Tsukune (Japanese chicken meatball skewers) つくね

Tsukune (Japanese Chicken Meatball Skewers). photo by Namiko Chen

Ready for a summer cookout? I highly recommend giving this tsukune recipe a try. Drizzled with sweet soy sauce, these Japanese chicken meatball skewers are absolutely delicious. They are best on the grill, but you can bake them in the oven too.

Tsukune (つくね) are Japanese chicken meatballs that are skewered and typically grilled over charcoal served in yakitori restaurants. Since I had received great feedback from readers on my oven-broiled yakitori recipe, I couldn’t wait to share this tsukune recipe! As summer is here, I highly recommend bringing these skewers out to the outdoor grill and enjoy!

Tsukune are usually seasoned with salt or sweet soy sauce — yakitori “tare.” The ingredients for “tare” are similar to teriyaki sauce, but “tare” is much thicker and saltier. When the yakitori “tare” gets caramelized under the broiler (or over the grill), the tsukune becomes incredibly delicious. Slightly charred soft ground chicken with bits of shiso leaves and scallions and drizzled with tare … it’s hard to stop eating just one.

Usually, tsukune recipes require eggs or panko to bind the ground meat together so the meat won’t easily fall apart. However, my mom taught me this trick where we knead the chicken mixture until it becomes pale and sticky. The meat never falls off the skewers and this method really works!

The Technique for Springy & Juicy Chicken Meatballs
When you make chicken meatballs, you want to make sure they are fluffy, springy and juicy. I learned this great technique from “The Japanese Grill,” one of Mr. JOC’s favorite grill cookbooks, and I’ve been following this method ever since.

With this method, you precook some of the ground chicken first, let it cool, and mix it in with the raw ground chicken instead of making meatballs from all raw ground chicken. This prevents the meat from shrinking too much. Sometimes when you grill meat you end up with much smaller pieces because the meat shrinks after cooking. Also, this prevents the meat from losing a lot of juice. Although it is an extra step, I find it’s totally worth it! Also, if you can’t find shiso leaves, it’s fine to omit, but definitely tastes better with it.

Tsukune (Japanese Chicken Meatball Skewers)
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cook Time: 11 minutes
Total Time: 51 minutes

Servings: 14 skewers

1/2 cup Homemade Yakitori Tare (Sauce) (make ahead of time; you can use my recipe: https://www.justonecookbook.com/yakitori/)
10 shiso leaves (perilla/ooba) https://www.justonecookbook.com/shiso-perilla/
4 green onions/scallions
1 lb ground chicken
1 Tbsp roasted sesame oil (and more for coating your hands)
1 Tbsp miso (I use koji miso or awase miso, which is a combination of red and white miso)
10 shiso leaves (perilla/ooba)
4 green onions/scallions
Diamond Crystal kosher salt

Shichimi togarashi (Japanese seven spice) (for a spicy kick)

Japanese Ingredient Substitution: If you want substitutes for Japanese condiments and ingredients ,visit https://www.justonecookbook.com/ingredient-substitution-for-japanese-cooking/.

Gather all the ingredients. Make the yakitori sauce first.

Soak 14 5-inch flat bamboo skewers in water for 30 minutes.

Pile and roll up the shiso leaves, then cut into thin julienne slices. Cut the scallion into thin slices.

Heat a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. When it’s hot, add one-third of the ground chicken and break it up into small pieces using a wooden spatula. Cook until no longer pink and transfer to a plate to let it cool.

Combine the cooked chicken and uncooked chicken in a large bowl and mix well with a rubber spatula.

Add sesame oil and miso and mix well.

Add the scallions and shiso leaves and combine well with a silicone spatula.

Now with your hand, knead 30 times clockwise. Then knead counterclockwise 30 times. The meat will become paler in color and sticky. This part is very important for the meat to stay on a stick so please do not skip this step.

Grease the grill rack with a brush. I use a roasting pan and rack as it can support the skewers very well while the excess oil drips down to the bottom of the roasting pan when cooking.

Lightly coat your hands with sesame oil to prevent the meat from sticking. Scoop a handful of the chicken mixture (1 1/2 scoop using a cookie scoop) and form into a round patty.

Toss the meat in your hands, from left to right to release the air pockets and gently squeeze to form the meat into a long oval patty, about three to four inches in length. Insert the skewer on the prepared wire rack.

Lightly sprinkle salt over the tsukune.

Put aluminum foil around the skewers to prevent them from burning.

For the full recipe, visit https://www.justonecookbook.com/tsukune/.

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