I invited some friends over few days ago, we were supposed to watch a football game (Poland doing surprisingly well this time!). At first, I though I’d just make some snacks for all of us but then I realised that everyone will probably be hungry by 7pm. I have decided to try my best in preparing a Japanese dinner. I really miss Japanese cuisine. It is so much more than just sushi, in contrary to what many people think. Tsukune, Japanese chicken meatballs, turned out to be a hit! Fairly easy to make, simple yet so delicious. I didn’t expect the homemade version to be so good!
Tsukune (つくね）is a very popular dish in Japanese izakaya restaurants. Served alongside with other yakitori dishes. My favourite memories from Japan are those of going out with a group of students to one of the yakiniku restaurants available in the neighbourhood. Especially that, firstly, most of them offered a wide range of snacks and dishes, secondly, they offered a tabehoudai (食べ放題）or nomihoudai (飲み放題）which means, simply all-you-can-eat or all-you-can-drink or both. How does it work? You go in, and you have, say, three hours to eat and drink as much as you want, for a certain amount of money. Brilliant, isn’t it? Especially that most of the restaurants had a grill installed in the middle of the table, so what happens is: you order raw meat and veg and grill it yourself, at your table. Oh, how much I miss those times!
In my attempt of recreating the flavours of Japan, another dish, making me feel so very nostalgic but how happy, at the same time! The recipe comes from my favourite and (I think) the best website with Japanese recipes out there, Just One Cookbook. The go-to blog for every Japanese food lover ^^
JAPANESE CHICKEN MEATBALLS (つくね）
500g ground chicken meat
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp miso paste
5 green onions (scallions)
1/2 cup yakitori sauce (やきとりたれ）
shichimi togarashi (optional)
grated ginger (optional)
HOW TO MAKE?
1. Start from soaking your bamboo skewers in a cold water. That’d help to prevent them from burning when you grill the meatballs.
2. Cut the green onions into thin, small pieces. Set aside.
3. Usually making any meatballs requires adding some extra ingredient to “glue” the meat together and prevent it from falling apart while grilling. Meat tends to shrink when cooked. Usually, when making meatballs people add egg or breadcrumbs to help to keep good consistency. Although, in the tsukune case, it would significantly change the flavour. There are few methods allowing us to omit adding extra ‘glue’. I combined both of them. Firstly, take about 1/3 of the ground chicken and cook it on preheated non-stick pan. When cooked, remove from the pan and let it cool.
4. Mix the cooked chicken with the raw chicken in a big bowl, combining them with a rubber spatula.
5. Add sesame oil, miso and chopped green onions. Mix again, using a rubber spatula.
6. Now, time for a second method of making our meatball mix sticky enough not to fall of the bamboo skewers while cooking. The secret is: knead the mixture with your hands for a good 3-5 minutes. This will make the meat extra sticky which should help when forming a meatballs.
7. Prepare the grilling tin. I don’t have a special one so I made one using a baking tray and a wire rack, covered it with tin foil and greased with some oil. Worked just fine!
8. Time to form actual meatballs. To make it easier for yourself, use sesame oil to grease your hands before taking some meat mixture from the bowl. You will have to wash your hands every now and then, the meat will stick to your hands and, in a result, will make it difficult to form nicely shaped meatballs.
9. Remember, that you don’t need much meat for one meatball. About 1 heaped tablespoon will be fine. Move it around in between your hands to form a nice, round shape.
10. Insert a bamboo skewer and line your ready pieces on a previously prepared baking tray. Sprinkle each of them with shichimi togarashi for an extra kick of spiciness and flavour.
11. Now, if your oven doesn’t have a broil/grill option I strongly recommend pre-heating your oven before. It should be very hot, the meat should not be cooked for too long, it will result of meatballs being very dry. I have a very old oven so I heated it up to 220 degrees. Then, I put my meatballs in for 6 minutes, then flipped them and cook for another 5.
12. After that time, I brushed my tsukune with yakitori tare and put them back in the oven (for less than a minute), to allow enough time for the sauce to caramelise and thicken.
13. Serve hot, you can sprinkle each piece with extra shichimi togarashi.
14. Oh, and since it’s (supposedly) summer, you can also use the meatballs for a BBQ party. Imagine what a hit it’d be, you invite your friends over for a bbq party and serve tsukune rather than well-known and boring sausages and steaks. I’m sure, it’ll be a party to remember. Good luck!