Thursday, June 21, 2012

Japanese Yakitori: Grilled Chicken & Scallion

Yakitori is a popular Japanese dish dating back over 400 years — 'Yaki' means grilled and 'tori' is chicken. A traditional Japanese street food, Yakitori are bite sized pieces of chicken that are threaded onto bamboo skewers, grilled over a charcoal flame and basted with tare, a teriyaki-style glaze. Skewers with alternating bands of chicken and scallions are called Negima Yakitori, and skewers with no sauce and a simple sprinkling of salt are Shio Yakitori. The fast food of choice in urban Japan, hungry commuters scurrying home at the end of the day buy yakitori from vendors outside train stations and gobble them down, finishing up with a cold beer or shot of sake, and away they go.

Japanese Yakitori stand in Tokyo

The basic method for making Yakitori is quite simple. Start with bite-sized pieces of boneless and skinless chicken thighs and marinate them in the tare sauce for about 30 minutes to an hour, then thread the poultry onto dampened skewers with 1-inch lengths of scallion, and grill over a medium heat for 4 to 8 minutes. The kebabs should have a lovely golden brown colour and attractive grill marks, but not show signs of burning.

Negima Yakitori being prepared by a street vendor in Japan

Serve the hot Yakitori straight from the grill with warm Tare Sauce for dipping, for a delicious appetizer or midday snack. If you want to make them ahead of time, prepare the marinated skewers, let them drain a bit before chilling in the refrigerator until they're needed. The remaining marinade should then be boiled for about 5 minutes, and used to brush over the Yakitori while they're on the grill. Serve right away with a cold Japanese beer or warm sake. Kanpai!

Japanese Chicken Negima Yakitori
Serves 4

3 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces
12 scallions, white part only, cut into 1-inch lengths
1 tsp Maldon sea salt
16 bamboo skewers
Togarashi, for garnish (optional)

Yakitori Tare Sauce:
1 cup soy sauce
3 cups sake

3/4 cup mirin
1 tsp minced ginger
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 tsp corn starch + 1 tbsp water, to thicken the sauce

Add all of the ingredients of the Yakitori Tare Sauce into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-high and keep stirring until thickened, about 10-15 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.

Once the sauce has cooled, add the chicken to half of the Tare Sauce and gently toss to coat. Refrigerate for 1 hour. Meanwhile, soak 16 bamboo skewers in water for 20 minutes, then drain.

To make the yakitori, thread 3 bite-size pieces of chicken onto each bamboo skewer, separating each piece with two 1-inch pieces of scallion.
Heat up the BBQ and place the skewers on top of the grill. Sprinkle with a little sea salt on the surface of the chicken. Turn the skewers and do the same on the other side. Keep turning the chicken to make sure they are cooked and nicely charred evenly on both sides, about 4-6 minutes. When the chicken is almost done, brush the chicken skewers with Tare Sauce and grill for another 30-40 seconds on both sides. Sprinkle with a little Togarishi, a Japanese 7-spice seasoning, if you'd like some extra heat!

Serve the Yakitori immediately as an appetizer with a bowl of Tare Sauce for dipping, or as an entrée with a bowl of steamed rice and some stir-fried vegetables such as Baby Bok Choy & Shiitake Mushrooms.