Chicken is the world’s best-loved meat. When I was a kid, many decades ago, we only had chicken on Sundays as a treat; these days the price is affordable and accessible to all. Chickens are easily bred on small plots of land or in back yards. Yes, it’s a Yardbird. Chicken and Charcoal: Yakitori, Yardbird, Hong Kong introduces the Western home cook to some more interesting ways to add flavour and interest to this mild meat.
Yakitori is a Japanese skewered chicken dish cooked over charcoal embers, and it also refers to the sauces associated with these grilled meats. Any meat can be used, but chicken is the one most commonly found in little izakayas in Japan. The aroma hangs in the air and acts as the best publicity for these local bars.
Grilling is one of the simplest, healthiest ways to cook it. At the restaurant called Yardbird in Hong Kong, Canadian chef Matt Abergel has taken yakitori to a new level, and here he introduces the home cook to recipes and concepts. One starts with the freshest and best chicken. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? No need for special equipment, just a charcoal grill.
Works out cheaper if you can do it yourself
This book, unsurprisingly called Chicken and Charcoal, starts with the basics and this advice will serve the home cook well, for all these recipes but also for any dish that uses a jointed chicken. Yes, one can buy the chicken parts already jointed from the butcher, but it actually works out cheaper if you can do it yourself. Here there are several pages of step-by-step pictures: all one needs is the bird and a sharp knife.
There are pages devoted to skewering the various chicken parts, and information on the type of skewers to use. This is actually quite important: we have all been presented with under-done or charred chicken at summer barbecues and there is nothing worse. A well-skewered kebab will allow the meat to cook evenly and remain succulent. Every morsel should taste of subtle char, marinade and chicken.
There is a great deal of detailed explanation and illustration of prep and cooking here, and this is all at chef-level, but the wannabe chef will find the instructions easy to follow. A bit of practice will have the amateur range-rover grilling like the pros in no time. These pages elevate Chicken and Charcoal: Yakitori, Yardbird, Hong Kong into a volume that will also be enjoyed by restaurant chefs, both Japanese and Western.
Exotic cocktails to pair with your skewers
There are recipes here not only for the central chicken skewers but also for side dishes, and there are some stunners in this book. They take inspiration from China, Korea and Japan, so plenty of flavour and texture temptations. There are soups, vegetables, salads and even some exotic cocktails to pair with your skewers. There are some classic drinks, but so many more that will likely be new to cocktail lovers. Lots of these use Japanese spirits that are now trending in smart bars across the globe.
Chicken and Charcoal: Yakitori, Yardbird, Hong Kong is a delight. Its pages offer culinary support laced with original recipes. It’s a book to be used and enjoyed. Yes, its photography is contemporary, and the shots of restaurant staff are vibrant, but this is a book destined to become stained with rice vinegar and perhaps a little Japanese whisky!
Chicken and Charcoal: Yakitori, Yardbird, Hong Kong
Author: Matt Abergel
Published by: Phaidon Press