Yes Virginia, there’s more to Japanese food than Sushi

Chicken Yakitori

As much as I love them macarons, I have to eat real food sometimes. It’s not that I’m slammed with orders all the time but switching from a sweet to savory kitchen and back again can be tedious what with cleaning and sterilizing work areas. I try to bake early in the morning so the kitchen can be wiped clean and baking implements put away in time for dinner prep. But when I know I will be baking again early the next day or prepping later that evening, I lose the energy to prepare dinner and the hubby has to bring home some fast food.

Sometimes I do block away some days to nurture my “inner cook”. I try not to have an order to bake on Sundays and hopefully I would be in the mood to try dishes I’ve been wanting to test out for some time.

One of these dishes is the Yakitori.

Chicken grilled to 80% before dipping into sauce

Richmond, VA is sadly behind the times when it comes to Japanese cuisine (and others too). We’re still stuck in hibachi and sushi and the same restaurants with the same fares keep opening shop.

The silver lining to all this? I learned how to cook and bake out of necessity. I learned how to bake because as a newbie in America, my former hairstylist raved about the Ghirardelli brownie mix at Costco. I love brownies! And together with chocolate cupcakes and apple pie – these were the “sweet” memories of my childhood. My huge excitement became a HUGE disappointment when those brownies came out of the oven: “This was no brownie!”

Grocery aisles stocked with cake-mix boxes and even high-end supermarkets scooping buttercream out of commercial tubs, remind me of this conversation a few weeks ago between a young dude and a middle-aged guy regarding my chocolate cupcake.

Young dude: “This is good! What flavor is this?”
Middle-aged guy: “That’s the taste of chocolate with real chocolate in it.”

Sad. I wonder how many people remember the taste of real chocolate in baked goods.

Anyway, I digress – back to the Yakitori.

Yakitori before it’s final basting/dipping

Yakitori, literally means “grilled chicken” and are 6-inch sticks of chicken morsels grilled over live coals and basted with a sweet soy-based sauce.
Fine Yakitori shops have a sauce called Tare. This is a sauce that can be kept going indefinitely by adding fresh sauce to the original. Chicken juices enhance the flavor and this is usually kept from going sour by boiling and simmering after each use.

The best chicken part to use for Yakitori is the leg or thigh. Meat from this part is juicier than the chicken breast. You can also alternate green onions and the meat when skewering.

This recipe for Yakitori is from Japanese Cooking, A simple art by Shizuo Tsuji

The Tare

Yakitori Sauce

bone of 1 chicken leg
1 1/4 cups sake
1/2 cup plus 2 tbs. mirin
5 1/2 ounces (160 g) rock sugar
2 cups dark soy sauce
3 tbsps tamari sauce

To prepare:
Remove meat from bone. Grill or roast bone till crisp but not scorched. Combine other ingredients in a medium-sized saucepan and stir well. Add grilled chicken bone. Simmer over low heat till reduced by 20 percent, stirring frequently till rock sugar is dissolved.
Remove from heat, let come to room temperature and strain. Discard bone. Refrigerate tightly sealed in a bottle, or store in a dark cool place.
If you dip skewers into sauce during grilling instead of basting, you should reheat the sauce after every use and simmer for a few minutes to cook to moisture given off by the grilled foods. Allow to come to room temperature and strain before storing. If this is step is skipped, moisture from the grilled foods is liable to sour the sauce.

Cooking Notes:

The process is: grill without sauce till 80 percent cooked; dip skewers in sauce; grill again till completely cooked; dip in sauce again; grill again briefly.

The procedure appears tedious, threading the meat in tiny skewers and then grilling, dipping and then grilling again but the end-result is a gratifying soul-satisfying meal. Serve with Japanese salt and chili powder.
We tried this with beef but I think I should have used skirt steak instead of flank because the beef got too tough.

* I did not have rock sugar so I used part white sugar and brown sugar. Just adjust sweetness to taste.

Hopefully, my tare sauce will last me a couple of years. 🙂

Beef Yakitori




12 thoughts on “Yes Virginia, there’s more to Japanese food than Sushi

  1. What could be more American than grilled meat on a stick served with a pitcher of beer? Or at least that’s what i say every time we’re in NYC’s East Village eating yakitori. I think it could work in Richmond!

  2. Hi Rosa – so much more than sushi, definitely.
    Kim – I definitely have it in a fridge in a glass container.
    Hi Lydia – yes, the extent I would go for food.
    Charlotte – Yakitori is definitely a great with drinks specially beer, I hear (i don’t drink beer) and I’ve heard about NYC east village yakitori places too!
    T.W. – yep, that chocolate cupcake story is sad but funny at the same time. 🙂

  3. So, this kind of reminds me of the terriyaki chicken sticks you can get at chinese take out–but it looks ALOT better.

    Don’t suppose it can be modified to work on a Foreman countertop grill, since city living doesn’t allow for outside grills?

  4. I admit to ordering sushi every time we go to a Japanese restaurant, but mainly because we go so rarely – they are quite expensive here in Minnesota! Love the yakitori and I have to laugh at the overheard conversation. Yes, the flavor of ‘real’ food can be quite a pleasant surprise! 😎

  5. Actually, yakitori litterally means “grilled chicken.” Yaki = grilled, Tori = chicken. I giggled when you said steak yakitori. Steak grilled chicken. 🙂 When it’s steak Japanese usually call it Yakiniku, which means “grilled meat”. Yakiniku may litterally mean “meat” but it’s reserved for non-chicken items like beef hearts, steak, pork, tripe, pork belly, pork uteris, etc. I lived in Japan for 2 years and they freaking grill almost every portion of the animal. 😀

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