When you think of the best chicken wing you’ve ever had, you probably think deep fried, smothered in hot sauce, and then dipped in some creamy blue cheese. Not me. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good fried chicken wing at BBQs and sporting events as much as the next guy, but my favourite preparation is Yakitori. Literally translated, Yakitori simply means “grilled chicken.”
The Japanese have a strong and well-celebrated culinary culture. Most of the credit is given to sushi, ramen, and teppanyaki, but not enough light gets shed on the practice of yakitori.
Yakitori is traditionally served in small restaurants or stands that grill to order over charcoal, to be consumed alongside alcoholic beverages in the evening – very similar to the way we consume our wings here in North America. However, it’s not limited to just the wing, as yakitori can be applied to all parts of the bird. I consider the wing to be the pinnacle of the chicken and the Japanese have mastered its preparation.
If you have a grill and a little patience, it’s not very difficult to pull off.
Bamboo skewers (wood skewers are fine)
⅔ cup soy sauce
½ cup mirin
½ cup sake
½ cup water
2 tsp brown sugar
Step 1: Soak the skewers in water: This chicken is going onto a super-hot grill so you’ll want these to be water-logged to avoid scorching. Soak for at least 30 minutes.
Step 2: Make the sauce: Combine the soy sauce, mirin, sake, water, and brown sugar into a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Simmer until the mixture has been reduced to form a thick glaze, roughly 30 minutes. Reserve some of this sauce for a final brushing.
Step 3: Prepare the chicken wings: This is the trickiest part of the entire process. The goal is to open up the wings to increase the surface area. You can do this by making two cuts down each side of the bones. This seems difficult at first but, after you get the hang of it, it’s quite easy.
This video is a good illustration:
Step 4: Get the grill going: As I noted in a previous post, charcoal is my preferred choice. This case is no different. In Japan, yakitori is prepared over special charcoal which burns at an extremely high temperature (1800℉/1000℃). Normal charcoal can’t match those temperatures, but it gets much closer than a gas grill ever could. Once the grill is nice and hot, quickly brush it with the vegetable oil to ensure your chicken doesn’t stick.
Step 5: Grill and brush your chicken: Once the chicken is on, it won’t take very long to cook. The wings have been skewered in such a way that they are actually quite thin. This helps build flavour by increasing the surface area available to brown or char. Get your chicken wings on the grill and begin brushing them almost immediately. Once you’ve mastered the art of brushing, you’ll be able to time things so that you only need to turn your chicken once. I recommended frequent turning on your first couple of attempts. The combination of high heat, thin chicken, and sugar in the glaze can quickly lead to burnt chicken if you aren’t careful.
Step 6: Pull them off the heat and apply one more glaze.
You’re done! Serve and eat. When done right, you should be able to easily pull out the two wing bones and eat the meat and skin in a couple of bites. Absolutely delicious.
This recipe is always a big hit – it’s different, yet familiar enough for your guests to enjoy. So break free from the ordinary and bring some Japanese culture to the chicken wing. They may just become the new standard at your next BBQ or Superbowl party.