When my chef friend Monica from Lulu's offered to show me yakitori and kushiyaki grilling I jumped at the chance. Find out how to make the most mouth watering and juicy skewers of chicken, wagyu, pork belly, enoki wrapped bacon, shishito peppers and mushrooms, all on your grill! Dear Reader, this is one of the most delicious and fun ways to eat and a pushy recipe if you have a charcoal grill!
Monica and I are food twins. We both love a good nerding out food session and her Christmas present this year was a good excuse to try a bit of yakitori grilling one sunny afternoon.
Let's start with the basics: yakitori is Japanese for grilled chicken on skewers ("yaki" means grill and "tori" means chicken). The term yakitori is used informally along with kushiyaki which is the general term for food on skewers and can extend to all sorts of meats.
The common thread is that they are served on skewers and cooked over a charcoal or sometimes gas grill. It's a popular street food and in Tokyo there is a whole area called Yakitori Alley where the aroma of charcoal smoked meats pervade the air.
Yakitori first started during the Meiji Era (1868 to 1912) while prior to this meat and chicken were scarce and a prized commodity. During the preceding Edo Period (1603-1868) there were restrictions on meat consumption because of religious reasons, particularly beef and pork. Also, the chickens used were fighting roosters so not the same type of chicken that you see today.
It was considered distasteful to grill meat because of the smell so the tare sauce used was said to disguise the aroma of the grilling meat. In the late 1950's yakitori became much more widespread and nowadays it is available at street stalls or in restaurants like Toriki in Tokyo.
We used Monica's Diatomaceous earth 54 x 23cm yakitori grill from Japan. The advantage to the grill, apart from it being compact is that the outside remains cool enough to touch and the handles remain cool.
Monica uses Binchōtan or white charcoal, a special type of charcoal that is long-burning, clean, and natural alternative to charcoal briquettes. The only downside is that they're much more expensive. This binchōtan is dried and stacked into brick ovens and taken to four different temperatures (200C, 400C, 550C and 900C) over a period of 8 weeks. In the last stage they rapidly add air in so that the heat reaches 1200C which carbonises it and permanently changes the charcoal's internal structure.
To use Binchotan Monica puts the charcoal in a chimney over a portable outdoor gas burner where it takes around 30 minutes to light them and another 30 to heat the grill. Monica says, "You could use any high direct flame you can sustain for that time to get them lit."
When you have finished with these, pick up the charcoal with a pair of long tongs and place in a big tub of water and then set to dry. They can then be reused again.
The possibilities are endless but we made the following kushiyaki skewers: pork belly, chicken skin, chicken tails or the Parson's nose (these had to be pre-ordered from the butcher), chicken and spring onion, chicken liver, wagyu striploin, king brown mushrooms, bacon wrapped enoki mushrooms and shishito peppers from her garden.
One thing to note: you cannot cook seafood on this grill. "The seafood will leave a smell on the grill which you can't really wash away because it being diatomaceous earth and will contaminate future cooking," explains Monica.
You can have your yakitori seasoned with shio or salt or with a tare sauce. It's a simple tare marinade on all of the meats and it's remarkable how different this marinade tastes on the different meat and vegetables.
Soak the skewers in water for 30 minutes. Thread the meat on packing it firmly tight. Season generously with salt and pepper.
The easiest yakitori to thread is the wagyu, mushrooms, shishito peppers and pork belly. Chicken skin is harder as is the chicken liver and chicken tails. The bacon wrapped enoki just requires a bit of practice.
Only glaze your meats once they are cooked. They only need seasoning, no oil or other marinades.
Fanning the grill to increase heat
To increase the heat, fan the grill vents-using cardboard does nicely!
Other than that, it's very easy and SO delicious!
So tell me Dear Reader, do you have a barbecue or grill? Do you prefer gas or charcoal? Do you have a favourite skewer variety?
DID YOU MAKE THIS RECIPE? Share your creations by tagging @notquitenigella on Instagram with the hashtag #notquitenigella
Yakitori Tare Sauce
An Original Recipe by Lorraine Elliott
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 5 minutes
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup mirin
- 1 tablespoon sake
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed or grated
- 2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
Step 1 - Heat the soy sauce, brown sugar, mirin, sake, garlic and ginger in a small saucepan and simmer and allow to thicken a little (be careful not to burn it as it contains sugars). Stir in the sesame oil.
Step 2 - Strain through a small sieve and then use. It makes around 1 cup of sauce and keeps for a week in the fridge.
How to Prepare Each Skewer
Pork belly: cut pork belly into small cubes and season with salt and pepper
Chicken skin: season with salt and pepper
Trimming chicken tails
Chicken tails: trim these and add three to a skewer and season with salt and pepper
Chicken and spring onion: thread one piece of chicken thigh and alternate with one piece of spring onion so that every bite gets chicken and onion. Season with salt and pepper
Perfectly cooked chicken liver
Chicken liver: Use very fresh chicken livers and remove as much sinew as possible and season with salt and pepper. Important: cook these lightly until still pink inside
Wagyu striploin: Cut into small cubes trimming off the fat and season with salt and pepper
King brown mushrooms: Cut the base off the mushroom and then cut into 4-5 slices. Rethread the mushroom onto the skewer in the same shape and season with salt and pepper
Bacon wrapped enoki mushrooms: requires a bit of skill and practise but by the second or third, you'll be a pro. Use the best bacon you can find (crispy bacon). Wrap around a small bundle of trimmed enoki and fasten three bacon wrapped bundles per skewer and season with salt and pepper
Shishito peppers: thread onto skewers 4-5 per skewer depending on side and season with salt and pepper