Chicken yakitori are incredibly easy Japanese chicken skewers that take no time to make with deliciously tasty results. Perfect to add to your summer grilling menu (or any time).
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In summer in particular, there's nothing quite like skewers cooked on the grill. Though to be honest, they are great for snacking on any time of year. And that's exactly what happens with these chicken skewers in Japan.
They are a popular snack in an izakaya, a kind of bar that serves snacks and beers, and you'll also find specialized yakitori restaurants that will have a range of types.
The main variation is the cut of chicken. Most stick with one type per skewer, so you can get ones just with chicken breast, others with thigh and various other cuts like heart, liver or wings. Then the other main difference is whether they are simply seasoned with salt or with a soy-based sauce.
The sauce, when used, is called "tare" and is typically simply soy, mirin and/or sake and sugar. You can also add some ginger and garlic if you like as well, though I have kept it simple here.
In general, all of the skewers are made just with chicken then the seasoning. The only exception is this one that includes pieces of spring onion in between the pieces of chicken thigh (negima yakitori). To me, it's probably the tastiest, which may be partly why it's the most popular in Japanese restaurants outside the country.
You cut the chunks of meat and lengths of spring onion into the same length. Then you use a flat skewer to make sure they lie flat when you cook them. This way, everything gets equal contact with the grill.
It's important to note the meat is NOT marinated. You simply use the sauce to baste the skewers as they cook.
You could argue this means they pick up a little less flavor, but it also means the saltiness in the mixture doesn't start breaking down the texture of the meat either. So, they stay really juicy which is a decent trade off.
Cooking and serving tips
Make sure you separate out just part of the sauce to baste with so you don't cross-contaminate the sauce. That way, any leftover can be used for dipping the skewers when they are done. If you cross-contaminate, you will need to re-boil the sauce before using.
These work particularly well on the grill for flavor, but I'd suggest you cook them on foil or other grate that you oil to save them sticking. If you can't grill outside, you can cook them under the broiler/overhead grill. If so, baste both sides during cooking since the heat comes from above.
These skewers are traditionally a tapas-like appetizer, and they are certainly great to snack on and perfect finger food. But you could add various other dishes to make them more of a meal or serve with some rice and vegetables, for example.
Chicken yakitori are so easy to make and have a delicious mix of juicy chicken and flavorful, salty (with a hint of sweet) glaze/sauce. So much flavor with so little effort - every reason to have them again soon.
Try these other skewers for the grill:
- Sosaties (South African lamb skewers with curry and apricot)
- Tandoori shrimp (prawns)
- Anticuchos de carne (Peruvian beef skewers with a chili marinade)
- Plus get more summer recipes in the archives.
- 3 tbsp soy sauce
- 3 tbsp mirin
- 1 ½ tbsp sugar
- ½ lb chicken thighs 225g
- 4 spring onions approx 50g/ 1 ½oz
- If using wooden skewers, soak in water for around 30 minutes before using.
- Place the soy sauce, mirin and sugar in a small pan and mix. Warm over a medium heat until the sugar dissolves and the mixture comes to a simmer. Reduce by around ⅓ then remove from heat and allow to cool.
- Meanwhile, dice the chicken into roughly 1in/ 2 ½cm pieces and cut the white and light green part of the spring onions into 1in/ 2 ½cm lengths.
- Preheat the grill to a medium-high heat.
- Drain the skewers and thread pieces of spring onion and chicken alternately onto the skewers, trying to keep them so the pieces sit flat.
- Place the skewers either directly on the grill or, possibly better, on foil over the grill. Grill for around 4 - 5 minutes until the first side is cooked.
- Pour around half of the soy mixture into a small bowl and use this for basting. Reserve the rest for serving. Turn the skewers and baste the top (cooked) side. Cook for a further 3 - 5 minutes until the other side is cooked then turn and baste on top again.
- Cook for a further minute or two on the first side before serving with reserved sauce (NOT the sauce used for basting) on the side for dipping.
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