How to cook yakitori chicken
Nicholas Wong of Potts Point restaurant Cho Cho San demonstrates how make yakitiori chicken.
Chicken, skewers, glaze and charcoal – it's the simplicity of yakitori from side-street vendors in Tokyo that gets Nicholas Wong from Potts Point's Cho Cho San every time.
"There's this old couple who must be in their 80s – they skewer all day and cook all night," the head chef says. "It's amazing. Every time I go to Japan I definitely go there. It's very unassuming."
Yet while yakitori, which commonly refers to grilled chicken on skewers, has distinctly Japanese origins, it's the international appeal of the dish that most appeals.
"Chicken wings and beer go hand in hand, they're pretty universal in any cuisine," Wong says.
Wong shared the recipe and tips with goodfood.com.au.
In terms of cooking yakitori, nothing beats a charcoal grill. Wong is no purist, however - a frypan, oven grill or barbecue hotplate will work just fine. Just cook on high for the first minute or two so the skin crisps up nicely, then turn the heat down to medium while the flesh cooks.
"Obviously the advantage [of the charcoal grill] is the taste, the smell – it definitely enhances flavour of food," Wong says. "Look for a nice glowing middle and a white ash on the outside."
He suggests opting for the best-quality charcoal you can afford and steering clear of cheap heat beads that use fuel tablets, which give off an unpleasant odour. But remember that expensive charcoal tends to need an open flame to light properly, such as from a gas stove.
Also make sure you give the meat a bit of space from the charcoal to prevent burning the skewers and soy sauce. A 10-centimetre distance is ideal.
One of the items on Cho Cho San's original menu was a yakitori-inspired dish without skewers using chicken Maryland; Wong is considering another yakitori-style option for the coming summer. For Asia Town street food festival, however, he'll be serving a simpler concept using chicken mid-wings – also known as wingettes – which are essentially chicken wings with the tip and wing drum removed.
They're available at some supermarkets or butcher's shops but you can easily make your own by chopping off the ends at home.
Whether you buy whole wings or mid-wings, you still need to remove the joints at either end and cut the wing open flat before threading it onto the skewers (see instructions below).
The best way to find where the knuckles are is by feeling around the bone, then placing the knife just inside the edge of the joint. Saw slightly into the flesh, then thump the knife down through the bone with the heel of your hand. Watch a demonstration in the video above.
Score the flesh above the bone, then massage the wing open with your thumbs and it should appear fairly flat and roughly rectangular, ready for skewering.
It's important while threading your chicken onto the skewers not to piece the skin, otherwise you may burn the wood – never a good look (or taste) no matter how much you love that charry flavour.
It's a slightly tricky technique best mastered through observation and practice, Wong says, so watch the video above if in doubt.
Apart from the cut of the chicken and the yakitori concept in general, Wong doesn't make any special claim to the authenticity of his yakitori recipes. Wingettes are simply cheap, quick to cook and have that great crispy skin. "It's a good protein pick for anyone," Wong says.
Other chicken parts, especially drumsticks, would work equally well – but the bell shape of the thigh will mean they need longer cooking and won't lend themselves to being skewered.
When boiling the glaze, the mixture should thicken but not so much that it would overpower the dish. In other words, "You still want to taste chicken."
Before brushing on the glaze, lightly brush the mid-wings with olive oil and salt – if using a charcoal grill – or oil the cooking surface if using a frypan, barbecue and so on.
After a few minutes on the grill a crust should start to form, and that's when the glazing magic can begin. As the chicken cooks, keep brushing the glaze on with a pastry brush until you start to see a tell-tale sticky sheen with "a good char effect". This means the soy and sugar have caramelised and the smoke has infused into the chicken. "I like a little bit of burnt in my chicken wings," Wong says.
The side with the thicker skin will take the longest to cook – about 5 minutes – and slightly less on the underside. You know you're done when the exposed flesh on the underside is fully white or browned with no pink areas.
A sprinkling of togarashi adds a good kick of chilli and black sesame while a squeeze of lime adds citrus lick.
Like all great Asian street foods, the result is best eaten immediately, maybe with some sake or beer but without the need for fancy sides. "It stands on its own," Wong says.
CHICKEN WING YAKITORI
Serves 4 (12 skewers)
- 24 chicken mid-wings (wingettes) (available at butcher's shops or you can make your own by chopping either end off a chicken wing)
- 24 bamboo skewers, soaked in cold water for 20 minutes to prevent burning
- Togarashi as desired (available at Japanese food shops)
- 1 lime, quartered
Ingredients – teriyaki glaze
- 100ml dark soy
- 100g caster sugar
- 100ml mirin
- 50ml sake
- 1 knob ginger, roughly chopped
- ½ brown onion, roughly shopped
Method - glaze
- Add dark soy, caster sugar, mirin and sake to a saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves
- Add ginger and onion, then simmer for 20 minutes, until the mixture thickens
- Strain and cool
Method - wings
- Pre-heat a charcoal grill for 10 or 15 minutes until hot (alternatively use a barbecue hot plate, oven grill or frypan)
- Prepare your chicken mid-wings by placing them on a chopping board with the side with the thickest skin facing down
- With a heavy knife, chop off the knuckle at each end of the mid-wings
- With the thick skin still facing down, use a small sharp knife to score a line along the top of the largest bone, then using your thumbs, massage the mid-wing open and flat
- Repeat process with the parallel bone
- Place 2 mid-wings on to one skewer by threading the skewer through the right-hand side of each one perpendicular to the bone, making sure the skewer is between the bone and the thickest side of skin
- Repeat process on the left, so the 2 mid-wings are secured on the same two skewers
- Massage the mid-wings along the skewers so they flatten out
- Repeat process until all the mid-wings have been skewered
- Once your grill is hot, lightly oil and salt your mid-wings
- Cook on the grill for a few minutes until the mid-wings start to form a crust
- Using a pastry brush, glaze the wings with the teriyaki mixture continuously for about 5 minutes on the thick-skin side and 3 minutes on the underside until cooked
- Sprinkle with togarashi
- Add a squeeze of lime