Japan is a country whose population reveres simplicity, beauty and its long historic cultural association with food. It’s one of the elements that visitors to the country appreciate, along with the politeness and respect of the people themselves.
There were long periods of Japan’s history when consuming meat was restricted or even banned – for religious regions. Apparently the Emperors issued edicts against meat during the Edo Period which lasted from 1603 to 1868 because of Buddhist beliefs. Unlike beef or pork which were completely banned, chicken was acceptable ... although the smell of grilling meat was believed to be somewhat distasteful!
So it was around the Meiji Era (1862 to 1912) that yakitori started to appear – and its name is derived from the street stalls – or yatai – where skewered meats were cooked over charcoal. The smoky charcoal, combined with the salty-sweet basting sauce applied after cooking toned down the “offensive” smell of the meat cooking.
With the Olympics scheduled to take place in Japan this year (coronavirus permitting), I looked to share something quintessentially Japanese for this issue. We start with some simple but flavourful chicken and vegetable skewers with a Japanese inspired sauce. Yakitori is essentially skewered chicken basted with sauce during the cooking process as detailed above, but I have added baby marrows and cherry tomatoes for extra goodness and flavour. The sauce is rich, flavourful and lip-lickingly delicious! For convenience you can grill them but they’re also a great dish to prepare on the braai.
I had such fun with this sweet recipe – have you heard of the “pon de ring” doughnut trend in Japan? This signature doughnut from a major Japanese food chain Mr Donut has been popping up all over my social media feeds of late, and since we’re maxing out the Japanese Olympic theme (here’s a nod to the Olympic rings) I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to give them a bash.
If you’re inspired by the athletes and working on your own Olympic bod they may set you back a bit, but they are rather delicious dipped in chocolate ganache and worth all the extra sit-ups! For this recipe you’ll want a dark chocolate that isn’t too intense or alternatively a milk or white chocolate for extra sweetness.
YAKITORI CHICKEN AND VEGETABLE SKEWERS
For the sauce:
125ml (½ cup) soy sauce
80ml (¼ cup) rice vinegar
45ml (3 Tbsp) dry sherry
30ml (2 Tbsp) honey
5ml (1 tsp) garlic paste
5ml (1 tsp) crushed ginger
6 bamboo skewers, soaked in cold water for at least 30 minutes
2 free range chicken breast fillets, cut into bite-sized chunks
2 baby marrows, sliced
12 cherry tomatoes
5ml (1 tsp) white sesame seeds
5ml (1 tsp) black sesame seeds
- To make the sauce place the soy sauce, rice vinegar, dry sherry, honey, garlic paste and ginger in a small saucepan. Stir and bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer gently for 15 minutes until the sauce has reduced and thickened. Reserve two tablespoons of sauce for drizzling and dipping.
- Turn on your grill and place a lightly oiled rack over a foil-lined baking tray. Skewer the chicken cubes, baby marrows and tomatoes.
- Arrange the skewers on the tray. Pop under the grill for 4-5 minutes until the chicken is starting to brown on one side. Remove the tray and brush the sauce over the skewers on the cooked side, then turn them over and grill for a further 4 minutes. Remove from under the grill, brush with more sauce and turn the skewers again.
- Cook for a further 3-4 minutes per side brushing the skewers each time you turn them, until the chicken is cooked through.
- Arrange the skewers on a platter. Use a new, clean pastry brush to brush some of the reserved sauce on the skewers. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.
- Serve immediately.
CHOCOLATE GANACHE DOUGHNUTS
For the doughnuts:
125ml (½ cup) milk
7g instant dry yeast
350ml (1½ cups) cake flour
160ml (2/3 cup) potato flour
25ml (5 tsp) castor sugar
Pinch of fine salt
1 large egg
30-45ml (2-3 Tbsp) warm water
Vegetable oil, for frying
For the chocolate ganache:
140g sweet dark chocolate, finely chopped (or milk or white chocolate)
125ml (½ cup) cream
- To make the doughnuts warm the milk gently in the microwave (it should not be too hot). Add the yeast, stir and set aside for 5 minutes.
- Combine the cake flour, potato flour, castor sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the egg and the yeast mixture and mix together to form a dough. Gradually add the warm water and mix until the dough is soft but not sticky (you may not need all of the water). Knead the dough for 10 minutes until soft and stretchy. Lightly grease the mixing bowl, pop the dough back in, cover and leave in a warm place for an hour to rise and double in size.
- Roll the dough into small balls about the size of a large marble. Arrange eight dough balls into a ring shape on a small square of baking paper. Pop the baking paper square on a tray and continue until you have used all the dough. Set the doughnut rings aside for a further 30 minutes to prove again.
- Heat some vegetable oil in a deep saucepan. Pop two of the doughnuts (and the paper they’re on) into the hot oil and fry for two minutes per side, until lightly golden and cooked through. The paper will naturally detach itself and can be carefully removed from the saucepan and discarded during the frying process.
- Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked doughnuts to a piece of kitchen towel to drain. Continue cooking the remaining doughnuts.
- To make the ganache, place the finely chopped chocolate in a bowl. Heat the cream until it is just starting to boil, then pour the hot cream over the chocolate. Allow to stand for a minute before whisking until smooth.
- Dip the warm doughnuts into the ganache and serve.
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