Yaki-tori-niku (Japanese Barbeque Chicken) with Grilled Vegetables
You’ve never heard of yaki-tori-niku? That’s because my friends and I made it up.
Allow me to explain: Japanese yaki-niku (meaning grilled meat, i.e., beef) is basically a Japanese version of the famous Korean barbeque. At Korean (or Japanese-style Korean) barbeque restaurants, you order plates of raw sliced meat and raw vegetables, then you cook up the ingredients yourself, over a tabletop grill, as you eat it.
This makes for an excellent family-style meal in the home, too, where electric non-stick griddles often replace the restaurants’ built-in gas or charcoal grills.
Think of it as an interactive dinner party. Like fondue without the forks.
Since I don’t eat beef (niku)– only chicken (tori-niku)– my Japanese friends have very kindly taken to switching up their dinner parties, when I’m involved, to make “yaki-tori-niku” (basically, “grilled-chicken-meat” rather than grilled beef).
A great meal, and one we’ve also come to settle on out of necessity: in recent years when I’ve visited Japan and stayed with my friend Rie, we’ve invited another friend, Yuko, over to dinner. The problem is that I don’t eat beef or pork, and Yuko doesn’t like raw fish (yes, she’s Japanese), so that rules out a lot of meals right there.
Rie’s nickname for me and Yuko now is “the worst combination” but she’s come up with this delicious dinner to cook for us nonetheless.
Yaki-tori-niku is still a misnomer, though, since there are so many delicious vegetables involved, too: Japanese sweet potato, kabocha (Japanese pumpkin), onion, and green pepper (the vegetable that children all over Japan most despise).
Of course you can switch up the vegetables– try other squash, sweet potato, zucchini, mushrooms, eggplant, even bean sprouts– or the protein: go back to beef, or use a vegan protein like tofu. The secret key to deliciousness is in the dipping sauce.
In Japan (or if you live near a nice Asian market elsewhere), it’s quite easy to find tasty, store-bought bottled dipping sauces like this one. On the other hand, it’s quite easy to make one yourself…
(For even more flavorful meat, you can also make a little extra dipping sauce ahead of time, and use some of it to marinate the meat for an hour or so.)
If you have the right kind of electric tabletop grill or griddle, then this simple dinner party idea is worth a try. I think this type of meal is better for families or small dinner parties than as a meal for two. The interactive, gradual grilling results in a slower pace of eating than you might be used to– which can be a nice change, and give everyone all the more time for talking. Also more people means more help monitoring and flipping all the ingredients with tongs or chopsticks. It might take a bit longer until everyone is full, but that’s half the fun.
Print this recipe. (PDF)
Yaki-tori-niku (Japanese Barbeque Chicken)
with Grilled Vegetables
~ 1 onion, thickly sliced
~ 1 Japanese sweet potato, sliced in ¼” rounds
~ 1 green bell pepper, sliced in rings or wedges
~ kabocha (Japanese pumpkin), thinly sliced
~ 12-16 oz. boneless chicken breast or thighs, thinly sliced (or beef, or other protein)
~ vegetable oil, for the griddle
~ Japanese sticky rice, for serving
Dipping Sauce Ingredients (increase if using some as marinade):
~ ¾ cup soy sauce
~ 3-4 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
~ 3 Tbsp. mirin (optional)
~ 1-2 Tbsp. sesame seeds, lightly ground
~ 1 clove garlic, minced
~ ¼-½” ginger, minced (or leave in rounds and remove before serving)
~ 1-2 Tbsp. brown sugar
~ 1-2 Tbsp. chili powder (like Shichimi Togarashi; optional)
Special equipment needed:
~ electric tabletop griddle or grill (or a cast iron pan on an electric portable burner)
How to make it:
1. Combine all dipping sauce ingredients. (Optionally use extra dipping sauce as a marinade for the meat: pour over meat, cover, and refrigerate for about an hour before the meal.) Put the remainder of the dipping sauce in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, then lower the heat and cook gently for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
2. Arrange all of the ingredients for grilling on platters around the central electric griddle. Provide each person with their own small plate and small bowl of dipping sauce.
3. Heat a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil in the pan (medium-high heat), then start to add the ingredients, a few at a time. Flip the meat and vegetables until nicely browned on all sides and cooked through.
4. Transfer grilled meat and vegetables to individuals’ plates and dip each bite in the dipping sauce before enjoying. Continue to place more raw ingredients in the pan, adding more oil as necessary. Serve with individual bowls of warm rice.
Print this recipe! (PDF)