Wonderfully delicious Yakatori chicken skewers, using boneless chicken thighs and an easy, no sake needed sauce. Served with an Asian-inspired fresh cucumber salad.
Yakatori chicken is one of my favourite Summer meals off the grill, though you can easily cook this in the oven, as well. My easy “home” version strays from the authentic in a couple of ways, but is still wonderfully delicious. I love to serve it with an easy fresh cucumber salad, dressed with an Asian-inspired vinaigrette.
Yakatori translate from Japanese as “grilled chicken”, grilled on skewers and using a sauce that is very similar to teriyaki sauce. My sauce doesn’t use sake, as it isn’t something I have on hand. I also love to skewer the chicken loosely, which is untraditional for yakitori, but for me, it allows the chicken to cook evenly, while also providing more surface area to brush on the delicious sauce :)
For the Yakatori Chicken:
Chicken – you just can’t beat boneless chicken thighs here, for great flavour and always moist texture. That said, if you only have boneless chicken breasts, they will work here just the same way.
Mirin – aka Sweet Japanese Rice Cooking Wine. Mirin is pretty easily available these days, either online (try Amazon) or at an Asian grocer. Classic Mirin is an alcoholic wine, but you can buy a “Mirin Style”, non-alcoholic version. That’s what I typically use. You can find it in the same area you find the soy sauce at the grocery store. I like the Kikkoman. Look for it in a bottle with a bright yellow label. If you can’t find Mirin, the best substitute is probably Rice Wine Vinegar (aka Rice Vinegar), either seasoned or unseasoned, PLUS an additional 1/2 Tbsp white sugar, to balance the acidity of the vinegar.
Soy Sauce – Use a good quality soy sauce. I like to use a Low Sodium one, just to keep the salt under control a bit. You can use either low sodium or regular.
Garlic and Ginger – this is an optional addition. I like a little, just to give the sauce a little more complex flavour. I like to grate it in using a fine grater.
What about Sake? – my recipe doesn’t use Sake, for the simple reason that it is something that I never have in the house. Yes, it would certainly be more “authentic” with sake, but it’s pretty darned good without it, too :)
For the Cucumber Salad:
Cucumber – I use the long English style cucumber here.
Red Onion – red onion has the best flavour (and colour!), but regular yellow cooking or sweet onion will work here, as well.
Rice Vinegar – also known as Rice Wine Vinegar. You can use either seasoned or unseasoned. For unseasoned, you can use a touch more sugar and salt, if you like.
- Yakatori is traditionally cooked low and slow To adapt that to your BBQ grill, heat the BBQ to about 350-375 and place the skewers on the top rack and close the lid. Allow the chicken to cook through, then finish by placing them on the grate to brown them a bit.
- You can double or triple the sauce recipe and make extra to keep in the fridge. It should keep well in the fridge for up to a month, if not longer.
- The sauce can also be used with pork or salmon.
- The cucumber salad is a nice accompaniment for a lighter Summer meal, but you can also serve the Yakatori chicken with rice or in a rice bowl with other vegetables for another way to enjoy it.
Get the Recipe: Yakatori Chicken Skewers with Asian Cucumber Salad
Yakatori Chicken Skewers:
- 6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 6 long bamboo skewers, soaked in water for 20 minutes before using
- 1/4 cup soy sauce, regular or low-sodium
- 1/4 cup Mirin, *see Note 1
- 1 Tbsp white sugar
- 1 clove garlic, finely grated (optional)
- 1/4 - 1/2 tsp fresh ginger, finely grated (optional)
Asian Cucumber Salad:
- 1/2 English cucumber, thinly sliced
- 1/4 red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup unseasoned rice wine vinegar, or seasoned and reduce the added sugar and salt below a bit
- 1 tsp brown sugar, or white sugar
- 1 tsp sesame seeds
- 1/2 tsp sesame oil, regular or toasted
- 1/8 - 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
Make the sauce:
- Add the soy sauce, Mirin, white sugar and garlic and ginger (if using) to a small saucepan and stir together. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, then reduce heat to medium low (or lower, if needed, to allow for a gentle simmer) and allow the mixture to simmer until the mixture reduces by about 1/2, has a nice gloss to it and thickens just slightly (about 10-15 minutes).
