Take a look at the menu in any Japanese yakitori restaurant and you will be bound to see "Tsukune" on sale. "So what exactly is a Tsukune?" you might ask. Basically, a Tsukune is a meatball (usually composed of seasoned minced chicken) that is presented on a skewer. The meatballs are easy enough to create - first, just blend a mixture of chicken breast, mayo and a little plain flour into a smooth mince, then lubricate your hands (or gloves if you are wearing them) with a little vegetable oil. Take up a heaped teasooon of the mince and roll - it's really very easy.
There are a number of ways to cook tsukune - in a yakitori restaurant, you'll usually find them grilled. Ditto if you happen to buy a few tsukune skewers from a road side stall (of which, sadly, there are fewer and fewer these days.) But Tsukune can also be baked, fried or boiled. The way I make Tsukune at home depends on the season. In the summer, I like to barbecue them over charcoal but in the seasons where I cook exclusively in the kitchen, I parboil and then fry. Why both when Tsukune will happily cook in a frying pan? Well, it's down to the "look". I find that Tsukune that are put straight into the frying pan to cook tend to lose their shape quite quickly - you get a result that is no less delicious but sometimes a little mishapen. Par boiling the meatballs before frying gives the surface a chance to cook and harden before you pop them in a frying pan - that way, your Tsukune will look a lot prettier when you present them. (PS:If you do decide to parboil, don't through the liquid away, it makes a great base for a ramen stock a day or two later!) Of course, if you aren't that bothered about presenting nicely uniform Tsukune, you can dispense with the parboiling stage - as I say, they will still taste great.
Which brings me on to the seasoning. When I make my meatball mince , I blend the chicken with just a little ginger paste (1/8th tsp), some salt and pepper and a little minced carrot and spring onion. Traditionally, there are two ways to serve your tsukune - either sprinkled with a little salt or cooked in a soy and mirin sauce. I find most people prefer the latter, so that's the recipe I present here.
These really are delicious and as good as / better than anything you'll find served in a restaurant! Just give yourself about 30 minutes and you'll have a plate of Tsukune ready for your table. If you want to try these out, you can find the Youtube tutorial by clicking Tsukune or by scrolling to the bottom of the page. The written recipe is just below.
Happy cooking! Kurumi XXXX.
(makes 12 - 15 balls)
30g / 1 oz carrot
1 spring onion
250g / 9 oz boneless chicken thigh (or minced chicken)
1/8 tsp ginger paste
1 tbsp plain flour
1 tbsp mayonnaise
a little salt
a little pepper
a finger bowl of vegetable oil
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp mirin
2 tbsp soy sauce
4 or 5 skewers for 3 balls each
peel and roughly chop the carrot and the spring onion. put them into a blender and give them a quick blitz
chop the chicken thigh and add to the blender. blend to a smooth mince
put the mince into a large bowl. add the ginger paste, plain flour and mayonnaise to the bowl. season with a little salt & pepper, then mix unil everything is evenly combined
next, moisten your hands (or gloves if you wish to wear them) with a little vegetable oil, so that the mince won’t stick to your hands. take a heaped tea spoon of the in your hand and roll into a ball shape. repeat until all the mince is used up
bring a saucepan of water to boil. give the chicken balls (your Tsukune) one more roll and pop each into the pan. simmer for 2 minutes
heat 1 tbsp of vegetable oil in a frying pan. transfer the drained Tsukune) and fry for 2 minutes
next, add the sugar, soy sauce & mirin to the frying pan. stir gently to avoid breaking any of the Tsukune and cook the sauce until it has thickened a little. roll the Tsukune in the sauce to give each ball a good coating
finally, push three meatballs onto each skewer and place on a srving plate. garnish with a little more chopped spring onion and last, drizzle with some of the sauce from the pan. your Japanese Tsukune are ready to serve!