How was your Labor Day weekend? To celebrate the end of summer, the Millers and I threw a fun yakiniku party on the patio. Yakiniku (焼き肉 or 焼肉), meaning “grilled meat,” refers to a Japanese-style of cooking bite-sized meat and vegetables on gridirons or griddles over a flame of wood charcoals (Binchōtan 備長炭). The aroma of binchōtan is magical. What charcoal brings to the party is a healthy, heaping of aroma—the other half of the power couple that is flavor. I just can’t resist the smokiness the binchōtan brings to yakiniku!
Purchasing the right yakiniku grill and binchōtan is key for success if you want to impress your guests at your yakiniku party. You can find Japanese cooking tools and binchōtan at Korin.
Now that the weather is getting chillier, you may want to consider purchasing a small electric yakiniku grill for indoor use. During your yakiniku party, the grill can be placed on the dining room table. It’s fun to cook inside during the party and enjoy conversation with friends. While Western grills are big, requiring one or two grill masters to handle the food, yakiniku grills are small, so everyone can take turns cooking during the party. Everyone can drink cocktails, cook, and sample dishes together. It’s my type of party! We all get to participate and have fun!
Speaking of cocktails, I can never miss the “happy hour” with the Millers. Ryan, my BFF Claire’s husband, is our bartender and grill master. His rye Manhattan is the best! The Manhattan is a classic cocktail believed to date back to the late 1800s. It’s made with a bracing mixture of bourbon or rye whiskey mixed with sweet vermouth and a dash of bitters. According to Ryan, it’s very important to get the right ingredients for this cocktail – he prefers Templeton Rye and Cocchi Vermouth di Torino. He also suggested stirring rather than shaking the cocktail so the end result is clear. After each of us got our Manhattans, it was time to prepare for the Yakiniku party!
Another beauty of hosting a yakiniku party is the prep work is minimal. All you have to prepare is the yakiniku sauce and a couple of side dishes. Our side dishes were miso cucumber and miso corn salad, inspired by the cookbook Japanese Farm Food by Nancy Singleton Hachisu. If you like Japanese food, I highly recommend this cookbook. The recipes that Nancy shares require simple ingredients and the meals are delicious and comforting. Take the miso cucumber salad, for example. All you need are rice vinegar, miso, toasted sesame seeds, and shiso leaves. That’s it!
If you don’t have all the ingredients, don’t worry. Don’t have shiso leaves? Skip it. It will still taste great. Nancy’s recipes call for brown rice miso. I’ve used both brown miso and white miso, and both of the end products tasted delicious. So, if you only have white miso at home, just use it. There is no need to make a trip to an Asian supermarket to buy brown rice miso for one salad dish. Any miso will provide deep, savory-sweet notes and add a lot of complex flavor to the cucumber.
Rice vinegar another is the acidic component of the salad dressing. When you make an Italian salad dressing, you need olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It’s the same principle. So when you make a Japanese salad dressing, just use rice vinegar instead of balsamic vinegar. Cooking is so much fun once you understand the fundamental rules of cooking. Then you can improvise with condiments from around the world and twist the recipe in endless possibilities.
Besides the right side dish and the right equipment, another key for success to throw a yakiniku party is the yakiniku sauce and the quality of the meat. Grilling meat for yakiniku party is different from a Western BBQ party. We don’t marinate or season the meat in advance and thus high-quality, well marbled meat is essential. The meat goes naked on the grill. That’s why the yakiniku sauce plays an essential role at the party.
I got this recipe from Ryan. He used to work for Rakuten, a Japanese eCommerce and Internet company based in Tokyo. He used to travel to Japan frequently for business and became good friends with a whisky bar owner named Ken. Even though Ryan doesn’t work for Rakuten anymore, he still travels to Japan almost every year to eat and drink with his friend Ken. Both Claire and I are intrigued by the bromance between Ryan and Ken since Ryan doesn’t speak any Japanese and Ken doesn’t speak much English. Maybe food and drink is the best language for people to communicate!
If you want to host a yakiniku party, you’ll want to schlep to H Mart, a Korean American supermarket chain and order thin-sliced meat for your yakiniku grill. We got Kobe-style beef. Save your 6 oz or 8 oz rib-eye steaks for a Western BBQ party. It won’t work for a yakiniku party.
If you don’t have any H Marts nearby and want to host a yakiniku party, here’s a tip: buy rib-eye steaks and freeze them. After the meat gets hard, slice the meat with the slicer on your food processor. Before you freeze the meat, you may want to trim the meat, so it will fit in the food processor. You also want to make sure your food processor is powerful and sturdy. If your processor is weak, you may jam the slicer, and it will be a pain to clean! My food processor is Breville BFP800BSXL Sous Chef Food Processor. It’s powerful and sturdy. The most wonderful thing about its slicer is you can adjust the thickness of the slices. I’ve used it to shred carrots, slice meat, and make pie dough. It’s one of the best cooking investments I’ve made.
If you have never been to H Mart, I highly recommend exploring this place. Their meat selection is great for a yakiniku or shabu-shabu (Japanese hot pot) party. I also buy raw fish there for sushi parties. If you get intimated shopping in an Asian supermarket or have questions regarding Asian produce, condiments, and spices, book the Market Secrets Tour with me! This is a two-hour foodies’ delight. We tour each aisle, exploring Asian produce, ingredients, sauces, and cookware. Anyone who enjoys cooking Asian food will be overjoyed to get the inside scoop on what to buy in H Mart. Then we go to the food court to learn about iconic comfort foods of Asia and decide on what to enjoy for lunch. During lunch, we do a Q and A.
Ryan’s Manhattan Recipe
Combine whiskey, vermouth, and bitters in a cocktail mixing class. Add ice and stir until chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Garnish with a Griottine cherry.
Ken Matsuyama’s Yakiniku Sauce Recipe
• 200ml (6.75oz) Soy Sauce
• 2 teaspoons Rice Vinegar
• 1 tablespoon Sesame Oil
• 1 teaspoon Chili Oil
• 4 teaspoons Sake
• 1 teaspoon Minced Garlic
• 1 teaspoon Minced Ginger
• 1 teaspoon Sugar
• Japanese 7 Spice Blend (Shichimi Togarashi 七味唐辛子), adjust to taste
Mix all the ingredients above.
Salt-Massaged Cucumber With Miso And Sesame by Nancy Singleton Hachisu
• 1 3/4 pounds Japanese cucumbers (7 or 8 small)
• 1/2 tablespoon Fine Sea Salt
• 4 tablespoons Unhulled Sesame Seeds
• 3 tablespoons Brown Rice Miso
• 2 tablespoons Rice Vinegar
• 6 Shiso Leaves
Slice the cucumbers into paper-thin rounds and toss with the salt in a medium-sized bowl. Let sit 10 minutes.
Toast the sesame seeds over medium-high heat in a dry frying pan until they are fragrant and start to pop.
Grind the sesame seeds with a Suribachi (Japanese grinding bowl) or mortar until most of the seeds have broken down and are almost paste-like.
Add the miso and rice vinegar and blend until creamy.
Squeeze the cucumbers by handfuls to express the water, then add to the sesame-miso mixture.
Stack the shiso leaves, roll into a cigar shape, and slice into fine tendrils. Toss gently but well with the cucumbers.
Variations: If you can find them, use young sansho leaves sliced from the stem instead of shiso. Or add finely slivered ginger to the cucumbers or ginger juice (grate ginger and squeeze out the juice in your fist) to the dressing.