Grilled Sake and Soy Yakitori Chicken

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Yakitori (焼き鳥) is a Japanese type of skewered bite-sized pieces of grilled chicken and are prominent on the menus of most izakayas, casual Japanese restaurants that serve drinks and small bites of food. The preparation of Yakitori involves skewering the meat with kushi (串), a type of skewer typically made of steel, bamboo, or something made of similar materials. Afterwards, they are grilled over a charcoal fire. During or after cooking, the meat is typically seasoned with a tare sauce or salted.

Yakitori seasonings are primarily divided among two types: salty or salty-sweet. The salty type usually uses plain salt as its main seasoning. For the salty-sweet variety, tare, a special sauce consisting of mirin, sake, soy sauce, and sugar is used. Other common spices include powdered cayenne pepper, shichimi, Japanese pepper, black pepper, and wasabi, according to one’s tastes.

While grilling, I like to dip my chicken into the tare, or dipping sauce, two or three times , making for a nice “layered shine” to the meat. If you cannot find boneless, skin-on chicken thighs at the market, buy about 2 1/2 pounds of bone-in thighs and cut the pieces from the bone yourself, saving a few bucks.

Serves 4

For the Glaze:
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sake

For the Chicken:
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
5 scallions or green onions, white and green portions, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup soy and sake glaze

Special Equipment:
Bamboo skewers


For the Glaze:
Stir brown sugar, soy sauce, honey, water, mirin, rice vinegar and sake together in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until reduced in volume by half, about 25 to 30 minutes. Let glaze cool to thicken, for at least 1 hour.

For the Chicken:
Soak about eight 6-inch skewers in water to cover for at least 20 minutes.

Prepare a hot fire in a grill.

Thread the chicken onto the skewers alternating with the scallions, dividing the ingredients evenly among the skewers.

Pour the grilling glaze into a tall, narrow container, such as a pint glass. Working with one skewer at a time, dip a skewer in the glaze to coat. Remove, then repeat twice more to thoroughly coat the chicken. You can also brush the glaze onto the chicken if desired.

Grill the skewers over direct heat, turning occasionally, until the chicken is lightly charred outside and cooked through and the glaze is caramelized, about 2 minutes per side. Arrange on a platter and serve immediately.

Cook’s Notes:

Alternatively to get move flavor into the meat, pour 1/4 cup of the glaze in a large bowl and add the chicken to the glaze; cover and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

This glaze is a simple way to add a ton of flavor to any dish. It’s a perfect complement to get that sweet and slightly spicy flavor with other sauces like sambal oelek or gochujang.

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