Chicken & Ginger Yakitori Meatballs

Chicken meatball tsukune on a plate with a cup of sake

All over Japan, these absolutely delicious chicken meatballs are a must-try at yakitori restaurants. Skewered and slathered in a tangy sauce, they never fail to be a crowd pleaser!

Makes 40 small meatballs (They freeze really well if you seal them into a container after boiling)

1 lb. (500g) ground chicken

2 t. (8g) sugar

2 t. (10ml) soy sauce

1 t. (10ml) ginger juice

2 egg yolks

1 c. (227g) dry bread crumbs (I use panko, which are the crispy Japanese breadcrumbs, but you can use regular ones too)

2 t. (5g) flour

8 c. (1-2 liters) Japanese soup stock dashi* (or chicken stock) for cooking


Mix all ingredients together. The mixture should be soft, but stiff enough to roll into balls. If you keep your hands a little wet, it’s easier.

Raw chicken meatball tsukune waiting to be cooked
They should be small, about the size of a cherry.

Cook about twelve at a time in a big pot. Start the timer for three minutes after the last one goes in.

Chicken meatball tsukune boiling in pot
After a minute or two, they’ll start to float. When the timer goes off, fish them out with a strainer and put them in a bowl

Thread three meatballs on each skewer and set aside. Make the sauce.

Hondashi instant dashi granules
*You can make dashi by mixing 1 t. (5g) instant dashi granules to 2 c. (500ml) boiling water

Tangy Yakitori-style Sauce

3/4 c. (177ml) mirin (sweet Japanese cooking sake)

3/4 c. (177ml) sake

3 T. (70ml) soy sauce

1 T. (30g) sugar

1/4 c. (60ml) cold water

2 T. (30g) cornstarch

Stir together mirin, sake, soy sauce and sugar in a small frying pan and bring to a boil. Whisk cornstarch into the cold water until there are no lumps, then add to the boiling sauce mixture, stirring constantly.

Chicken meatball tsukune yakitori sauce
It will be cloudy when you first stir in the cornstarch, but will thicken and become clear quickly. Cook until it’s about the consistency of honey.
Chicken meatball skewer in sauce
Roll skewers of meatballs to completely coat them in sauce, being careful not to burn yourself on the rim of the pan.

Note: These are delicious as-is, but if you want them to have a more authentic “I ate this in the smokiest restaurant ever” vibe, you can get more of a Japanese yakitori-ya taste by carring the outsides briefly on your grill before dipping them in the sauce. (Don’t dip them in the sauce first, or they will burn and stick to your grill!)

Serve with rice or Creamy Sesame Noodles.

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Jonelle Patrick writes mystery novels set in Tokyo, and blogs at Only In Japan and The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had

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