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Tsukune (Japanese Meatballs)

A way to actually make ground chicken appealing.

In general, ground chicken is the sketchiest meat on the market, and chicken meatballs are notoriously dry and spongy. But yakitori—the charcoal-fueled
Japanese style of grilling where every part of the bird is celebrated and elevated—points the direction toward meatball irresistibility. The trick to these is cooking a portion—say a quarter by weight—of the ground chicken meat before mixing the meatballs. This step gives textural variation within the meatball and provides an insurance policy against toughness.

Ingredients

Makes 4 servings
  • 1 lb ground chicken thighs
  • 1 C finely chopped scallions (about 6)
  • 1 1/2 t kosher salt
  • + vegetable oil
  • + Tare

Tare

  • 1/3 C chicken broth
  • 2 1/2 T soy sauce
  • 2 1/2 T mirin
  • 2 1/2 T demerara sugar or rock candy
  • 1/2 t black pepper
  • 1 1/2 t rice or sherry vinegar

Preparation

Tare

Makes 1/2 cup

Tare, or basting sauce, helps keep tsukune juicy and flavorful as they grill, but it’s not a bad idea to make some extra for dipping later.

Combine the broth, soy sauce, mirin, sugar, and pepper in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer until reduced by half, about 15 minutes. Stir in the vinegar and let cool.

Meatballs

  1. Heat a small, nonstick skillet over medium heat and add a quarter of the ground chicken thighs. Cook until opaque and cooked through, chopping with a spatula as it cooks, about 3 minutes. Let cool.

  2. In a medium bowl, combine the cooked and raw chicken, scallions, and salt. Mix with your hands until the meat is tacky and holds together like a kneaded dough. Alternatively, pulse in the food processor until it comes together in a ball.

  3. Wash your hands, then rub them with a teaspoon of oil. Divide the meat into 12 equal balls, rolling between your hands to smooth. Thread the meatballs onto 4 skewers, leaving 1/4 inch between each meatball. Arrange the meatballs on a rimmed baking sheet lined with foil.

  4. Arrange a rack 2–3 inches from the broiler and heat the broiler to high. Broil the meatballs for 2 minutes, then brush them with some Tare. Return the pan to the broiler and cook, turning the meatballs and basting them every 2 minutes, until lightly charred and cooked through, 8–10 minutes longer. Let rest for a few minutes before serving.