What is “tsukune”?



One of the standby foods at yakitori restaurants in Japan is “tsukune,” which most simply can be described as “chicken meatballs.” Yet these two words alone really do not do the dish justice, as the flavor and consistency profiles are really something quite special! Read on to find out what makes tsukune a far more deluxe affair than mere chicken meat on a stick.

Tsukune is made of ground chicken meat, minced onions, and some seasonings — the latter of which being where the chef’s creativity can shine! Typically, things such as minced lotus root, sake, ginger, sweet rice wine, and of course salt and pepper are added, but alterations are common, and reflect the chef’s personality. Personality differences notwithstanding, the one thing that should not be omitted (lest the authentic consistency be lost) is some finely ground chicken cartilage! The cartilage adds just the right amount of tooth to the bite, breaking up the mass of ground chicken meat splendidly.

Once the mix of chicken goodness is complete, it is molded onto skewers, and charcoal grilled. The skewers need to be cooked up just right, so that the inside is juicy and the outside is just a bit crisped up from the flames. Overcooked tsukune has been known to bring tears to fanatical diner’s eyes!

The traditional way of eating tsukune dictates a quick dip in a raw egg wash, but this can be skipped for the faint of heart. Regardless, as suits your taste, you may want sprinkle some chili pepper mix, or possibly even drizzle a bit of mayonnaise on top.  Now that’s a chicken meatball!

Looking to try tsukune in Tokyo?
Japan Gourmetpedia recommends using our sister site, Tokyo Dinner Ticket, to find the perfect restaurant.


Tsukune and other yakitori at restaurant Toritetsu in Shinjuku


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