Yakitori: Japan's delectable street food

Tribune News ServiceVersions of yakitori include, from left, with tare (sauce), torikawa (crispy chicken skin), with shio (salt) and reba (chicken 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, perhaps the greatest concentration of yakitori street food stalls in all of Japan. If you don’t happen to be there, don’t worry: Yakitori is popular throughout the country.

And if you aren’t in Japan, that’s also no problem. You can easily make it yourself 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 that are 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.

Not surprisingly, 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 is just flavored with salt, though after it is cooked, you can add a squeeze of lemon, a spice mix or a hot sauce. Tare is basted with a thickened, sweet soy, mirin and sake sauce.

Shio is typically made with pieces of breast meat. I stuck a few bite-size pieces on a skewer and cooked them relatively quickly on a hot, oiled skillet.

A word about the skillet: Yakitori is meant to be grilled, but I don’t have a grill in the test kitchen in the office, for obvious reasons. So I did the next best thing. It didn’t have the charcoal flavor, but it was wonderful nonetheless.

Yakitori with tare are usually made with small pieces of chicken thigh meat alternated with a form of onion. In Japan, they use long onion, which is sort of a cross between green onions and a leek. But I couldn’t find long onion, so I just used pieces of green onion.

Because I’m not squeamish, I also made torikawa and reba — that is, yakitori made with strips of chicken skin and chicken livers. Both are prepared shio style, with just salt.

The torikawa was as good as I thought it would be. When chicken skin receives enough heat, it becomes crispy, with a rich, irresistible flavor. All it needs to be the perfect snack is plenty of salt, which you give it before cooking.

The reba was also as good as I’d hoped. I like chicken liver. I was happy.

YAKITORI WITH SHIO

Servings: 10

Vegetable oil (if using stove)

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2 teaspoons salt

Lemon wedges (optional)

Togarashi (seven-ingredient chile pepper mix, available at international markets) (optional)

Yuzukosho (chile pepper paste, sometimes available at international markets) (optional)

If grilling, soak bamboo skewers in water at least 30 minutes and set grill for direct heating. Lightly oil a large skillet if using the stove.

Dice the chicken into bite-sized pieces of equal size. Thread 3-4 pieces on each skewer (or 2 skewers side by side, for easier turning). Sprinkle the chicken on each skewer with a good pinch or two of salt.

Place skewers on grill directly over heat, and cook, turning once or more, until thoroughly cooked, or cook several skewers at once in a skillet over medium-high heat, turning once or more, until thoroughly done. Remove from heat, and serve with slices of lemon, togarashi and yuzukosho if desired.

Nutrition information per serving: 66 calories, 3 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 33 mg cholesterol, 10 g protein, 0 g carbohydrate, 0 g sugar, 0 g fiber, 486 mg sodium, 3 mg calcium.

— Recipe by Ochikeron via YouTube

YAKITORI WITH TARE

Servings: 10

Vegetable oil (if using stove)

1/2 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup sake

1/4 cup mirin

3-4 green onions

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs

If grilling, soak bamboo skewers in water at least 30 minutes and set grill for direct heating. Lightly oil a large skillet if using the stove.

Mix the soy sauce, sugar, sake and mirin in a small pot, and boil for 8-10 minutes until the sauce becomes slightly thickened. Set aside.

Slice the thick part of the onions into 1-inch pieces, and set aside.

Dice the chicken into bite-sized pieces of equal size. Thread 1 piece on a skewer (or 2 skewers side by side, for easier turning). Thread 1 piece of onion on the skewer or skewers, and keep alternating until you have 2 pieces of onion and 3 pieces of chicken on each skewer.

Place skewers on grill directly over heat or in prepared skillet in batches over medium-high heat. Baste with the sauce a few times while you cook, turning at least once, until thoroughly done. Remove from heat, and serve.

Nutrition information per serving: 121 calories, 5 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 43 mg cholesterol, 10 g protein, 9 g carbohydrate, 8 g sugar, 0 g fiber, 884 mg sodium, 7 mg calcium.

— Recipe by Japanese Cooking 101

TORIKAWA

Servings: 4

Vegetable oil (if using stove)

Skin from 4 chicken thighs or 2 chicken breasts

Salt

If grilling, soak bamboo skewers in water at least 30 minutes and set grill for direct heating. Lightly oil a large skillet if using the stove.

Slice the skin into thin strips. Thread strips of skin from 1 thigh or 1/2 breast onto 1 skewer (or 2 skewers side by side, for easier turning), and sprinkle generously with salt.

Place skewers on grill directly over heat or in prepared skillet over medium-high heat. Turn a few times until thoroughly cooked and mostly crispy. Remove from heat, and serve.

Nutrition information per serving: 154 calories, 16 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 30 mg cholesterol, 3 g protein, 0 g carbohydrate, 0 g sugar, 0 g fiber, 596 mg sodium, 2 mg calcium.

— Recipe by Daniel Neman

REBA

Servings: 8

Vegetable oil (if using stove)

1 pound chicken livers

Salt

If grilling, soak bamboo skewers in water at least 30 minutes and set grill for direct heating. Lightly oil a large skillet if using the stove.

Thread 1 liver on a skewer (or 2 skewers side by side, for easier turning), and sprinkle generously with salt.

Place skewers on grill directly over heat or in prepared skillet in batches over medium-high heat. Turn a few times until thoroughly cooked. Remove from heat, and serve.

Nutrition information per serving: 97 calories, 6 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 196 mg cholesterol, 10 g protein, 1 g carbohydrate, 0 g sugar, 0 g fiber, 331 mg sodium, 5 mg calcium.

— Recipe by Daniel Neman

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