The Nasty Bits: Chicken Heart Yakitori
Yakitori, a Japanese procedure for skewered and grilled chicken parts, is one of the fastest and easiest grilling preparations there is—so long as you have a batch of tare, the addictive sauce that accompanies yakitori, on hand. Syrupy-sweet and savory, tare gets its richness from having been cooked with a stock of reduced chicken bones.
The sauce is made by roasting chicken carcasses until the bones are sufficiently dark and the fond at the bottom of the pan—all those browned bits of fat and meat build-up—have reached a point of critical brownness just before burning. You simmer the bones and the fond with soy sauce, mirin, sake, and sugar.
The result is a sauce of meaty depth combined with the racy, instant appeal of soy sauce and sugar. It reminds me of those precious few spoonfuls of braising liquid from a pot of red-braised pork, but even more intense and thick-bodied.
Once you have your tare, yakitori is just a matter of picking out your favorite chicken parts to skewer (though non-chicken parts like beef tongue are common and delicious too). Common chicken parts include chicken heart, gizzard, liver, meatballs, thigh, and skin. The procedure is simple: grill, baste with sauce, grill some more, baste with more sauce, eat with more sauce. Emphasis on sauce.
Chicken hearts are one of my favorite yakitori items. Hearts have very little fat but are tender—a feature unique to hearts that Kenji and I talked about here. Basted with the sauce, the hearts get just the right level of browning on the surface.
The hearts take no time at all to cook and they're guaranteed to be tender and juicy (as long as you don't grill them until they're crusty, dried-up nubs). You can also sprinkle the skewers with sansho pepper, or any other kind of dried and ground red pepper that tastes good. Serve with salt, mustard, and lemon wedges on the side.
About the author: Chichi Wang took her degree in philosophy, but decided that writing about food would be much more fun than writing about Plato. She firmly believes in all things offal, the importance of reading great books, and the necessity of three-hour meals. If she were ever to get a tattoo, it would say "Fat is flavor." Visit her blog, The Offal Cook.