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Recipe: Yakitori moves from street to your kitchen

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

    TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE

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

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 (formally named Omoide Yokocho, or Memory Lane), perhaps the greatest concentration of yakitori street food stalls in all of Japan.

If your visit to Japan doesn’t take you to Tokyo, no problem: Yakitori is popular throughout the country.

And if you aren’t even in Japan, that’s also no problem. Yakitori is easily made 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 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.

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 (flavored with salt) and tare (basted with a thickened, sweet soy, mirin and sake sauce).

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.

The tare version used a versatile sauce that could not be simpler to make. It’s just 2 parts soy sauce to 1 part each of granulated sugar, sake and mirin, boiled together until it is lightly thickened.

I repeatedly basted some of the skewers of yakitori with the sauce while they were cooking, and marinated others in the sauce for 30 minutes before putting them in the pan. There was very little difference in taste between them, so just do whichever you find easiest.

>> Yakitori is meant to be grilled, but can be cooked in a skillet. It won’t have that distinctive charcoal flavor, but will be wonderful nonetheless. Lightly oil the skillet and cook in batches.

>> In Japan, special wide, flat skewers are used, which make it easy to turn the meat. If all you can find are the usual thin, round bamboo skewers, use two at a time. This will let you turn the meat without the pieces sliding around.

>> If grilling, soak bamboo skewers in water at least 30 minutes to keep them from burning. Set your grill for direct heating.

>> Cooking the tare version of yakitori in a skillet results in a blackened mess that ferociously sticks to the pan. It’s not that difficult to clean up, though — just soak the pan in soapy water for a few hours and the black mess will lift right up.

YAKITORI WITH tare is usually made with small pieces of chicken thigh meat alternated with negi, sort of a cross between green onions and a leek. Negi can be found in local markets, but regular green onion is a good substitute.

YAKITORI WITH TARE

From JapaneseCooking101.com

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut in bite-sized pieces
  • 3 to 4 green onions
  • Vegetable oil (if using stove)
  • >> Sauce:
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup sake
  • 1/4 cup mirin

Combine sauce ingredients in small pot; boil 8 to 10 minutes, until slightly thickened. Set aside.

Slice thick part of onions into 1-inch pieces; set aside.

Thread chicken and onions on skewers, alternating, so you have 2 pieces of onion and 3 pieces of chicken on each skewer.

Grill over direct heat or in a lightly oiled skillet over medium-high heat, working in batches. Baste with sauce a few times while you cook, turning at least once, until thoroughly done. Serves 10.

Approximate nutritional information, per serving: 121 calories, 5 g total fat, 3 g saturated fat, 43 mg cholesterol, 10 g protein, 9 g carbohydrate, 8 g sugar, no fiber; 884 mg sodium

WHEN CHICKEN skin receives enough heat it becomes crispy, with a rich, irresistible flavor. All it needs to be the perfect (though perhaps unhealthful) snack is plenty of salt, which you give it before cooking.

TORIKAWA (CRISPY CHICKEN SKIN)

By Daniel Neman

  • Skin from 4 chicken thighs or 2 chicken breasts, cut in thin strips
  • Salt, to taste
  • Vegetable oil (if using stove)
  • Thread strips of skin from 1 thigh or 1/2 breast onto skewers and sprinkle generously with salt.
  • Grill over direct heat or cook in a large, lightly oiled skillet over medium-high heat. Turn a few times until thoroughly cooked and mostly crispy. Serves 4.
  • Approximate nutritional information, per serving: 154 calories, 16 g total fat, 6 g saturated fat, 30 mg cholesterol, 3 g protein, no carbohydrate, no sugar or fiber, 596 mg sodium, 2 mg calcium.

SHIO IS typically made with pieces of breast meat, flavored with salt, though after it is cooked, you can add a squeeze of lemon, a spice mix or a hot sauce.

YAKITORI WITH SHIO

Ochikeron via YouTube

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in bite-sided pieces
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • Oil (for cooking on stove only)
  • Lemon wedges (optional)
  • Togarashi (Japanese chili pepper mix, available in Asian markets; optional)
  • Yuzukosho (chili paste with yuzu, or Japanese citrus, available in Asian markets; optional)

Thread 3 to 4 pieces chicken on each skewer. Sprinkle with a good pinch or two of salt.

Grill over direct heat, turning at least once, until thoroughly cooked. Or cook several skewers at once in a lightly oiled skillet over medium-high heat.

Serve with slices of lemon, togarashi and yuzukosho, if desired. Serves 10.

Approximate nutritional information, per serving: 66 calories, 3 g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 33 mg cholesterol, 10 g protein, no carbohydrate, no sugar, no fiber, 486 mg sodium, 3 mg calcium.

YAKITORI MADE with chicken livers is generally prepared shio style, with just salt. Cooking them on a skillet instead of over a fire does not significantly alter their flavor.

REBA (CHICKEN LIVERS)

By Daniel Neman

  • 1 pound chicken livers
  • Salt, to taste
  • Vegetable oil (if using stove)

Thread livers on skewers and sprinkle generously with salt.

Grill over direct heat or cook in a lightly oiled skillet, working batches, over medium-high heat. Turn a few times until thoroughly cooked. Serves 8.

Approximate nutritional information, per serving: 97 calories, 6 g total fat, 4 g saturated fat, 196 mg cholesterol, 10 g protein, 1 g carbohydrate, no sugar; no fiber, 331 mg sodium, 5 mg calcium.

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