Japanese-Style Grilling Is a Lesson in Simplicity We Can All Use

The long-gone Satay Club in Singapore was an open-air town of street stalls all selling their own variations of grilled skewered meat, a.k.a. paradise. I landed there as a young man after 2 years working in Japan and two months traveling through Asia.

As I recall, it was fast-casual counter service. You ‘d roam around until you discovered the particular stall that appealed, put an order, and show them where you were sitting amongst rows of picnic tables. Quickly enough, your delight in sticks would arrive, along with creamy peanut dip, sticky rice and salad.

This meal figures highly in my memory because it made me realize something: I liked grilled meat in Asia a lot more than I ever did back home in America. I liked the bite-sized pieces, the crisped bits of fat indicated to be eaten rather than trimmed off, the taste tango performed by sweet seasoning and bitter char. And, I like the dips and flavorings. All over I took a trip in Asia I experienced so many powerful dips and dabs and dots of sauce and spices that had the result of opening the palate to that long wave of flavor that originates from fatty, abundant grilled meat. It’s like the method a plunge in a cold swimming pool makes the heat of a steam bath that far more scrumptious.
How to do Japanese Grilling at home
I’ve never ever officially learned the lessons of, state, appropriate yakitori or satay, I’ve embraced the spirit of Japanese-style barbecuing– keep the seasonings easy, but have lots of fun with the dips– to my own distinctive design of grilling at home. I like barbecuing on sticks a lot that I have a little restaurant hotel pan that’s simply the right size for soaking bamboo skewers in water so they will not burn on the grill.

If company is coming, I might go big: A leg of lamb cut into cubes, threaded onto skewers, simply skilled, then cooked extremely quickly over my hardwood charcoal-fueled grill. If it’s just household, we’ll more likely have fat-streaked pieces of pork shoulder or chicken thigh that I may let burn, ever so a little, at the edges. If the crowd is right, I’ll bust out chicken livers or squid.

I value the powerful marinades I’ve encountered in Korea and throughout Southeast Asia, my time in Japan taught me to keep it basic. There, skewered pieces of meat and small fish, and veggies like eggplant, mushrooms, and shishito peppers tend to get one of two treatments.

When you eat grilled meat in Japan the opportunities are it’ll pertain to the table with simply a wedge of lemon or a light sprinkling of red or sansho pepper to make your lips tingle. You might find a tiny dot of something more explosive like hot mustard, wasabi, or (my favorite) yuzu kosho– a paste of salt, chili and citron rind. It’s everything about that front-end pop before the wash of taste.

I like a choice and, more notably, I want my visitors to participate and make their own choices. I have a favorite brand name of dark roasted sesame dressing from Japan (Fundokin) that doubles as an unscripted dip. And I’ll bring out catsup (no embarassment, especially when blended with soy sauce; a trick I discovered in Japan) and sriracha.

A meal like this requires steamed rice and vegetables: raw, cool, crisp vegetables like cabbage, cucumbers and crispy, out-of-season tomatoes. To my palate, grilled meat also requires a pickle counterpoint, and if I do not have a variety of Japanese tsukemono, then I might have some do chua (Vietnamese daikon and carrot), pickled jalapeƱos, or even dill chips on hand. If a Southern buddy has bequeathed me with a container of their homemade chow chow, this is the perfect time to bust it out.

I’ve often thought of getting a shichirin– among those clay braziers topped with a steel screen that rests on the tabletop. If I do, then I might take the real plunge and discover the very best wagyu beef within my budget and let everyone cook their own cubes while hoping nobody suggestions it over and sends charcoal cinders skittering throughout the table. In the meantime, I’ll keep grilling as I have, the type of easy grilling that always spells summertime in our house, and takes me back to my time in Japan.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *