Yakitori (Japanese grilled chicken): best guide
Read our in-depth guide to yakitori (Japanese grilled chicken), as written by the experts at Jidori restaurant in North East London
Yakitori literally means ‘grilled chicken’ in Japanese
It is casual, simple fare – offering different cuts of the chicken skewered, cooked over a hot charcoal grill and served either salted or brushed with the establishment’s house-made tare (sauce). It is most commonly enjoyed with a beer or sake in a local, atmospheric izakaya. It is great drinking food! Salty, sweet and smoky.
Tare is normally what helps distinguish each yakitori-ya from each other
In Japan, they are normally carefully guarded secrets. Ours, however, is not! We make ours daily by roasting chicken wing tips, deglazing the pan with sake and mirin, then adding soy, ginger, garlic and Japanese black sugar. Tare should be a perfect balance of saltiness, sweetness and umami.
Popular yakitori includes negima, tsukune and tebasaki
Popular yakitori includes negima (chicken thigh skewered with mini leeks), tsukune (chicken meatball) and tebasaki (chicken wings). In Japan, cuts like the chicken breast are served medium-rare. A scary thought for most Brits, but one relished in Japan. It helps demonstrate the freshness and quality of the chickens used in Japan.
In yakitori cooking, the charcoal is just as important as the chickens used
In Japan, they use binchotan charcoal, an incredibly dense charcoal that can reach searingly hot temperatures with hardly any smoke or flame. Controlling this heat and cooking the skewers at the right temperature is the specific skill required by the chef.
Unlike many restaurants in Japan, yakitori-yas are a very casual affair
The cook tends to serve also as the waiter, host and cashier. Small, intimate places, they tend to be fairly rough-and-ready and are a popular spot for workers as they finish work and before they head home. They also tendto be boisterous, fun and friendly places to visit. Kanpai!
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