Many non-Japanese who say they like Japanese food still shy away from raw seafood. They’re more adventurous though with thoroughly cooked Japanese food. Apart from tempura, yakitori has got to be the most preferred Japanese dish. It’s safe and comforting because of its familiarity as it has its counterpart in almost every cuisine.
Yakitori is grilled skewered chicken and grilled chicken can be found across various culinary cultures and traditions. In appearance, yakitori is very much similar to the Southeast Asian satay because the meat is cut into bite-sized pieces, threaded with bamboo skewers and grilled over live coals.
What sets yakitori apart is the very Japanese sauce with which the skewered meat is basted. Called tare, the basting sauce is a basic mixture of soy sauce, sake and mirin. The soy sauce provides the salty flavor while the sake and mirin, both sweet rice wines, give off a subtle sweetness. But note that there is no singular formula for making tare sauce as every cook has his own version. And because tare sauce is used alternatively as a dipping sauce or a basting sauce with a wide variety of Japanese dishes, other ingredients like dashi and rice vinegar may be added depending on how the sauce is intended to be used.
This is my version of the yakitori, adapted for the convenience of the home cook, and with the interesting addition of mushrooms.
Yakitori: Japanese Grilled Skewered Chicken
For the tare sauce:
- 6 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 4 tablespoons sake
- 4 tablespoons mirin
- 4 tablespoons honey
- Thread the chicken and mushrooms with the bamboo skewers — chicken, mushroom, chicken, mushroom, chicken. Sprinkle lightly with salt.
- Heat the grill. If using an indoor stovetop grill, brush lightly with vegetable oil.
- Grill the skewered chicken and mushrooms over high heat to sear on both sides. Note that if the grill is not hot enough, scum may form around the meat.
- Once seared, lower the heat a bit. If grilling over live coals, move the rack higher up. Start basting the chicken and mushrooms with the tare sauce. Don’t worry too much if the meat appears pale at this point. Turn the skewers every minute or so, basting with every turn, and the chicken will turn acquire a gold reddish hue as they cook. Continue grilling until the chicken is done.
- Serve the yakitori right away as they are best while very hot right off the grill.