Grilling season is here! And in our 15 years of blogging on Umami Mart dot com (formerly umamimart.blogspot.com), we have never had a how-to for making yakitori at home. That's hard to believe considering how easy it actually is. But it is a lot of prep, so don't do this as a quickie Tuesday night meal. This is more of a invite-your-friends-over-and-open-bottles-of-sake kinda event. Make it fun and have your friends and the kids help you skewer while drinking some beers!
This post is meant as a guide with a lot of nice photos (by Yoko) and tips + tricks for the best yakitori experience. It's also meant to quell any misconception that you need fancy tools or equipment – you literally just need some chicken, veg, sticks, sauce, and your trusty bbq grill. So let's get started!
Kuni's Tare Recipe
The most important part about yakitori, as any chef would probably tell you, is the tare, or sauce. Kuni is my dad, and before he was a sushi chef, he was a tempura chef, and before that, he worked with his sister and her husband at their yakitori-ya in Tokyo. So he knows a thing or two about breaking down chickens. And here's his recipe for the tare!
Equal parts soy sauce, sake, mirin, and sugar. We used a 1/2 cup of each to last through a party of 4-6 people.
Simmer on low until the liquid has thickened and reduced by about 25%. That's it!
Kuni's Yakitori Tips:
- Do not oil the vegetables or meat on the skewers. This will increase smoke on the fire, which you don't want
- Add the tare at the VERY END of the grill, once the meat or veg is cooked
- There are two styles of yakitori: tare and shio (salt). You can pre-salt the shio items or just sprinkle the salt over the skewers on the grill. You don't need to pre-salt the tare items.
- Soak the skewers in water so they don't burn on the grill
Tips for prepping:
- You can make the tare (sweet + salty sauce) beforehand
- Hunt around for the best chicken in town. Don't skimp on this! The better quality the chicken, the more delicious the yakitori
- In the same vein, get fresh, organic vegetables too
- Get creative with your skewers! The skies the limit for the variety of proteins and vegetables that you can spear onto the sticks
- Don't forget the bamboo skewers (I almost did!)
- Get your condiments
- Line up your sakes
Alright, here we go on our epic yakitory party adventure! This is what's going on the grill tonight:
Negima (thigh + green onion)
Sasami (tenders) + umeboshi wrapped shiso
Teba (wings) with salt
Sun Gold tomatoes wrapped in bacon
Shishito peppers + shiitake mushrooms
Baby Yukon potatoes topped with mentaiko (spicy cod roe)
Wash your veg. For this night's party, I bought the best of summer's offerings:
Green onions - a must for negima, which is chicken thigh and negi (onion). Trim off the green parts and cut into pieces about 1.5" long.
Skewer along with mushrooms and all other veg. Use two skewers for long vegetables like asaparagus.
I thought my Caprese Stick was a genius idea.
Once all the veg is done, move onto the chicken. Get the best that is offered in your town, it will be worth the extra trip to the store. Around the East Bay, I like the Local Butcher Shop because they carry Riverdog Farm chicken. The best! Plus, the butchers there will break down the chicken for you - amazing!
Slice skin off of the thigh pieces and cut into 1" cubes.
Skewer with negi for negima. About 3 pieces of chicken and negi each on one skewer.
I'm a big fan of chicken livers and these too need to be super fresh. Local Butcher Shop had them so I snagged about half a pound.
Cut into 1" cubes.
These are a little more slimy and delicate to skewer so poke gently.
Wrap tomatoes in bacon.
Cut out the chicken tenders from the breast and cut into 1" cubes.
Top with umeboshi and wrap with shiso.
Kawa (chicken skin) is really delicious but is VERY HARD to skewer. Beware.
I did a very clumsy job with this and Yoko helped me.
I have a newfound appreciation for kawa and will always order this at a yakitori-ya going forward.
Besides the tare, the second most important thing in yakitori is probably the fire. For yakitori, you need the coals to be really hot but you don't want too much flame to rise or else your food will burn. It's a very complicated and subtle art, as any grill master knows. Johnny here took care of this for us!
I know there are little Japanese portable size grills out there for yakitori. You don't need that, just use your old pal Weber. And binchotan (Japanese charcoal)? You don't need that either! Just use what is available to you, Kingsford or whatever –we like to use Lazzari if we can find it.
Johnny's Fire + Grilling Tips
- If you can, use a charcoal chimney which is an efficient way to prep the coals and eliminates the need for starter fluid
- Keep it simple and place coals on one side the grill for maximum heat.
- Place skewers on the grill and let the flames lick them to create a sear. Once there is a sear, you will likely see fire flame ups. Cover the bbq so the flames are extinguished. Repeat until food is cooked through.
Once the chicken and veg are cooked, brush on some tare at the very end. Then take off of grill.
Start plating! Enjoy while hot!
Yoko's Sake Gumi theme for August is Yakitori + Sake and she lined up four fantastic bottles that pair perfectly with yakitori.
The refreshingly dry “Fragrant Water” Housui Tokubetsu Junmai paired deliciously with bacon wrapped tomato.
The unexpectedly fruity Akabu junmai highlighted the tartness of the sasami chicken with umeboshi wrapped in shiso.
The aged and rich Hojo Biden "Pastoral Beauty" Yamahai Junmai complemented the hint of spice in the potatoes + mentaiko skewer.
Another great pairing with the Housui Junmai with crispy, luscious kawa (chicken skin).
Take a moment to warm up your sakes!
All of these sakes were incredible when warmed, especially the Hojo Biden. Incidentally, this sake is brewed in a town in Fukuoka where there are the most yakitori-ya per 10,000 people!
Akabu junmai with negima.
Hojo Biden with liver and negima.
The toji (brewmaster) of Hojo Biden said he likes his yakitori with ponzu and a side of cabbage. Loved it!
However you like your yakitori, have fun! And don't forget to read about this month's sakes in more detail here.