Yakitori (焼き鳥) literally means grilled chicken and also refers to skewered food in general. Yakitori is commonly made with bite-sized pieces of chicken meat, chicken offal, or other meats and vegetables skewered on a bamboo stick and grilled over binchōtan charcoal. Yakitori are usually available in izakaya restaurants (Japanese tapas) and as well as specialty yakitori restaurants that offers these tasty skewers along with alcoholic beverages.
Types of Yakitori:
Although yakitori restaurants serve all kinds of chickens skewers, it’s not easy for us to find these parts in typical supermarkets. But here I will just mention the yakitori dishes typically offered in restaurants.
- Chicken Thigh (momo, もも)
- Chicken Breast (mune, むね)
- Chicken Thigh & Scallion (negima, ねぎま)
- Chicken Tender (sasami, ささみ)
- Chicken Skin (kawa, 皮)
- Chicken Wings (tebasaki, 手羽先)
- Chicken Tail (bonjiri, ぼんじり)
- Chicken Cartilage (nankotsu, 軟骨)
- Chicken Heart (hatsu, ハツ)
- Chicken Liver (rebā, レバー)
- Chicken Gizzard (sunagimo, 砂肝)
Yakitori restaurants in Japan usually use special breeds of chicken from specific region that the chef has sought out for the flavor and the texture.
Seasonings (Shio or Tare):
In most yakitori restaurants, your choices of flavor are either salt (shio) or with yakitori sauce (“tare” – pronounced “tareh”). It’s really amazing these simple chicken parts will transform into something really delicious by simple seasoning of salt or yakitori sauce. Not to mention, there is no pre-marinade required for yakitori.
Tare is made of soy sauce, mirin, sake, and sugar. I tested several sauces over years and we like this version a lot. It has good balance between sweet and salty. You can add ginger and other ingredients to make your yakitori sauce, but we like it to keep it simple with scallions.
If you like simple salt flavor instead of tare, simply sprinkle salt before grilling.
For yakitori, the skewers are usually made from bamboo. The typical skewers are called “teppogushi” (literally means “gun skewer” from its shape). The skewers are flat and there are flat tab on one end which makes them easier for you to turn or hold. Because the skewers are flat, they won’t roll on the grill and allows the chef grill one side at a time.
These tapered skewers can be found in Japanese supermarkets and Amazon (regular bamboo skewers will also work).
In yakitori restaurants, yakitori is cooked over a special fixed cooking grate, and there is no wire grid so Yakitori will not stick the grate and easy to baste and turn.
They are grilled over a special type of charcoal called Binchōtan (備長炭). This charcoal burns at an extremely high temperature (over 1800F/1000C) and last really long. If you are interested in grilling with Binchotan, keep in mind it is more difficult to start and you’ll likely need a fire starter pan to heat them over open fire.
Today’s Recipe: Chicken & Scallion (Negima ねぎま)
Today I’m sharing one of the most popular yakitori dishes called “negima”, chicken thigh and scallion skewer. You can of course grill outside, but today I want show you how to use an oven to make yakitori. We simply use “broil” function, instead of bake. In baking, you heat food by surrounding the food with hot air, while in broiling, you heat food using infrared radiation with the top burners. Broiling gives nice char from the infrared radiation above the food. Usually broiler on low is 400F, medium 450F, and high is 500F, and for yakitori, we set the broiler to high.
Here’s a quick 2 min video on how to make yakitori sauce and negima at home. Enjoy!
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- 10-12 5-inch bamboo skewers
- 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, at room temperature
- 9 scallions
- Vegetable oil
- Soak bamboo skewers in water for 30 minutes.
- In a small saucepan, add the mirin, soy sauce, sake, water, brown sugar, and the green part of 1 scallion, and bring it to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, decrease the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until the liquid is reduced by half. It will take about 30 minutes. The sauce will be thicker and glossy. Let it cool to room temperature before using. Reserve ⅓ of the sauce in a small bowl for final coating.
- Cut the white and light green part of scallions into 1 inch pieces.
- Cut chicken into 1 inch cubes.
- On a flat work surface, fold each slice of chicken in half, insert into chicken at 45 degrees angle, and press down on the skewer to pierce thorough the center.
- Alternate each chicken slice with a piece of scallion lined up perpendicular to the skewer. Each skewer will hold about 4 chicken slices and 3 scallion pieces.
- Grease the grate of the broiler/wire rack (or oven-safe cooling rack) to avoid the chicken sticking on the grate. Place the skewers on top.
- Set the broiler to high and wait until the heating elements are hot. Broil for 6 minutes.
- After 6 minutes, brush the sauce on the meat on both sides and continue to broil for 3-4 minutes to caramelize the sauce.
- Transfer the skewers to a serving plate and brush the chicken on top with the reserved sauce (with a clean brush).
Recipe by Namiko Chen of Just One Cookbook. All images and content on this site are copyright protected. Please do not use my images without my permission. If you’d like to share this recipe on your site, please re-write the recipe and link to this post as the original source. Thank you.