Lets face it Asian birds were originally imported and cross-bred for fighting and not much else. Since the outlaw in 1943 by the Japanese Ministry of Culture, declaring breeds protected inheritance, it all changed. Like many so-called traditional Japanese dishes, the history of yakitori does not stretch back very far. Partly due to various restrictions and edicts against the consumption of meat, especially during the Edo Period, 17th century and up until the late 19th century. Chicken consumption wasn’t banned during this time but any smell of grilling meats was considered distasteful and prohibited.
In addition most chicken meat was from shamo, a well-muscled roosters that had been used in cockfight. The most common way to eat this type of chicken in the 18th and 19th centuries was to stew it until tender in nabe.
The origins of Yakitori likely began in urban areas across Japan, served at yatai (street stalls) who began skewering chicken and vegetables, root vegetables such as potatoes that were grilled over natural charcoal. So here we are in 2015 almost 2016 and Yakitori is an upscale food served all over Japan. In Tokyo there are so many good yakitori restaurants and of course some better than others. The trade is more or less the same but the main difference lies in the chef’s raw materials, style, environment and managing his clients. This is one of our favourite chicken restaurants and the chef continues to serve his client religiously by controlling access.
So what is yakitori after all? Yakitori is dedicated to the pure breed chicken’s entire body and literally means “cooked chicken”, traditionally cooked over sumi binchotan charcoal, or sometimes charcoal of a lesser grade. Binchotan is expensive and so many chefs use a basic Japanese charcoal costing less. But the binchotan burns much hotter and has less impurities emitting high temperature infrared rays.
The charcoal is fanned rigorously as the chef is in constant active motion working, reaching and managing the orders and preparation of multiple chicken parts.
Chicken Motion: <a href="http://http://mesubim.com/2013/02/03/yakitori/“>
The chef as he works diligently to cook and deliver on time multiple customers orders, which can include raw chicken namely toriwasa. It was outlawed a few years back so you won’t readily find it. The raw chicken isn’t exactly what you think. Yes its raw and yes in your country it is seriously dangerous but if you travel in Japan and you know how fanatical they are about everything they do, you begin to understand and gain confidence that eating raw chicken is safe. The rule of thumb is know your vendors, trust your friends, and judge for yourself. The one thing I can tell you about Japanese restaurants is that the health department is very strict when it comes to raw. At the same time there are many old establishment in Japan that are too old to be modernized and food safety can become an issue. Don’t be afraid to try foods and as I was told in India, “judge the cleanliness for yourself”.
Toriwasa raw chicken is cut and made from the chicken’s filet or sasami tenderloin, it is submerged into boiling water for 30 seconds, and then cooled down instantly. So in fact it’s medium rare just as you would find in a steak, and the outer side of the chicken is slightly cooked.
This would typically make it bactaria free and some chef’s will tell myths about using chicken called blue foot chicken, which is said to be certified free of salmonella. I doubt it but I have never verified it either.
I do know that Leghorns, which were one of the original species, used in Japan, a small birds of 1.5kg birds. It is possible they were chosen becasue they are prolific egg layers. But there is no doubt that most of this work lies in the quality of the bird life, meat quality, origin and breed and handling.
The original pure breed of chicken most talked about is Hinai-dori from Akita prefecture, from the town of Hinai. The chickens are fed exclusive vegetarian diets, including clover, tomatoes, and apples. They are delivered the same day of slaughter to ensure freshness and so the chances of salmonella are limited due to their careful control and regulation. The Hinai chicken has been certified as a protected breed more than half a century ago, like Kobe beef and is popular.
Raw Chicken Preparation: Dehttp://mesubim.com/2015/01/22/tori-wasa-forbidden/
Akita’s Hinai-jidori is compared with Nagoya Cochin, a variety of chicken produced at the beginning of the Meiji Era by crossing an imported breed from China and the native breed of Owari now the western part of Aichi Prefecture.
You have different restaurants making claims about where the chickens come from, and this is not a gimmic though I do not place much weight on it. There is a restaurant named Imaiya, a yakitori restaurant specialized in using the Hinai chicken, chicken produced in Akita prefecture. Many top-rate yakitori-ya advertise that they serve jidori heirloom native breeds of chicken, or hybrids with at least fifty percent of their DNA from native breeds. I have never asked where the chicken comes from, I am more interested in the process, the look and taste.
If you are interested in chicken pedigree, the term jidori birds are usually local to a particular region of Japan, and the term literally means a regional bird. These birds are generally raised in free-range conditions so the meat is more flavorful and less flabby than battery-raised chickens. The three most famous regional birds are Cochin from Nagoya, Satsuma-dori from Kyushu and Hinai-dori from Akita.
You also have the famous historical bird named Shamo, a breed of game hen sometimes found on upscale yakitori restaurants. The Shamo is a naked heel game bird from Japan, it was developed into a distinctive fighting bird of courage and ferocity. Breeders in Japan name their own lines after their areas and this bird varies in size.
Depending on the part of the body you order (almost everything is available) it is simply with either just salt, or tare a glaze before being cooked. No part of the chicken is wasted, as Chefs will use the skin, giblets, liver, heart, tail and everything in between. The first dish is standard is any yakitori restaurant, it is a quail egg with grated radish root and I added a dash of shoyu.
It is eaten alone, and or used as a condiment to add to certain foods that are greasy, or even too hot, or require some balancing. Daikon is well known throughout all of Asia, and on the Indian continent, and is used in Vietnamese cuisine, Pakistani cuisine and in Bangladesh where they use freshly grated daikon and mixed with fresh chilli, coriander, etc. Daikon is very versatile and when we were trekking in Bhutan we came across a farmers stash buried: http://mesubim.com/2014/05/03/daikon-in-bhutan/
The tebasaki is the wing and this a short wing and not a large-sized bird as you can see. It is grilled and on the plate I add some condiments to add when desired. You have three types of ground spices, sansho, shichimi and salt.
The next course was ginna, a common nut from the ginko tree which has a long history in Asia: http://mesubim.com/2013/11/28/ginko-nuts-tokyo/
Bamboo shoots are always a vegetarian favorite and are grilled and a small sansho leaf added to enhance the delicate flavour.
Nankotsu is one of those textural foods it is crunchy chicken cartilage. It is relatively soft part at the top end of the breastbone, shaped like a ‘Y’. The breast gristle is also called Yagen in Japanese, and the Knee gristle is called genkotsu.
This isn’t a full course of Yakitori, and you have plenty of options of the internal organs and even the tail which I find a little too greasy. This is negima is chicken with scallion and the chef adds some shishito, a small green pepper.
There are several basic factors that set a yakitori-ya apart from its competitors. One is the raw ingredients, tare (the basting sauce) and the quality of the charcoal, and most of all the chef’s personality and service. When you go to a chef owned and operated yakitori-ya, it makes the world of difference.
So when you walk into a yakitori restaurant you should pay special attention to the chef’s style and work, restaurant ambiance and the clients. In most cases, Yakitori is known to be a more casual fast food and remember over the past 30 years it has evolved into a much-sophisticated high-end cuisine. I enjoy both categories of restaurant and it all depends on the day, time and ones mood.
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