I’ve made a pledge to cook Japanese at least once a week. Either for lunch or dinner. Since we are raising Ellie to be bilingual and bicultural, it’s important to us that she is familiar with, and exposed to Japanese food. I just wasn’t sure where to go to find recipes that Aya didn’t have to always translate for me.
My mom had gotten me a Japanese cookbook when Aya and I were dating in college that I had never opened. Until now. So far it’s turned out to be a great resource and Aya just fills in where I have questions. So first up from this cookbook is grilled chicken balls cooked on bamboo skewers. The Japanese name is tsukune which is a type of yakitori (skewer grilled chicken; think Japanese kebobs). Yakitori (tori means bird) is pretty much a Japanese version of shish kebobs. It’s a very common bar food but not limited to that. You can use just about any part of the chicken to make yakitori. Breasts, thighs, wings, heart, liver, gizzard, cartilage, and skin(Aya’s favorite…yup). I’ve had most of these, but I prefer the breast, thigh, and wing meat best. But tsukune are chicken meatballs. Ground chicken wasn’t on sale so I actually used ground turkey instead, shhh.
What’s great about these is that you can make the meatballs in advance and then grill later with the sauce. You could even freeze them. I made mine in one swoop.
Aya was impressed I made these (so was I) and loved them. So did Ellie. I served it with miso soup, brown rice, stir fried renkon, daicon salad (Japanese radish) and o-hitashi (spinach with toasted sesame seeds).
Tsukune (Grilled Chicken Meatballs)
Ingredients: (I made a double batch)
11 oz ground chicken (I used turkey)
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp flour
2 tsp cornstarch (potato starch is more common in Japan)
6 Tbsp dried bread crumbs (panko)
1 in. piece of fresh ginger
4 Tbsp sake
5 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp mirin
1 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp cornstarch blended with 1 tsp water
Soak bamboo skewers in water overnight. Blend all ingredients for the chicken balls except the ginger in a food processor. With wet hands, scoop about one tablespoon mixture and form into meatball (Will be about half the size of a golf ball). Makes 30-32 meatballs. (My double batch made 34 meatballs, so I think I made mine a little too big.
Grate the ginger and add the the ginger juice to a pot of boiling water. Add the chicken balls and boil for about 7 minutes or until cooked all the way through. Remove meatballs and set aside.
In a small sauce pan, mix all the ingredients for the sauce, except for the cornstarch mixture. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about ten minutes. Add the cornstarch to thicken the sauce. Remove and put in small bowl.
Thread 3-4 meatballs on each skewer. Brush with sauce and cook on a medium grill or on a barbeque (I put mine in the oven under the broiler on low). Rotate and add more sauce.
O-hitashi (Spinach with Toasated Sesame Seeds)
1lb fresh spinach
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds
Blanche spinach in boiling water for 15 seconds. Drain immediately and rinse with cold water. Squeeze out excess water by hand and compress spinach into a ball. Place ball of spinach in a bowl with soy sauce and water. Let soak 15 minutes or longer.
Drain spinach and squeeze out excess liquid by hand. Roll spinach into a cylinder log shape about 2 inches in diameter. Cut it into 4 pieces. You will have 4 small cylinders now. Dip one end in sesame seeds and serve on plate. (I really should have taken pictures of the process). It is supposed to be cold. If you want more flavor you can pour ponzu or soy sauce on the spinach too.