Yakitori (Japanese Grilled Chicken)
Yakitori is basically just grilled chicken, the way the Japanese do it. And the Japanese know how to grill right. My version is simplified, and alcohol and refined sugar free.
Yakitori is essential Japanese festival and street food (and food in general), and every little hole-in-the-wall restaurant and vendor has a different recipe, making them unique and often creating a bit of a cult following. Sometimes they use different sauces for every cut of meat, and grill them differently. Often the sauce is simmered for hours, sometimes even days, to reach the perfect consistency and flavor. Sounds so intimidating, right? Well, it kind of is. But I’m here to show you a quick and easy, bare bones simplified way to cook it at home. I could never claim to be as good as any yakitori chef who has spent his entire life honing his craft, and I’m by no means a grilling expert, but this recipe is a great, wholesome way to make it at home. And the sauce comes together in a snap!
… and only has 2 ingredients. *gasp* I know, can you believe it? It seems too good to be true, but it’s actually that good! But because the ingredient list is so short, make sure you use the best quality you can find, including the chicken that you use it on. And for the rest of the intense flavor comes from the grill. That char is really the best part.
And somehow it just tastes better when you’re standing around outside, in the super humid Summer heat (at least I have that in common with Japan here in the Midwest), getting your face messy. My kids adore this stuff and will eat adult portions. It’s crazy. But it makes my heart happy to give them a little piece of a Japanese childhood.
These are so easy to pull together. You just cut the chicken thighs (definitely use thighs, not breasts!) into bite sides pieces, skewer, marinate, grill, baste as you grill. And in less than 10 minutes, you’re ready to eat! And I mean, seriously. Don’t you want to eat that?
Happy Summer grilling!
- about 1.5 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, preferably free range and organic
- 1 cup soy sauce, preferably organic***
- 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
- If using wooden skewers, soak them in warm water for at least minutes, up to an hour.*
- In a 2 cup capacity or larger jar, combine the soy sauce and maple syrup. Seal with a lid, and shake to combine.
- Cut the chicken thighs into bite sized pieces. Lay a piece of chicken on a flat surface and slide the skewer through one. Fold the chicken piece in half or thirds if needed to have consistent sized pieces, and so they stay on tightly. Continue to layer more chicken pieces onto the skewer, sliding them to press up against each other, until you have roughly 1/2 of the skewer full, leaving enough on both ends for handling. Place in a large dish with high sides and repeat with remaining chicken.
- Pour half of the sauce into the dish with the chicken and toss to coat. Let marinate for up to 30 minutes.
- Reserve 2 tablespoons of remaining sauce and set aside.
- Meanwhile, preheat the grill to medium-high heat. Clean the grates as needed. Remove the chicken from the pan, letting excess marinade drip off. Place the chicken on the grates**, and turn them (using tongs) every 1 minute or so. If you notices some skewers cookings faster than others, move them around to cook them more evenly. After about 6 minutes, start to brush the chicken with remaining sauce and let cook for about 2 minutes more, turning and brushing more sauce every 30 seconds. The chicken should be a rich auburn. Remove from the grill and drizzle with reserved sauce. Serve.
- *They will still burn a little after soaking, but it will prevent too much.
- **For a more authentic Japanese grill experience, you can place two bricks covered in foil, on the grill grates. Place them far enough apart to hold the skewers without touching the meat, but close enough to hold the skewers comfortably. Cook them suspended on the blocks. This mimics a Japanese grill more closely. But cooking them directly on the grates is just fine as well.
- ***you can use tamari or gluten-free soy sauce for a gluten-free version.