Home­made yak­i­tori — Ja­pan’s de­lec­ta­ble street food

The Korea Times - - FOOD - By Daniel Ne­man

Just west of Tokyo’s Shin­juku sta­tion, the busiest train sta­tion in the world, the air is said to be heavy with the ir­re­sistible aroma of chicken cook­ing on char­coal grills.

This is Yak­i­tori Al­ley (though it also has a less ap­peal­ing name), per­haps the great­est con­cen­tra­tion of yak­i­tori street food stalls in all of Ja­pan. If you don’t hap­pen to be there, don’t worry: Yak­i­tori is pop­u­lar through­out the coun­try.

And if you aren’t in Ja­pan, that’s also no prob­lem. You can eas­ily make it your­self at home. It only takes a few min­utes to make one of Ja­pan’s most ad­dic­tive street treats.

In its most ba­sic form, yak­i­tori is small pieces of chicken that are skew­ered and cooked quickly over blaz­ing hot char­coal. It is of­ten eaten as a snack, par­tic­u­larly on the way home from work — which is why you can usu­ally find it near a train sta­tion.

It is also pop­u­lar later in the evening, to en­joy af­ter (or dur­ing) a few drinks. It goes es­pe­cially well with beer.

Not sur­pris­ingly, you can get yak­i­tori made from vir­tu­ally any part of a chicken: skin, heart, liver, even the cockscomb and car­ti­lage from the keel bone be­tween the breasts. But this is Amer­ica, so I have de­cided to con­cen­trate only on yak­i­tori from the thigh and the breast. And maybe the skin. And the liver.

No mat­ter what part of the chicken it comes from, yak­i­tori typ­i­cally is pre­pared in one of two ways. Shio is just fla­vored with salt, though af­ter it is cooked, you can add a squeeze of lemon, a spice mix or a hot sauce. Tare is basted with a thick­ened, sweet soy, mirin and sake sauce.

Shio is typ­i­cally made with pieces of breast meat. I stuck a few bite-size pieces on a skewer and cooked them rel­a­tively quickly on a hot, oiled skil­let.

A word about the skil­let: Yak­i­tori is meant to be grilled, but I don’t have a grill in the test kitchen in the of­fice — be­cause it is in the of­fice, and lit char­coal would suf­fo­cate ev­ery­one in the build­ing. So I did the next best thing, which is to cook it on a skil­let. It didn’t have the char­coal fla­vor, but it was won­der­ful nonethe­less.

Now, a word about the skewer: I ac­tu­ally used two skew­ers for ev­ery piece of yak­i­tori. In Ja­pan, they use spe­cial wide, flat skew­ers, which make it east to turn the meat. But all I could get here were thin, round skew­ers. Two of these skew­ers let you turn the meat with ease.

As I said, the yak­i­tori with shio was won­der­ful. I used plenty of salt be­fore cook­ing, bring­ing the meat just to the point be­fore it is too salty. Af­ter it was cooked, I spritzed it with a spray of lemon juice and topped it with tog­a­rashi, a spicy, seven-in­gre­di­ent Ja­pa­nese spice blend.

Yak­i­tori with tare are usu­ally made with small pieces of chicken thigh meat al­ter­nated with a form of onion. In Ja­pan, they use long onion, which is sort of a cross be­tween green onions and a leek. But I couldn’t find long onion, so I just used pieces of green onion.

The ver­sa­tile tare — sauce — could not be sim­pler to make. It’s just two parts soy sauce to one part each of gran­u­lated sugar, sake and mirin, boiled to­gether un­til it is lightly thick­ened.

(St. Louis Post-Dis­patch/Tribune News)

St. Louis Post-Dis­patch-Tribune News Ser­vice

Yak­i­tori (or chicken on a skewer) ver­sions, left to right, tare style, torikawa, with shio (or salt) and reba (or liv­ers)

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