Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Shiitake Tsukune: Char Grilled Chicken Meatballs with Shiitake Mushrooms

Recently I wrote a review of a local restaurant for another website. This restaurant serves one of my favorite kinds of Japanese food: Yakitori. Yaki means grilled and tori originally referred to grilled chicken, but yakitori skewers can be ordered as everything from vegetables to seafood to beef and bacon. And chicken. Of course chicken. Some of the best skewers are chicken meat skewers. I'm a big fan of the crispy chicken skin skewers, crackling and deliciously greasy with fat. The delectably tender tiny chicken wings are also quite delightful. My favorite chicken skewer--in fact my favorite yakitori skewer, period--is the sumptuously tender and flavor filled dark meat chicken meatballs called tsukune. The restaurant I reviewed does a variant with minced mushrooms called shiitake tsukune. The smoky meatballs, made from the more succulent dark meat, are enhanced by the earthy, chewy mushrooms. The rich sweet yet savory tare sauce that is brushed onto them at the end makes them irresistible. Seriously. We finished these meatballs in one night. No leftovers. Granted, we had to roll to bed, but it was worth it. So worth it!

I want to share my attempt at recreating this dish at home. As a base I used this recipe from Serious Eats, with some tweaks. The amount of meatballs you can make depends on how large you make them, but I estimate you can make 10 - 12 skewers with 4 meatballs each on them. If the meatballs are too loose to stay on your skewers, add some more panko to your meatball mix and try again. Also, if you buy your shiitake mushrooms whole, as I did, the stems make an excellent stock after they've been roasted, then simmered in a stock pot for about 1 hour.

Shiitake Tsukune - Char Grilled Chicken Meatballs with Shiitake Mushrooms

For the tare sauce:
1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup mirin (rice wine, similar to sherry and different from sake)
1/4 cup sake
1 Tablespoon Rice Wine Vinegar
2 Tablespoons light brown sugar
1 Teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1/2 Teaspoon sesame seeds
1/2 Teaspoon toasted sesame oil
2 cloves of garlic, pressed or minced
1" piece of ginger, grated

1. In a small heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat, toast sesame seeds for 2 - 3 minutes.
2. Add all ingredients, bring to a gentle boil, then lower heat down to a simmer.
3. Simmer for about 30 minutes uncovered, to reduce.
4. Remove from heat and pour into a storage or serving container, straining through a sieve.
5. Brush sauce on tsukune before serving

For the tsukune (chicken meatballs):
1 3/4 lbs ground dark meat chicken, preferably chicken thighs*
1/2 yellow onion, roughly diced
1 shallot clove, roughly diced
2 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
1/4 cup shiitake mushroom caps, roughly chopped
1 jumbo egg
2 Tablespoons Mirin
1/2 cup panko
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
soy sauce, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Caramelize the onions and shallots: in a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat, add oil, then shallots, then onions, and a small dash of soy sauce stirring frequently.
2. After about 5 minutes, add mushrooms and black pepper. Cook until all ingredients are thoroughly cooked through and the onions and shallots leave brown residue on the bottom of the pan.
3. Add sherry to deglaze, stirring vigorously to bring the caramelized sugars up from the pan.
4. Add garlic and cook for one minute. Remove from heat, taste and adjust seasoning. Allow to cool, then pulse in a blender until the mixture forms a rough paste. About 3 pulses 3 seconds each.
5. When mix has cooled and been blended, mix all ingredients together and form the mix into meatballs.
6. Place four meatballs on each skewer. Cook on a covered grill, just indirect of the heat, for about 5 - 7 minutes at about 350. Flip skewers and cook, covered, for another 5 - 7 minutes, or until meatballs are cooked all the way through.
7. Brush with tare sauce and serve.

I hope you enjoy this recipe and I welcome your feedback!

*I ground my own chicken, using only skinless boneless chicken thighs in my Ninja blender. If you have a grinder or some way to grind up the meat I highly suggest doing so yourself.

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