients, as well as cooking time. But, the good news is that you can save whatever left over sauce remains (you won’t be using it all, not by a long shot, with one recipe of yakitori) in a nonreactive container and use it again in the future. I like storing it in a mason jar with a lid. Just leave it in the fridge until you need to use it again! A one-time effort goes a long way with the sauce.
When grilling the yakitori, remember to preheat your grill, and set it up for direct grilling. Direct grilling means that the food will be grilled directly over the fire at a high temperature. This will result in some charing on the outside of the meat, but will also help to keep it moist on the inside.
An aluminum foil grill shield will help protect the bottoms of the skewers from the direct heat, and if you use bamboo ones, the foil shield will prevent the skewers from burning up. To make a grill shield, simply take a piece of aluminum foil and fold it to an appropriate size.
About the ingredients:
If possible, I suggest using negi (Japanese green onions), if available in your area. Negi looks like a very large green onion, that is typically about 2-3 feet long. It’s thinner than a leek, has a milder taste than green onions, and has a larger white part as well. It can be found in some Asian grocery stores.
Serves 6 to 8 as an appetizer, 4 as a main course
For the yakitori:
- 2 bunches scallions or negi, trimmed
- 1-1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
For the yakitori sauce:
- 1 cup soy sauce
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup mirin (sweet rice wine)
- 1 scallion, trimmed, white part gently crushed, green part thinly sliced
- 1 clove garlic, gently crushed with the side of a cleaver
- 1 slice peeled fresh ginger (1/4-inch thick), gently crushed with the side of a cleaver
- 1 strip lemon zest (1/2 by 2 inches)
- Toasted sesame seeds for garnish
For the chicken:
1. Trim any sinews or excess fat off the chicken breasts and discard. Rinse under cold running water, then blot dry with paper towels.
2. Cut the scallions and chicken breasts into uniform 1-1/2 inch pieces and double skewer them (run two bamboo skewers through the meat and scallions). Refrigerate, covered, until ready to cook.
For the sauce:
1. Place the soy sauce, sugar, mirin, scallion white, garlic, ginger, and lemon zest into a nonreactive saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Let the sauce simmer until thick and syrupy, 5 to 10 minutes, stirring often to prevent scorching. 2. Strain the sauce into a nonreactive bowl and let cool to room temperature. Set some aside to serve as a dipping sauce, if desired.
1. Set up the grill or hibachi for direct grilling and preheat to high. When ready to grill, brush and oil the grill grate. Lay the aluminum foil grill shield parallel to the front edge of the grill. Place the yakitori on the grill, arranging in a line so the exposed bottoms of the skewers are protected by the foil shield.
2. Grill the yakitori, turning after 2 minutes, to cook the outside of the meat. Begin basting with the sauce, and continue basting and turning until the chicken is cooked, 3 to 4 minutes per side. To baste, put the sauce in a shallow dish. When partially cooked, dip the yakitori in the sauce and continue grilling. Alternatively, use a pastry brush to apply the sauce. The sauce should cook to a shiny glaze and the meat should feel firm to the touch when done.
3. Transfer the yakitori to plates or a platter and sprinkle with the scallion slices and sesame seeds. Optional: although not strictly traditional, serve a little reserved glaze in a tiny bowl as a dipping sauce.
Source: Steve Raichlen’s Primal Grill