I had some ground chicken in my fridge and was thinking of making a winter melon soup with the meat, but a recent visit to an Izakaya had me thinking of making Tsukune meatballs instead.
I did a recipe search on the New York Times, but was disappointed not to find one in their archive. A search online got more interesting results. I opted to use the picture that resembled the meatballs I had — so here it is, courtesy of seriouseats.com with some minor changes that were suited to my taste.
- For the Tare Sauce:
- 1/2 cup mirin
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
- 3 scallions, roughly chopped
- 1 (1-inch) piece of ginger, sliced
- 1 tablespoon whole black or white peppercorns
For the Meatballs:
- 1 1/2 pounds ground chicken thighs
- 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
- 1/4 cup finely chopped scallions
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
- 2 teaspoons finely minced fresh garlic (about 2 medium cloves)
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
- 8-10 wooden skewers, soaked in warm water for 30 minutes prior to use
For the Tare Sauce: Combine mirin, soy sauce, sake, brown sugar, garlic, scallions, ginger slices, and peppercorns in a medium saucepan. Bring to a slow simmer over medium heat. Begin stirring once the fluid starts to simmer and cook until mixture is thick and syrupy for about 45 minutes. Strain away the ginger, garlic, and scallions. Set aside or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to use. Garnish with toasted sesame if desired.
For the Meatballs: In a large bowl and using a wooden spatula or hands, mix the chicken, bread crumbs, scallions, egg, ginger, garlic, sesame oil, salt, and white pepper into an even mixture. Form 1 1/2-inch meatballs and thread onto skewers. If too big, meatballs may be too heavy to form on skewer. I have seen the meat mixture formed into a flattened ball as well.
You may grill the meatballs on a charcoal grill or on the stove top over an iskillet. I used the latter with successful results.
Heat the skillet on high and lightly wipe with oil. Transfer skewers to iron skillet by supporting the meatballs from bottom to prevent them from falling off skewers. Grill until first side is well browned, about 3-4 minutes. Using tongs to rotate meatballs until all the surface of the meatball is nicely seared.
Brush tare sauce all over meatballs and allow to cook for 15-30 seconds longer. This will provide the shiny sheen coating. Transfer skewers to a plate or serving dish, brush lightly with sauce again and garnish with sesame seeds and fresh spring onions if desired.