Restaurants in Japan often specialize in one kind of cooking, such as yakitori, soba, or tempura. Yakitori literally means "grilled chicken," but essentially a yakitori shop or stand will slow grill all sorts of skewered meats. These meats are flavored with salt, soy sauce-based brushing marinade, or even miso thinned with sake. I prefer the salt because it does not overpower the natural flavor of the chicken and leeks.
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*Note: Negi are thick Japanese green onions. Fat scallions, spring onions, or thin leeks make a good substitute.
- 2 boneless chicken thighs with skin (about 1 1/4 pounds total)
- 3/4 Teaspoons sea salt
- 4 thin negi or thin leeks*
- Cooked rice (optional), for serving
Cut the thighs into 1 ¼-by-¾-inch pieces and drop into a heavy, resealable plastic bag. Season with the salt and massage in gently to distribute. Squeeze out any air and seal the bag well. Let sit in the refrigerator overnight or at least several hours.
If using bamboo skewers, soak in cold water for 1 hour. Meanwhile, prepare a grill using hardwood charcoal. The fire needs to burn down, so do this a good 45 minutes before cooking. Make sure there will be enough area of burning charcoal to cook the skewered food. (As an alternative, you can also use a broiler.)
Cut the whites of the negi or thin leeks into 1 ½-inch lengths and thread them crosswise on the soaked bamboo or metal skewers, alternating with the salted chicken pieces.
Cook slowly over a low-ember fire, turning frequently. The chicken skin and leeks have a tendency to burn, so keep the skewers away from the direct heat of the charcoal. Be patient and pour yourself a drink, since they will take at least 30 minutes to cook.
If using a broiler, broil slowly on a rack set over a broiler pan in the third slot from the top of the oven. Turn for even cooking and browning. Cook for about 10-15 minutes, flip, and cook just until the meat has firmed up but is not rock hard, less than 10 minutes.
Serve hot as appetizers or with cooked rice.