How To Prepare Tsukune So It Doesn't Fall Apart While Cooking

There's a type of eatery in Japan known as an izakaya. These late-night analogs to tapas bars and taverns are places to eat and drink (the name literally translates to "the roof with alcohol"); consequently, izakaya menu items tend to be simple, often grilled, and insanely good. A common izakaya dish is yakitori, made from grilled, skewered chicken, and there's a subset of yakitori called tsukune, which is basically grilled chicken meatballs made with ground meat and other ingredients like scallions and ginger. Making tsukune can be a fraught experience, as they like to fall apart once they've hit the grill — even with the addition of binding agents like eggs and breadcrumbs. If you're making tsukune at home, you can prevent this by either chilling or steaming the meatballs prior to cooking to preserve the shape of the meatball. 

If you would like to cool them, simply pop the skewered tsukune in the freezer for several minutes before grilling. That way the sweet tare sauce glaze will caramelize before the heat causes the meatballs to disintegrate. To steam, which will cook the tsukune's exterior enough to hold its shape over the fire, simply place the skewers along the rim of a saucepan partially filled with simmering water, flipping after a minute or so.

You want tsukune in your life

If you've never tried tsukune, take it from us: It's glorious. They're wonderful little balls of ground fatty chicken, scallions, ginger, garlic, and caramelized tare sauce, often sprinkled with the citrusy kick of shichimi togarashi. They're a cinch to make, too — once you've mastered the art of keeping them on the grill. Served alongside a bowl of steamed, salted edamame beans, you'll want for nothing. (Well, maybe a beer or a glass of sake, but even these are purely optional).

Tsukune is so good that it's not always grilled; it can also be steamed, fried, or boiled. There's a supremely comforting Japanese hot pot dish called Tori Dango Nabe which features tsukune simmered in a flavored dashi broth alongside daikon radish, scallions, cabbage, shiitake mushrooms, and tofu. If you decide to make this one-pot meal (and why on earth would you not?), we also recommend chilling the tsukune balls in the fridge until right before you drop them into the simmering broth. This way, the chicken fat inside the ground paste will get firm and help hold the tsukune together.