It’s always a fun time going to a yakitori restaurant or izakaya and trying out a ton of interesting little dishes. I mean, meat on a stick is usually a good sign a meal is going to be delicious. And, while grilled chicken skin, barbecued liver, and pieces of cartilage might be fun to sample, what I really love to eat is a little known dish called tsukune.
Tsukune is basically seasoned ground chicken that is coated in a sweet soy sauce-based sauce, grilled, and served hot with a raw egg yolk. It’s tender, flavorful, and, when paired with the egg yolk, rich as well. Did I mention it’s also meat on a stick??
In anime, tsukune appears with little fanfare. It’s most often seen in bars, izakaya, or yakitori restaurants, usually among a host of other small dishes. I think I first saw tsukune in anime in Usagi Drop, Inou-Battle wa Nichijou-kei no Naka de, Space Dandy (Season 2), and more recently, in food-and-drink-obsessed Wakako-Zako.
About the recipe:
Tsukune is very simple to make, which makes it one of my favorite ways to add a good dose of protein to almost any meal. Tsukune can also be eaten as meatballs, such as in chanko nabe, where it’s simmered in a hotpot along with a host of other delicious ingredients, but when it comes to yakitori, it’s traditionally grilled over hot coals, but you can also cook it in the oven or on the barbecue.
Honestly, I’ve never cooked it on a barbecue (I don’t own one!), but it should work perfectly well. I would recommend quickly searing each side of the tsukune in a frying pan until golden brown, skewering them, and then grilling them, so that they’re more stable/solid when you put them on the barbecue.
One thing to watch for when making this recipe has to do with the application of the tare sauce. Tare is basically a sweet soy sauce-based sauce. The sugar in the sauce tends to burn quickly, so it’s applied to the tsukune near the end of the cooking process. Watch your tsukune carefully once you apply the tare sauce as it can turn to char rather rapidly.
My second piece of advice involves soaking the bamboo skewers in water before you use them. This will help ensure they don’t just crisp up and burn to oblivion while you’re cooking. Of course, you don’t necessarily need the skewer. I often don’t even use one (I don’t have any right now…), especially when I broil the tsukune in the oven. So, the choice is yours to make.
About the ingredients:
Ground chicken is the meat of choice in this recipe. I like to use a half and half mixture of chicken breast and chicken thighs, as I find it gives the meat a nice medium between the leanness of the chicken breast and the fattiness of the thighs. Of course, any sort of combination of ground chicken can be used depending on your personal preferences.
Miso paste gives this dish a nice an extra bit of flavor and complexity. I like to use awase miso, which is a mixture of red and white miso paste.
Grated ginger adds a nice bit of spice and flavor to the tsukune. I recommend grating the ginger on a microplane to ensure the ginger is really grated finely. And, don’t discard the juice; add it into the mixture!
Raw egg yolk is generally served with the cooked tsukune. Use an in-the-shell pasteurized egg to ensure you don’t eat anything icky like salmonella. The egg yolk is optional (the tsukune will still be delicious without it), but it does add a nice bit of richness and body to the dish.
Makes about 8 tsukune
- 1 lb ground chicken
- 2 green onions, minced
- 1 small shallot, minced
- 1 egg
- 1 tbsp miso paste
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
- 1 tsp sesame seed oil
- 1/2 tsp grated ginger
- 1 tsp soy sauce
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 8 – 10 shiso leaves (optional)
- ~1/4 cup Tare sauce
- 1 egg yolk (for serving)
- If using bamboo skewers, soak in water for 30 – 60 minutes before hand.
- If adding shiso, wash and dry each leaf. Cut off the stem, and stack the leaves on top of each other in order to cut it in a chiffonade. Roll the leaves up and finely cut it into thin ribbons using a sharp knife. Use your fingers to gently loosen up the cut shiso.
- Mix the shiso and all the remaining tsukune ingredients together in a bowl until thoroughly combined.
- Divide into 8 portions and form into oblong logs about 3 – 4 inches long using dampened fingers.
- Line a baking sheet with tinfoil or parchment paper.
- Place the raw tsukune on the baking sheet, spaced at least 1 inch apart.
- Broil for 5 minutes with the oven rack in the second highest position.
- Gently turn the tsukune over (be careful; they may stick a little) and continue broiling for an additional 5 minutes, or until the tsukune is cooked through and the tops begin to brown.
- Brush the tsukune with tare sauce and continue broiling until the sauce begins to caramelize and bubble. Be careful not to let the sauce burn. Apply another coating of sauce and again broil until caramelized and bubbling. Flip the tsukune and repeat the sauce application and broiling as with the first side.
- Heat a frying pan on medium high. Place the tsukune into a frying pan coated with a little vegetable oil to prevent sticking.
- Pan fry each side of the tsukune until both sides are seared and browned.
- Remove from the pan and skewer.
- Place skewered tsukune on a hot barbecue and grill for about 5 minutes per side, flipping the tsukune halfway.
- Brush the tsukune with tare sauce and continue barbecuing until the sauce begins to caramelize and bubble. Be careful not to let the sauce burn. Apply 2 – 3 coats of tare sauce total.
Serve hot with a raw egg yolk.
Recipe: Adapted from zojirushi.