Yakitori Meatballs: Tori no Tsukune

We cherish the warmth in autumn as such days become rare: one last opportunity to grill, to enjoy the sunshine, the patio, and the golden trees.

This yakitori sauce has gotten better all summer, and it’s now rich and chicken-y.
And who can resist food on a stick!

In Japan, one would go to a yakitori-ya (a restaurant specializing in tasty basted grilled chicken) to eat a skewers of chicken meatballs, grilled wings, dark chicken meat and negi, a little taste of the livers, and some crispy skin. It sounds like such fun! But when I cook, the two of us make a meal of only one sort of skewer. These meatballs are easy enough to make on a workday, and tasty enough for a party.

Grilled Golden Chicken Dumplings
Tori no Tsukune

adapted from: The Japanese Kitchen
•250 Recipes in a Traditional Spirit•
by Hiroko Shimbo
page 410
6 appetizers, light meal for 3

  • 8 bamboo skewers, soaked for at least 1 hour
  • Yakitori Sauce
  • 7 ounces skinned and boned chicken thighs
  • 7 ounces skinned and boned chicken breasts
    • (I took the easy route of buying a pound of ground chicken)
  • ½ teaspoons salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ naganegi (Japanese long onion) or 3 scallions, green and white parts, minced
  • 1 teaspoon peeled, finely grated ginger
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1 to 3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Sansho pepper

Chop chicken to a paste with a heavy-duty knife or a food processor. Transfer to a medium bowl and add the salt. Squeeze the mixture with your hands until the mixture becomes sticky and pale pink in color. One at a time add the black pepper, onions, ginger, and egg white. Squeeze the mixture after each addition. Add the sesame oil and mix. I put this mixture into the refrigerator for about 20 minutes to chill.
Oil your hands and form the ground chicken into 1 ½ inch balls. I made 24, so they may have been a little smaller than the original recipe. As you form the dumplings, place them on a large oiled plate and press a small depression in each to facilitate even cooking. When you have shaped all of them, heat a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Coat the bottom of the skillet with a film of oil and fry the dumplings in batches over medium low heat. Don’t cook them all the way through: you only want to cook them until they turn white and firm on all sides. Drain the dumplings on paper towels. Let them rest for 10 minutes.

Or you can prepare the recipe to this point and finish cooking later in the day. Let the dumplings come up to room temperature, about 20 minutes.

Thread three dumplings on each skewer. Grill or broil until golden, turning once. Dip the skewers in the yakitori sauce. Shake off excess sauce and grill until dry, about a minute or two. Repeat the dipping and drying process, and then remove the dumplings from the heat and baste them once more.

Serve hot, sprinkled with sansho pepper.

I love this worktable in my kitchen! It has two shelves below, set back so I can sit on a stool and type posts on my blog. I keep a few large pots on one shelf, and my Kitchen Aid and Cuisinart on the other. The table has a heavy-duty steel frame, and the casters make it easy to roll to the center of the kitchen when it’s time to take photos. You may wonder why I don’t have more pictures of the food on the table in the dining room. Well, it’s because the light is there is dim. The chandelier has ugly black shades on each of the five small bulbs—I can’t believe I haven’t addressed that problem in the months we have lived in this house!

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