A yen for chicken balls

[Recipe 1] TSUKUNE (Japanese teriyaki chicken meatballs) transforms into
[Recipe 2] TERIYAKI NOODLES with BOK CHOY and CHICKEN MEATBALLS
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Tsukune (Japanese teriyaki chicken meatballs)
are ace. Their flavour casts me back to Tokyo a few years ago, where the husband and I had a regular nightly pilgrimage to local izakayas for skewered yakitori chicken and other tasty morsels. *sigh*
I’ve played around with the ingredients and measurements in this recipe a lot, but the original recipe was given to me by my lovely lady friend Janet, who always has a bowl of tsukune at her gatherings. They’re perfect party nibbles as you can make them well in advance, bung them in the freezer, and defrost them the night before they’re required. They don’t need fancy plating – pop them in a bowl with a pot of toothpicks and watch them disappear. I have some waiting in the freezer as we speak, for my son’s upcoming 5th birthday party.
Be sure to reserve a portion of tsukune and sticky glaze (see the orange diamonds in the recipe for quantities) and you can conjure up a super tasty, very quick dinner later, Teriyaki noodles with bok choy and chicken meatballs. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best, my 8-year old rates this recipe a 10, along with bolognaise, lamb nut rice and ‘curry’ (butter chicken if he was forced to nominate a particular one).

Tsukune (Japanese teriyaki chicken balls)

[Recipe 1] Tsukune (Japanese teriyaki chicken meatballs)

Ingredients (makes 60 balls; ie. 3 portions of 20 balls + 3 portions of teriyaki glaze):
1 tablespoon peanut (or vegetable) oil
1 leek, white part only, halved lengthwise, cut into long strips and sliced finely
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1½ kilos (3 lb) minced (ground) chicken
3 teaspoons sesame oil
2½ cm (1”) piece ginger, finely chopped (about 1½ tablespoons)
1 large carrot, finely grated (on zester holes)
1 large egg, beaten
6 spring onions (scallions), white parts only, thinly sliced (reserve dark green parts for serving)
½ cup (75g) sesame seeds, toasted
3 heaped tablespoons white miso paste
3 tablespoons corn flour (cornstarch)
Peanut (or vegetable) oil, extra, for frying
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds, extra, for serving
Sticky teriyaki glaze:
½ cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup mirin
¾ cup firmly packed (150g) brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt (preferably fine sea salt)

Make the mixture:
Heat oil in a small saucepan and fry the leek and garlic over a medium heat for 3 minutes. The leek shouldn’t be completely soft, just aromatic. Transfer to a very large bowl.
Add the chicken, sesame oil, ginger, carrot, egg, spring onions, toasted sesame seeds, miso paste and corn flour. Mix well.
Roll the tsukune mixture into walnut-sized balls. Use lightly-floured hands as the mixture is quite soft and sticky (they firm up beautifully on frying though)! Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or overnight if time permits.
Fry the balls:
Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan. Fry the tsukune in batches until browned all over, about 8 minutes. Transfer them to a large bowl as you go. If your stove-top is wide enough, you can have two frypans going at once to expedite proceedings.
Reserve ⅓ of the cooked tsukune (about 20 balls or 500g/1 lb) for the Teriyaki noodles with bok choy and chicken meatballs.
Make the glaze:
Meanwhile, make the sticky teriyaki glaze by combining the ingredients in a small bowl.
Reserve ⅓ of the sticky teriyaki glaze (⅔ cup) and set aside for the Teriyaki noodles with bok choy and chicken meatballs.
Simmer the balls:
Return the remaining tsukune to the frypan(s) and add the remaining sticky glaze. Bring to the boil, turn down heat, and simmer, continuously stirring, until lovely and sticky and glistening, about 10 minutes. You may need to do do this in two batches, using half the glaze for each batch, if you’re working with one frypan only. The tsukune should be quite saucy – don’t reduce the sauce too much or they’ll dry out.
Serve:
Arrange tsukune on a platter or in a serving bowl, scattered with extra toasted sesame seeds and chopped green ends of spring onions. Serve with toothpicks.

  • This recipe makes a huge serve of tsukune, about 60 balls in total, essentially three serves of 20 balls and three serves of sticky teriyaki glaze. You’ll be reserving one serve (20 balls and ⅔ cup sticky glaze) for Recipe 2. The remaining two serves (40 balls and 1⅓ cups sticky glaze) will feed about 10–15 people as finger food. You can easily make a smaller overall quantity by using ⅓ or ⅔ of the listed ingredients (most ingredients are in multiples of 3). Even with a smaller batch, one egg is fine, just use a small egg!
  • If time permits, the chicken mixture can be prepared the night before and refrigerated.
  • Tsukune are fab served as part of a DIY bento box, or as a light Summer dinner. Add cooked sushi rice on the side, a small bowl of pickled ginger and steamed asparagus or Asian mixed-leaf salad
  • Cooked, glazed (or unglazed) tsukune can be refrigerated for up to 3 days, or frozen for up to 2 months. Defrost overnight in the fridge. They can be lightly warmed in a microwave before serving, or served at room temperature.
  • Reserved sticky teriyaki glaze can be refrigerated for up to 3 days, or frozen for up to 2 months.
  • Miso paste is available refrigerated from Asian grocers. Use the leftover paste to make Roasted pumpkin and mixed seed salad!
  • You can toast your own sesame seeds, or cheat and buy them pre-toasted from Asian and Middle Eastern food stores.

Tsukune noodle stir-fry

[Recipe 2] Teriyaki noodles with bok choy and chicken meatballs

Ingredients (serves 4):
600g (1⅓ lb) fresh hokkien noodles

1 tablespoon peanut (or vegetable) oil
1 medium carrot, chopped into small match-sticks
1 small red capsicum (bell pepper), thinly sliced
♦ 1 serve (⅔ cup) reserved sticky teriyaki glaze
♦ 1 serve (500g/1 lb) reserved cooked tsukune (about 20 balls)
1 bunch bok choy, washed and very well dried, leaves trimmed and thinly sliced
Toasted sesame seeds, to serve
1 small red birdseye chilli, de-seeded, finely sliced, to serve (optional for kids)
Spring onions (scallions), finely sliced, to serve

Place noodles in a large bowl. Cover with boiling water. Stand for 2 minutes. Separate noodles with a fork. Drain in a large colander and set aside.
Heat oil in a wok over high heat until just smoking. Add carrot and capsicum, and stir-fry for 1–2 minutes. Remove from wok.
Add reserved sticky teriyaki glaze and reserved cooked tsukune. Simmer on a high heat for 6 minutes until sauce is reduced and thickened, and tsukune are warmed through and glistening.
Stir through prepared noodles and bok choy and toss over medium heat for 1–2 minutes until noodles are heated through and bok choy has wilted. Return carrot and capsicum to the wok. Divide amongst four bowls, scatter with sesame seeds, chilli and spring onions and serve immediately.

  • You can vary this recipe easily by replacing the bok choy with chopped baby spinach; or by adding bean shoots or steamed broccoli florets.