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~ Japanese 'Yakitori' (Skewered & Grilled Chicken) ~

IMG_0729Everyone loves to eat "food on a stick".  "Kabbaba" is the ancient Aramaic word for "to char" or "to burn".  Medieval Persian soldiers, who used their swords to grill their food over open fires in the field are credited with inventing "kabobs".  Over time, every culture/cuisine developed its own time-honored, traditional method for skewering and cooking kabobs:  the Greeks have their souvlaki, Peruvian anticucuos are awesome, and, satay is the national dish of Indonesia.

IMG_0711Americans are no exception and we Americans love to grill, which is why Americans who love Japanese food love yakitori.  Yakitori literally means "grilled chicken", with "yaki" being the Japanese word for "grill/grilling" and "tori" being the word for bird/chicken".  Morsels of chicken are threaded onto 6"-8" skewers in kabob fashion then grilled over hot charcoal or gas hibachi-type grills.  During the process, the meat is basted a couple of times with a distinct, savory and sweet "yakitori no tare" ("tare" is the Japanese word for "sauce"), a barbecue-type sauce made from mirin, sake, soy sauce, tamari sauce and brown sugar.  

What's not to love about that:

Welcome to Part III of III of yakitori week on Kitchen Encounters.

IMG_0449On Tuesday I posted ~ My Yakitori Story & All the Facts Jack ~.  It is a rather lengthy, but extremely informative, in-depth commentary describing the art of cooking yakitori.  While doing the research, I was fascinated to learn how involved the process/method can be, and, in true Japanese-style, not a single part of the chicken goes to waste -- I even included a list of what you can expect to find and order from a yakitori menu.  To read it, just click into Category 16 or on the Related Article Link below.

IMG_0570On Thursday, I posted ~ Japanese 'Yakitori no Tare' (BBQ/Basting Sauce) ~.  You've heard me say it before, "sometimes food is only as good as the sauce it gets served with" and this tare is what sets yakitori apart from all other chicken kabobs.  You can purchase it in Asian markets, but, taking the time to make this sauce from scratch will take your yakitori from ordinary to extraordinary.  Click on the Related Article link below for my recipe.

IMG_0611If you're ever sitting in an izakaya (a Japanese tapas-type bar), when ordering yakitori, you'll need to decide if you want yakitori, grilled with shio (sea salt), or, yakitori no tare, grilled and basted with sauce. 

When the yakitori is served, there will be two spices on the table: shichimi (a seven-spice chili pepper mixture) and sancho pepper (the dried berry of the prickly Ash tree with a tangy lemony flavor), sometimes marketed as Japanese pepper or prickly ash powder.  Head's up:  depending on where you live, these two can be prickly to find. I ordered them both on-line via

There's a trick to grilling yakitori in true Japanese style...

IMG_0712... and I've got two easy ways to mimic it on any type of grill.

Japanese_Style_yakitori_grillThe trick to churning out perfectly-charred chicken skewers that are crispy on the outside and moist and tender in the inside is not to let them touch the grill grids (which can cause them to stick and tear when being Japanese_Style_yakitori_grillturned, causing them to lose their juices and dry out).  Surprise: Japanese chefs have/use specially-designed grills that keep the food elevated about 1" above the grill grates over the steady stream of direct heat!  I say, "let's do that":

IMG_0614Wrap two bricks in foil and place them on the surface of any type of grill.  Just lay the 6"-8" skewers of food on top of the bricks and turn them occasionally as they cook.

Note:  Bricks elevate the food 1 3/4" from the heat, so they take a bit longer to cook than over a 1" elevation.  But, at 1 3/4" above the heat, wooden skewers won't burn, so, there's no need to soak them in tepid water for 30 minutes first.  Or:

IMG_0621Invest in an inexpensive shish-kabob set (they all work the same and cost $15.00-$20.00).  I like this contraption on so many levels:

a.  It's the perfect 1" elevation.

b.  The skewers are kept stationary and they're super easy to turn too.

c.  13" skewers allow you to cook twice as much food in the same space as 6"-8" skewers on bricks.

Choose your weapons (skewers)!  Let's make yakitori no tare.

IMG_0638~ Step 1.  On each of three skewers I'm using the meat from (3 are all leg meat/3 are all thigh meat):

5  skinless chicken legs (I used their bones to make the tare on Thursday), and

5   boneless, skinless chicken thighs

cut into 1"-1 1/2" chunks, alternated on 6, 13" skewers with:

IMG_0633~ Step 2.  The white and light-green 4" center sections of:

4 very large leeks that have been split in half lengthwise.  The 4" sections have been separated and washed (to remove grit and sand), patted dry and cut into 1" squares.

Note: Japanese neganegi (long onions) were not available. Leeks are the suggested substitution.

IMG_0688~ Step 3.  Place skewers (on  bricks or the shish kabob rack) on grill over hottest setting.  Grill, until chicken is short of turning brown and juices begin to drip, on both sides, about 7-8 minutes per side.  

IMG_0678Brush on both sides with tare and continue to cook for 1 minute per side...

IMG_0700... or slightly longer, until lightly golden (about 75% cooked through).

Brush chicken a second time on both sides and cook until golden, about 1-1 1/2 more minutes (30-45 seconds per side).  Do not overcook or it WILL dry out.

Note:  All grills cook differently, and our Viking cooks quite hot, so be sure to adjust and note your cooking times accordingly!

IMG_0634 IMG_0683 IMG_0693 IMG_0704I like to give my yakitori a quick 3rd baste prior to transferring to a serving platter.  Let everyone help themselves, and be sure to serve w/plenty of steamed white rice.  Allow everyone to season their own portion with a sprinkle of fragrant sancho pepper, shichimi seven-spice and additional tare for dipping or drizzling:

IMG_0723Japanese 'Yakitori' (Skewered & Grilled Chicken):  Recipe yields instructions for skewering, grilling and serving yakitori in Japanese-style.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; barbecue skewers (bamboo or metal, any length) or shish-kabob set; pastry brush; a really good pair of grill gloves or tongs

IMG_0634Cook's Note:  It's important to note that all of the prep for this meal can be done just short of the actual grilling, several hours or one day in advance.  Covering the skewers of chicken with plastic and storing in the refrigerator overnight is perfectly acceptable behavior (I refrigerated this entire kabob rack).  This is a great meal to serve for a party, and, remember, this is an event your guests will enjoy watching.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013)


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