- Remove mixture to a bowl and allow to stand at room temperature until completely cooled. *Never add raw chicken to hot or even slightly warm sauce! You'll need about 30-45 minutes for the sauce to cool completely, so plan ahead :)
Prepare the chicken thighs:
- Unfold the chicken thighs and cut into 3 pieces/strips. (When you unfold the chicken thigh, there is a thinner 1/3 piece that is a natural to cut into one strip, then cut the remaining piece into 2 strips). Repeat with all the chicken thighs and place into a bowl. Set aside or refrigerate until needed.
- Once sauce has cooled, remove 2-3 Tbsp of the sauce mixture to a small bowl, cover and refrigerate separately from the chicken. Add the remaining sauce to the prepared chicken, stir to coat well, then cover and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or up to 8 hours. (If you have the time, a longer marinating time is best. I aim for at least 4 hours, when I can).
- Soak the bamboo skewers in water for 20 minutes before using.
- When ready to cook, thread the marinated chicken pieces onto the soaked skewers, threading 3 pieces onto each skewer and threading lengthwise, catching both ends of the chicken strip, then spreading out fully along the skewer. Repeat with remaining chicken and skewers. RESERVE remaining marinade for basting during cooking.
- For oven method: Preheat oven to 425F. Place skewers onto a baking sheet and cook in preheated oven for about 18-20 minutes, basting well with reserved marinade after 10 minutes of cooking.
- For BBQ method: Preheat bbq to about 375-400F. Place skewers on top rack and close the BBQ lid. Allow to cook 8-10 minutes, then baste well with reserved marinade. Close lid and cook a few minutes longer. Finish by placing the skewers on the grate, over the flame for a minute or two to brown slightly.
- Remove skewers from oven or grill and brush with the bit of sauce that was reserved separately from the chicken (NOT the sauce used to marinate the chicken, but the sauce you set aside at the start!). The sauce may have thickened up if refrigerated, but just brush it on the hot chicken and all will be good, as the heat from the chicken will loosen it up nicely and provide a wonderful glaze.
For the Cucumber Salad:
- Thinly slice the cucumber and red onion and place into a medium bowl. Make the vinaigrette by whisking together the remaining ingredients and pouring over the cucumber/red onion mixture. Toss to combine well. Allow to stand about 15 minutes at room temperature before serving.
- Mirin is aka Sweet Japanese Rice Wine. Mirin is pretty easily available these days, either online (try Amazon) or at an Asian grocer. Classic Mirin is an alcoholic wine, but you can buy a "Mirin Style", non-alcoholic version. That's what I typically use. You can find it in the same area you find the soy sauce at the grocery store. I like the Kikkoman. Look for it in a bottle with a bright yellow label. If you can't find Mirin, the best substitute is probably Rice Wine Vinegar (aka Rice Vinegar), either seasoned or unseasoned, PLUS an additional 1/2 Tbsp white sugar, to balance the acidity of the vinegar.
- Nutritional information is for the chicken skewers only. Adding the cucumber salad would add only about 50 calories to this meal, per serving. Servings are based on 2 skewers per serving.
Your sauce need to be completely cooled before adding it to the raw chicken! Adding raw chicken to even a slightly warm sauce is never a good idea. Not only might it start to cook the chicken, but it would be an unsafe environment for raw meat, even if put right into the refrigerator. You can use the reserved marinade to baste the chicken during cooking, as it will be cooked, but don't use the sauce that was used to marinate the raw chicken to baste the chicken AFTER it is out of the oven or off the grill. Use the bit of reserved sauce that wasn't used as a marinade for the chicken for that basting.