Japanese Meatballs, #SundaySupper

Cooking Japanese food for a Jersey boy can be challenging. No azuki bean paste. Definitely no dried squid. Classic American chicken and rib roasts were standard fare in my husband, David’s childhood. Fish was the primary protein during my upbringing in Tokyo. Once in a while Japanese tsukune chicken meatballs were served. Familiar flavors of scallions, soy sauce, ginger and garlic accented the Japanese chicken meatballs.

Fellow ASIJ (American School in Japan) teens also munched on the meatballs alongside illegal beers!  (Japanese restaurants are stricter in the millennium about serving only to those who are adults.) After an ASIJ basketball game or theatre rehearsal, we’d go to a yakitori or ramen shop. (Yakitori are bits of chicken skewered on a skinny stick. Think Japanese shish kebab.) Japanese tsukune chicken meatballs are often served at yakitori restaurants.

Japanese tsukune chicken meatballs are protein-packed snacks. Or perfect appetizers when dressed up with fancy toothpicks. Japanese chicken meatballs, it turns out, are also a great pick-me-up after a long day at work. David works incredibly long hours and sometimes arrives home late.  I timidly presented him with 3 Japanese chicken meatballs. (Just in case, I also saved some tsukune without the traditional sauce.) He gulped down the sauce covered Japanese chicken meatballs and declared, “Very tasty!” (The ultimate compliment from my husband.) David liked the Japanese chicken meatballs so much that he had them for breakfast the next day!

More good news: Ingredients for Japanese tsukune chicken meatballs are easily found in American markets. Mirin (rice wine with less alcohol and more sugar than standard wine) may be the exception. But dry white wine makes a fine substitute for mirin. If you like sweet things, you might want to add a ½ to 1 teaspoon more of sugar. 


Japanese Tsukune Chicken Meatballs


Japanese Tsukune Chicken Meatballs

Yields: 50 mini meatballs

A slightly sweet sauce embraces Japanese tsukune chicken meatballs. Hints of fiery garlic kick in after the first bite.  Japanese tsukune chicken meatballs are beautiful appetizers. The meatballs alongside a bowl of sticky Japanese white rice and salad also make a beautiful supper.

Adapted from an EatingWell.com recipe.


For the meatballs:

  • 2 medium dried shiitake mushrooms*1
  • 1 pound ground chicken
  • ¼ cup Japanese panko breadcrumbs (I used gluten-free panko)
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped scallions
  • 2 teaspoons potato starch (cornstarch works too)
  • 1 teaspoon minced ginger
  • generous ¼ teaspoon minced garlic
  • ½ teaspoon honey
  • pinch of (¼ teaspoon) Kosher salt
  • pinch of (¼ teaspoon) black pepper
  • Sesame oil for frying the meatballs

For the sauce:

  • ½ cup Japanese mirin (or dry white wine with a ½ to 1 tsp. sugar)
  • ½ cup soy sauce
  • 4 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 5 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 3 teaspoons minced ginger
  • 3 teaspoons potato starch (or cornstarch) mixed with 2 tablespoons of water

For the garnish:

White sesame seeds

*1 Shiitake mushrooms are available online. But if budget or time does not permit, 5 fresh button mushrooms thinly sliced or 1 Portobello mushroom thinly sliced will work. The taste will be different but delicious. Fresh mushrooms will not need to be reconstituted.


To prepare the Japanese tsukune chicken meatballs:

Pour boiling water over the dried shiitake mushrooms in a small bowl. Let the shiitake soften for about 45 minutes. (If using fresh mushrooms. Skip this step.)
Discard the stems of the softened shiitake mushrooms. Slice the remaining mushroom caps into very small slices.

In a large bowl, place the chicken. Gently knead in the mushrooms, Japanese panko, egg white, scallions, potato starch, ginger, garlic, honey, Kosher salt and pepper.
With a mini ice cream scooper or a tablespoon, form 50 mini Japanese tsukune chicken meatballs. (Use 2 tablespoons or a large scooper to create larger meatballs for a meal.) Place on a plate. Wrap with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.

Generously coat a large nonstick frying pan with sesame oil. (About the top of a thumbnail.) Fry the meatballs in batches, turning when one side becomes golden brown. (Approximately 6 minutes.) When the meatballs are golden on all sides, transfer to a steamer. Steam over simmering water for 10 minutes. Remove and lightly fry again with sauce. Garnish with sesame seeds.

To prepare the sauce:

In a saucepan, bring the mirin (or wine plus sugar) soy sauce, lemon juice, brown sugar and ginger to a boil. Use a medium flame. Pour in the potato starch and water mixture. Reduce the flame and continue to stir until thick.

Thank you to Wendy of Wholistic Woman for hosting today’s Sunday Supper theme: Fancy Appetizers buffet. 

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Sunday Supper MovementJoin the #SundaySupper conversation on twitter on Sunday! We tweet throughout the day and share recipes from all over the world. Our weekly chat starts at 7:00 pm ET. Follow the #SundaySupper hashtag and remember to include it in your tweets to join in the chat. To get more great Sunday Supper Recipes, visit our website or check out our Pinterest board. Would you like to join the Sunday Supper Movement? It’s easy. You can sign up by clicking here: Sunday Supper Movement. Wishing you appetizing delicious moments always!

The Ninja Baker

© ™ Watkinson 2012

The Ninja Baker has guest blogged and contributed recipes to numerous food sites. These additional recipes can be found here.



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