Recipe Testing: Yakitori / by zhaophotography

When I read the tweet about Harris Salat and Tadashi Ono writing a Yakitori book, I was overjoyed. No, beyond overjoyed. I was ecstatic. They had already written a book on my other favorite Japanese cuisine, Nabe or hot pot. And now this yakitori book would be icing on the cake.

After following the tweet to his blog, I found that Harris was asking readers to be recipe testers. Wait.... secret recipes passed on from generation to generation for creating the best tare (or Japanese BBQ sauce) and proper grilling techniques without giving up your kidney or your first born child? YES PLEASE. I quickly sent Harris an email telling him my interest as a tester and within a matter of seconds, I got a response.

As some of you loyal readers following our ZSAT (Zhao Super Asia Trip) already know, we love our yakitori. You can find us talking about it here and here. The slightly charred fat and meat with its salty and oh-so-lovely smokey flavor is out of this world. This is simplicity at its best, and so incredibly delicious. Forget fine dining and Michelin-rated star chefs, give me my grilled neck, skin and gizzard, and then wash that all down with an ice cold mug of beer and I can die a happy man. Ever since we had a taste of it in Japan many years ago we were hooked. We searched high and low only to be disappointed by boiled chicken breast chunks slathered with teriyaki sauce on a stick that some restaurants try to pass off as yakitori in some sushi joints. I know, I know, I shouldn't be ordering yakitori from a place that specializes in fish.

I felt the deep void within and began grilling my own version at home to recapture those moments. Though I like to think it's good, I can never achieve that same taste and flavor that I remembered from my trips to Japan.

This brings us back to the recipe testing. Once I got the recipes from Harris, I studied it word for word like a tween and her Twilight books or kids and their Harry Potter sagas, you get the idea. One of the items the tester needed to make was the tare. Although you can salt-grill (shio-yaki) your meat, it is the tare that completes the taste by offering sweetness and burnt caramel taste to the smokey salty meat. The tare also adds a glistening sheen on the meat, much like a tasty candy coat.

Usually I buy the bottled stuff from Mitsuwa since I never knew the proper proportion of soy sauce, mirin, water and sake. But the store-bought kinds are usually too sweet or thick. I have to say that the tare from the recipe was outstanding. Not only did it taste better, but I was able to control the consistency of the sauce. Also, the batch of sauce was large enough to allow me to dip the skewers in rather than basting it with a brush.

The sauce that gets better with each dip

The upside to this practice is that each time you dip the skewers in, the flavor of the meat and salt adds to the flavor of the sauce. Its the sauce that keeps on giving. I have even heard of places in Japan where they keep their tare sauce for over 20 years without ever changing it. They just add more to the pot when it runs low. Can you imagine the flavor that is built up for so long? Maybe I will try mine for a few weeks and see how it goes, providing I keep to the sanitary procedure of boiling it after each use. The sauce can then be frozen and kept for 6 months according to the recipe. Which means we can have yakitori during the winter!!!

We were given a huge recipe list to test, but because of the time needed to provide feedback, we only managed to try out a few recipes. So we picked negima, momo and tsukune. The staples at any yakitori joint.


The recipes were accurate and provided helpful hints along the way. Considering these were skewers made at home, I would venture to say it was on par to some of the ones we tasted at restaurant, sans the boiled ones with the sauce, yuck. Now all I need is a konro grill and some binchotan to complete the true taste.

I, for one, am happy that Harris and Tadashi are trying to expand people's knowledge of Japanese cuisine beyond the sushi/tempura/teriyaki dishes. We need more yakitori and ramen joints in Chicago (I am looking at you Ippudo Ramen!) Until then, the next best thing is to make it at home. So look out for Harris and Tadashi's book out in the future. If you love grilled meat on a stick as much as we do, be sure to pick yourself up a copy.