If there is one thing we can be certain of at the beginning of every summer, it is that we will be bombarded with an awful lot of new grilling books. How many truly “new” ways are there to grill a burger? Right. Which is why we actually paused to spend some time with The Japanese Grill by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat. Ono, executive chef at Matsuri in New York City, and Salat, a food writer, promise to teach us how to make traditional yakitori with a decidedly Western grill-loving flair. Sounds interesting.
So how does the cookbook fare? Well, it's certainly more interesting than the ho-hum subtitle (From Classic Yakitori to Steak, Seafood and Vegetables), but it could stand a few more sparks. Or perhaps all it really needs is just a more concise layout.
The book begins with a chapter called “Classic Yakitori” that covers the bite-sized, skewered grilled meat (literally “grilled bird” but it encompasses other meats). There are tips for setting up your grill for yakitori (using foil or bricks), basic sauces and recipes. The initial pages, an awful lot of them, individually focus on grilling various chicken parts — how to skewer the heart, gizzard, liver, neck, skin, and oysters (those two little delicious rounds of meat on the underside of a whole chicken between the backbone and thigh).
All well and good, but we're just not sure why so many pages were needed — each chicken “part” gets its own page — to describe how to cook the different pieces. It seems more like a two-page spread detailing the various dicing and skewering techniques for each, a whole chicken “breakdown” sort of thing, would have been more than thorough. That there is also a separate recipe page for a “chicken and scallion” yakitori (using chicken legs) immediately after the chicken leg yakitori recipe seems even more of a recycled paper waste. The only difference between the two recipes is adding those scallions to the skewers. (Great, but why not just tell us about this variation on the blank half of the chicken leg page?)
Maybe we're just having one of those yakitori sort of days, so we will start fresh and move on to the other chapters. The “Poultry” chapter offers up some interesting variations on your typical grilled bird recipes like chicken breasts in a yuzu kosho (a spicy chili-yuzu citrus condiment) marinade, green tea-smoked duck, and a miso-glazed quail. The “Fish and Seafood” chapter gets into general recipes for salt grilling (shrimp, whole sardines, salmon) and more specific recipe takes like squid with ginger-soy sauce marinade or upping your grilled lobster game with ponzu brown butter.
The “Meat” chapter, of course, offers a burger. Here, it is a “Japanese burger” with wasabi ketchup. What is a Japanese burger? Apparently it is a grilled ground sirloin and pork mixture held together buttermilk-soaked panko breadcrumbs. You could see it as a Western take on the Japanese grilling theme going a little too far to the right.
Still, there are plenty of inspiring recipes here like those karashi mustard (a spicy Japanese mustard) short ribs with balsamic vinegar, or the grilled pork chops with yuzu-miso marinade. The veggie chapter holds its own with some recipes we'd like to try (corn with soy sauce and mirin) but also has a few too many foil “baked” (on the grill) vegetables that suffer that same yakitori repetitive fate (they could easily be condensed into one or two master recipes with variation/ingredient suggestions). Then again, if every grilling book was truly awe-inspiring on each page, we wouldn't have the pleasure of those dozen+ new books to look forward to every June.