De Gustibus: The Bird’s the Word

By Mark Rinaldi

lIf you’ve never had occasion to enjoy the marvel that is Japanese yakitori, I’ll break it down for you: wooden sticks are stuck through bits of chicken, and then those bits are grilled over coals. Simple, right?

Not so fast–there’s a bit more to authentic yakitori. The grilling medium absolutely must be binchōtan, a slow-burning, low-smoke charcoal made from oak (specifically Quercus phillyraeoides, for those dendrologists among us) the gentle embers of which impart a flavorful char to poultry and vegetables. After their time on the fire, skewers must be glazed with tare, a sweet-and-salty reduction made from rice wine, soy sauce and chicken stock. A procession of condiments also accompanies these bites of fowl–some sweet, some sour, some funky and some incendiary.

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