Hibachi at Home

Dear Friends,

How appropriate. Last week I cooked the first meal of my diet on a pig. It’s a darling pig, but still. My sister gave me the tabletop pig grill for Christmas, and last week I finally fired her up.

The grill is a 2 1/2-foot-long terra cotta pig with a perforated well on its center back, high on the hog, as it were. Charcoal goes into the well, and the grill nestles on top. A shallow shelf below the well (in the pork belly area) catches the ashes that fall through the holes. I saw the grill last summer at World Market, but Dee bought it at Plough and Hearth.

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I have wanted to grill at the table hibachi-style since visiting Japan last spring. I noticed that Japanese families frequently cook on tabletop electric grills. Yakitori – grilled chicken skewers, is practically the national dish. I like charcoal-grilled yakitori, though, as it is cooked in restaurants. Last spring I watched my brother-in-law, a yakitori chef in Sapporo, grill all kinds of skewered  stuff over a long, narrow grill built into a stone bar at the upscale restaurant where he works. The grill is really no more than a slit. Osam stands behind the counter and works the grill like the pro he is, constantly turning and moving the skewers from high heat to medium to low. My hibachi pig would work splendidly, I thought.

The Japanese use just about every part of the chicken for yakitori. There are chicken-skin skewers, gizzard skewers and even chicken-vein skewers. Aack! I played it safe (and low-calorie) by skinning two chicken breasts, trimming them of all fat and cutting the meat into 1/2-inch or smaller cubes. One reason Japanese yakitori tastes better than most regular  kabobs is that the pieces of meat are smaller, exposing more surface area to both the sauce and the heat. The little nuggets of chicken cook quickly, and the sauce caramelizes on the surface of the meat.

The soy-based sauce is the key to the flavor, but unfortunately, yakitori chefs tend to guard their recipes. I didn’t want to make a sauce that tasted like teriyaki, although yakitori has some hints of that. In the end I kept it simple with soy, honey, mirin (sweet Japanese cooking wine) and garlic. The garlic probably isn’t orthodox but I like it.  I made a bunch of sauce, used half and kept half for the next hibachi pig session.

My pig looked gorgeous with flames shooting from her back. She cooked those chicken skewers as if she’d been doing it all her life. I ate four skewers. Tony ate 20. I lost 7 pounds that week. He didn’t gain an ounce.  Life isn’t fair, but sometimes it’s delicious.

GRILLED CHICKEN YAKITORI

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Sauce:

  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • 6 tbsp. mirin (or 1/Ž4 cup white wine and 1 tbsp. sugar)
  • 6 tbsp. honey
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

Skewers:

  • 24 6-inch bamboo skewers, soaked in water at least 1 hour
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 6 green onions, including tops

For the sauce: Combine ingredients in a small saucepan and stir over medium heat until honey is dissolved. Transfer to a lidded jar and set aside.

For the skewers: Trim chicken of all fat and cut into 1Ž/2-inch or smaller cubes. Place in a zipper-lock plastic bag with 1Ž/4 cup of the sauce. Squeeze gently to distribute sauce. Refrigerate for up to 2 hours.

Trim onions and cut white parts into 3Ž4-inch lengths. Cut green parts into 1 1/2-inch lengths. Thread marinated chicken and onion pieces onto skewers, folding green onion pieces in halves or thirds before skewering. Use 2 or 3 onion pieces per skewer.

Build a hot charcoal fire. Move some of the coals to the other side of the grill so that the fire is hot on one side and medium on the other. Brush  skewers with fresh sauce and place over hot coals, turning once, until edges begin to char. Move to the other side of the grill to finish cooking, about 5 minutes total depending on size of chicken cubes and heat of fire. Brush skewers with sauce again before serving. Makes 2 servings.

HELP U COOK

If you want to add intense citrus flavor to a dish, don’t rely on the juice of the fruit. Lemon or lime juice won’t give you the same pop of flavor as a bit of the grated zest. In some preparations, such as pasta dough, the juice won’t impart much flavor at all. I usually use a combination of rind and juice for the most flavor.

LET’S GO VIRAL

In order to reach more readers, we’re making it easier for food-lovers to access See Jane Cook. After years of requiring folks to sign up and attempt to read an indecipherable access code, we’re going the blog route. Yay!

You will still receive my newsletter weekly in your inbox, but you (and everyone else) can also access it here. We will be able to run more and larger photos on the blog site. Also, in response to many requests, the newsletters will be archived on the site. Eventually my editor, Morgan, hopes to install a search program so you can easily find a newsletter or recipe you need.

Posting the newsletters to a website with easy access should help boost our circulation. Please feel free (I’m begging you!) to email the new blog link to your friends, post it on Facebook, write it on restroom walls…

Thanks for your help. I’m so grateful, seven years after leaving the newspaper, that ANYONE—let alone a few thousand people—is still interested in reading my thoughts.

THE MAILBAG

From Anonymous:
You were able to eat half a chocolate cupcake? What a woman!

Dear Anonymous: Well, half at a time. My willpower lasted only 3 hours. That’s why I’m on a diet.

 

From Sharon:
Can you tell me why milk and cream will sometimes curdle when an acid is added (lemon juice or vinegar, for example), but not other times? This information would be  handy to know.

Dear Sharon: Hmmm. Good one. I had to look it up on About.com. Usually the protein molecules in milk repel each other. Acid affects that property, so the protein molecules clump together – hence, curdled milk. So why does milk curdle sometimes and not others? Here’s the answer from About.com:

“As with many chemical reactions, temperature controls the rate at which the reaction occurs. When adding lemon juice or vinegar to hot milk, it will curdle almost immediately, but adding it to cold milk will not produce a reaction for quite some time.”

Read more about the chemistry of milk at http://foodreference.about.com/od/Dairy/a/Why-Does-Milk-Curdle.htm

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