Tsukune is a traditional chicken snack or street food. And it tastes great! I’ve had it in Japan several times, and it’s almost as good as yakitori (though I guess you could consider this a cousin to yakitori).
The key to this tasting so great is the tare (tar-ay), or sauce, that’s brushed over the chicken right before serving.
This recipe is based on one from Serious Eats, but most tsukune recipes are very similar. If you can use ground chicken thighs, it’s best, as the final dish will be a little more juicy. Also, make sure to soak the wooden skewers so they don’t burn. Another tip: many tsukune recipes call for adding a beaten egg as a binder. I skipped this ingredient, and it turned out just fine.
These can be cooked on the grill or in the broiler, though grilling them is probably best. Enjoy!
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What you’ll need for the tare:
- 0.5 cups mirin
- 0.5 cups soy sauce
- 0.25 cups sake
- 0.25 cups dark brown sugar
- 1T sherry vinegar (optional)
- 3 medium cloves of garlic, smashed and peeled
- 3 scallions, roughly chopped
- 1 (1- or 2-inch) piece of ginger, sliced
- 1T whole black or white peppercorns
What you’ll need for the chicken
- 1.5 pounds ground chicken thighs
- 0.5 cups panko
- 0.25 cups finely chopped scallions
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1t toasted sesame oil
- 1t kosher salt (you could safely omit this because the tare is pretty salty)
- 0.5 or 1t ground white pepper
- 8-10 wooden skewers, soaked in water for 30 minutes prior to use
Start by making the tare: Combine the mirin, soy sauce, sake, brown sugar, sherry vinegar, garlic, scallions, ginger slices, and peppercorns in a medium saucepan. Mix well and bring to a boil, then reduce it to a simmer. Cook until the tare is thick and syrupy, about 45 minutes. Let it cool a bit then strain the solids out with a cheese cloth or strainer and set aside.
To make the tsukune balls, use your hands to mix the chicken, bread crumbs, scallions, egg (if using), ginger, garlic, sesame oil, salt, and white pepper until thoroughly combined. Roll into 1- to 1.5-inch balls and thread three onto each skewer.
If cooking on a grill, heat your grill and use a wire rack over the coals/burners for cooking. Make sure to oil the wire before putting it over the heat.
If cooking in your oven, heat the broiler as hot as it will go. Put an oiled wire rack on a baking sheet as your cooking surface.
Depending on the cooking method, put the tsukune on or under the heat and cook until the side facing the heat is starting to brown, checking that they don’t burn. This could take 5-10 minutes, depending the temperature of your broiler or grill. After the first side is done, turn them over (tongs work well for this) and again cook until the outside is browned. At this point, you could check for doneness with an instant-read thermometer—the insides of the meat should reach 165 degrees F.
When done or very close to it, brush the tare over the tsune and cook for about 30 seconds more.
Remove from the heat and add the tsukune skewers to a serving tray, liberally brushing on more tare. Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving.