Japanese Chicken Kebabs, Grilled, Sauced and Served with a Cold Beer

Chicken Yakitori
Chicken Yakitori hana/imagenavi/Getty Images

After a long day at work in most any Japanese city, workers face an often-long train ride home. So for many a quick snack and a beer before leaving the city has become a tradition and one of the best places to go is one of the thousands of Yakitori stands scattered all over Japan. These little stands sit out on the street and serve up hot grilled chicken on a stick and a cold beer. And so Yakitori has become the fast food of choice in urban Japan.

Yakitori is a simple and yet versatile dish that consists of bite-sized chunks of chicken threaded onto bamboo skewers and grilled over a hot fire. Usually, they are brushed with soy sauce while cooking to keep them moist and tender. Often these kebabs are intermixed with vegetables like leeks and/or scallions. The soy sauce baste be spiced up with ginger, garlic, chives and dry sherry or sake.

The basic method for making Yakitori is quite simple. Start with bite-sized pieces of chicken breast and marinate them in the sauce (see recipes) for about 30 minutes to an hour. Thread onto bambook skewers with vegetables and grill over a hot fire for 4 to 8 minutes, turning as needed. The kebabs should have a golden brown color, but not show signs of burning. Charring is not desired in East Asian cooking. If you choose not to use a vegetable on your Yakitori leave a little space between the chicken pieces for more even cooking.

Serve up the hot Yakitori straight from the grill with hot soy sauce for dipping. You can leave out the dipping sauce or improvise something more to your liking. Yakitori makes a great appetizer or midday snack. If you wish to want to make them ahead of time prepare the skewers and let them drain a bit. Store them in the refrigerator. Boil the remaining marinade for 5 minutes and save that to brush over the Yakitori while they're on the grill. Don’t prepare them more than a day in advance or the flavors might become too strong.