Have you heard of yakitori?
Perhaps you’ve seen this word on your menu at a Japanese steakhouse, but you passed on it because you were unfamiliar with the term and you didn’t know what it was.
After reading this informative post, you’ll likely not do that again. If you’re skipping the yakitori, you’re really missing out.
Read on to learn all about this tasty Japanese dish. You’ll learn the answer to the question, “what is yakitori?” and so much more.
What Is Yakitori?
Yakitori may sound like something fancy or complicated but it’s neither of those things.
It’s a simple dish that is delicious but is one that is also quite easy to prepare.
If you find yourself asking “what is yakitori?” then all you need to know is that it’s simply meat with a sauce that is served on skewers.
Yakitori is a finger food that can be enjoyed by all. You can make your own yakitori in minutes and it’s a wonderful snack, appetizer, or full meal.
The History of Yakitori
When examining the history of many great dishes from other countries, we assume the most popular ones have been a part of their culture of origin for hundreds or even thousands of years.
That’s not at all the case with yakitori. In the grand scheme of history, yakitori is relatively new.
In Japan’s Edo Period from 1603 to 1868, there were a lot of restrictions regarding the consumption of meat. Most of these restrictions were based on Buddhist beliefs. Beef and pork were banned entirely, and chicken was only consumed on rare occasions. The smell of grilling meat was to be avoided if possible.
However, towards the middle of the era that followed, the Meiji Period (1868-1912), eating chicken became popular. By the beginning of the 1900s, many Japanese people were eating chicken on a regular basis. In cities, this type of poultry soon became a popular Japanese street food.
Street stalls began serving grilled chicken that was cooked over charcoal. Vendors began putting the chicken and other meat, like pork and beef, on skewers to make it easy to cook, sell, and serve. They also brushed the meat with a sauce to make it more flavorful.
This type of dish was immediately popular, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that yakitori stalls began popping up all over. It was around this time that chicken became less expensive due to the introduction of fast-growing chickens from the United States.
Now, almost everyone could afford yakitori, and so more and more vendors began offering it. These stalls were especially prevalent near offices and train stations because they were a great place for businessmen and women to grab a quite bite.
Yakitori is still popular throughout Japan because it’s quick, easy, and affordable. Some people speculate that it will soon be a much bigger hit outside of Japan as well. Just like the world fell in love with sushi, it may soon become enamored with yakitori as well.
This dish is easy to make at home as long as you have a grill. Some people even buy their own yakitori grill for making this dish!
If you wish to make it in your kitchen, a grill pan will also work as well. You’ll want your temperature to be medium-hot to enjoy the best results.
You can use any part of the chicken for yakitori, but the pieces are generally bite-sized. Many vendors include not only standard chicken meat on their skewers, but neck meat, skin, organs, and cartilage as well. When making yakitori at home, you can choose the parts of the chicken that are most appetizing to you and your guests.
The sauce is part of the yakitori dish, but you can skip it if you like. Your grilled, skewered chicken will still be quite tasty without it.
Yakitori goes quite well with a cold beer. That’s how many people in Japan like it best.
Three Yakitori Recipes
Yakitori is so simple that you hardly even need a recipe. However, due to the popularity of this dish, a number of variations have emerged. You can try one or all three of the recipes below, and feel free to adjust the various ingredients to your liking as you cook and explore. Yakitori is not an exact science, and every vendor puts his or her own spin on the yakitori sold in each stall.
- Simple Chicken Yakitori
This recipe is very basic. Mix a quarter cup of dark soy sauce and a quarter cup of mirin rice wine in a frying pan. Add a few splashes of sake, a tablespoon of sugar, a tablespoon of honey, and a teaspoon of vinegar. Heat on medium heat and stir constantly until the mixture turns into a syrup.
Cut your chicken into bite-sized pieces and put them on the skewers. Brush your grill with oil to percent sticking. Grill the chicken over medium-hot coals or over medium-high gas heat. Once the meat is grilled, pour the sauce over it. Return them to the grill briefly to help enrich the flavor. Then, eat and enjoy.
- Oven-Broiled Yakitori
Traditionally, yakitori is grilled, but if you don’t want to grill it or don’t have a grill, there is another method available to you instead.
Follow the recipe above. Preheat your oven to 500 degrees. Spray a sheet pan with cooking spray or olive oil to keep the chicken from sticking, then put the skewered chicken on the pan.
Once the oven is ready, put the pan in the oven. It should take about fifteen minutes for your yakitori to cook completely. Then, coat it with the sauce and serve.
- Fish Yakitori
Yakitori is almost always made with chicken, but why not try it with fish instead? Fish is also a wonderful food to enjoy grilled and on skewers.
Choose a firm fish that won’t fall apart when you put it on the skewers. Swordfish, striped bass, or halibut are good choices.
Cut the fish into bite-sized pieces and marinate it in a mixture of soy sauce, a few minced garlic cloves, a teaspoon of minced ginger, and a tablespoon of sugar.
After an hour, slide the fish onto the skewers and grill them. Remember, fish will cook a lot faster than chicken, so don’t overcook it.
When the grilling is complete, sprinkle the fish with sesame seeds. Enjoy right off the skewer or over a bed of rice.
As you can see, the answer to the question “what is yakitori?” is quite simple. There is no reason that you can’t try this dish right away for dinner tonight; it’s likely that you have all the ingredients in your home right now. Give it a shot. You’ll love it and will eat it frequently moving forward. Share it with friends, enjoy, and spread the word. Everybody loves yakitori!
If you’re looking for more great posts about food from all around the world, check out the Food section of our site.