Being the culinary internationalist that you, dear reader, almost certainly are, you will not be surprised to find that Japan presents you with the opportunity to have chicken dishes — nay, chicken parts — that you normally wouldn’t have back home. While all sorts of tasty innards delights may tickle your fancy, today we are here to explore the flexible world of chicken cartilage. With a distinctive, firm “mouth feel” and a tasty but subdued chicken flavor, “nankotsu” (as the chicken cartilage is known in Japanese) is best enjoyed grilled or fried. Dedicated aficionados often prefer it grilled.
Grilled nankotsu is a staple at yakitori restaurants, where bits of it come skewered up and grilled to perfection. Grilling is great for the health-conscious who wish to avoid fried foods, and it also serves as an assurance that no breading or oily impediments will get between you and the nankotsu. As is the case with regular chicken meat yakitori sticks, grilled nankotsu yakitori is generally served with either a light dusting of salt or with a thinly applied, slightly sweet sauce. On top of this, depending on the restaurant and your personal disposition, you may finish the grilled nankotsu with a simple drizzle of fresh lemon, a dash or two shichimi (Japanese seven flavor chili pepper powder), or even a not-so-skinny dip into some mayonnaise. There are no rules here, so garnish as you please and enjoy!
Nankotsu is, especially when grilled as-is, principally taken from the chicken breast. The long, triangular shaped pieces are stripped from the breast meat and then cut into bite-size pieces. Alternatively, nankotsu can be taken from the knee area of the chicken. This is the nankotsu that most often finds itself into the fried renditions, and also minced up for use in tsukune, or chicken meatballs. Very flexible, indeed!
Looking to try nankotsu yakitori in Tokyo?
Japan Gourmetpedia recommends using our sister site, Tokyo Dinner Ticket, to find the perfect restaurant.