Nothing screams Memorial Day like a cookout. But how do you breathe new life into the same ole, same ole? Why not try something different by grilling up a Japanese yakitori buffet? Offering several meat and vegetable choices means there will be something to please everyone. And yakitori is so simple you’ll wonder why you never tried this before!
What is yakitori?
Technically, yakitori refers to chicken pieces that have been marinated, skewered and then grilled. It is a Japanese method of cooking chicken that dates back to the Edo period, from 1603 to 1867. But as yakitori shops have sprung up all over the country, the word “yakitori” has evolved to refer to any small bits of food skewered and grilled in Japanese fashion.
What foods can be served yakitori style?
Just about any meat can be served yakitori style. It simply needs to be very thin so that it will cook quickly. You should also avoid tough cuts that need long cooking times to become tender. Chicken, beef filet, center cut pork chops, shrimp and chicken livers all make excellent yakitori.
For vegetables you’ll want selections that hold up well to the grill. Asparagus, mushrooms, baby corn, baby zucchini and baby eggplant all work well.
What about dipping sauces?
I like to keep my sauces true to Japanese tradition with soy, teriyaki and ponzu. But you can feel free to experiment with any sauces you and your guests enjoy.
What and for how long do I marinade?
I only marinade the meat – I like the vegetables to stay true to their own natural flavors. For your meats, pound them thin if necessary and then marinade them for four hours to overnight. It’s not an exact science – in fact, I have sometimes done this on the spur of the moment and haven’t marinated the meat at all. It still turns out delicious!
Is there a trick to skewering?
Yes – two actually. First, soak your wooden six-inch skewers in water for a few hours to prevent them from burning on the grill. Then, use two skewers per bundle of food. Lay your food out flat in a vertical row and skewer up through each piece along one end. Then use another skewer to do the same thing on the other end. The two-skewer method will keep the individual pieces from twisting, making it easier to turn them to grill on the other side.
What do I serve with my yakitori?
Again, I recommend staying true to form and serving Japanese fried rice. As adult beverages you can serve Sapporo and Kirin beer, or a nice chilled sake.
Serving a grilled yakitori buffet is a nice change from burgers and brats and works as a great conversation starter as well. The food is all familiar, just prepared in a different way, so it will be a hit for both adventurous and picky eaters.