Marinade in a savory-sweet sauce, these Japanese chicken and scallion skewers are hard to resist! You’d love this simple yakitori recipe. It’s great for grilling outdoor or under the broiler.
When comes to chicken on a stick, the Japanese have our own best version known as Yakitori (焼き鳥). The name translates directly to grilled chicken, but Yakitori also exemplifies good times and happy hours in Japan.
These chicken skewers are a classic food served at izakaya, Japanese-tapas style pubs, where frosty beer, tasty bites, and jolly chatters are all part of the deal. They are also the kind of iconic food you can find at specialty restaurants that serve nothing else but Yakitori.
The good news is anyone can easily make some really great-tasting yakitori at home. Let me show you how!
Yakitori in Japan
Without questions, Yakitori in Japan is a serious business. At specialty restaurants, the chefs would go as far as sourcing special breeds of chicken from specific regions known for their unique texture and flavors. Various methods of butchering, skewering, and grilling are applied. The patrons get to choose from breasts, thighs, cartilage, wings, tenderloin, livers to gizzards.
Here are the examples you’d get on the menu:
- 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)
Today I’m sharing one of the most popular yakitori dishes called Negima Yakitori – chicken thigh and scallion skewer. These skewers are super easy—just alternate the chicken with big pieces of scallion, grill, and glaze with teriyaki sauce.
Watch How to Make Yakitori
Sweet and irresistible chicken and scallion skewers (negima), you can enjoy this simple recipe on a grill or with an oven.
Yakitori 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 the 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 the years and we like this version a lot. It has a 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.
The Bamboo Skewers for Yakitori
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 is a 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 to grill one side at a time.
These tapered skewers can be found in Japanese supermarkets and Amazon (regular bamboo skewers will also work).
Outdoor or Indoor Grilling
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 1800 ºF or 1000 ºC) and lasts 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 an open fire.
You can of course grill outside, but today I want to show you how to use an oven to make yakitori.
We simply use the “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 400 ºF, medium 450 ºF, and high is 500 ºF, and for yakitori, we set the broiler to high.
Japanese Ingredient Substitution: If you want to look for substitutes for Japanese condiments and ingredients, click here.
- 1 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs (454 g; at room temperature)
- 9 green onions/scallions
- neutral-flavored oil (vegetable, canola, etc)
Gather all the ingredients.
Soak about 10 to 12 (5-inch) 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, reduce 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 (Use this sauce after the chicken is cooked).
- 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. Note: If the sauce for final coating came in contact with the raw chicken, you have to boil the sauce again to avoid contamination.
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.