pari-pari tori-kawa sarada: who says salad has to be good for you?
Boneless, skinless chicken breast is probably America’s favorite cut of meat – it’s quick and easy to prepare, mild-flavored, and lean. Everybody likes chicken breast, right? As a result, a package of boneless, skinless breasts can be quite expensive. In Japan, on the other hand, the legs, thighs, and wings are the favorite cuts. Chicken breast is always cheap, and I have seen it on sale for as little as 39 yen for 100 grams (about $1.60/lb). I foolishly stocked up on several packages of cheap chicken breasts when they were on sale a while back and now I’m trying to figure out what to do with them. I’ve come to the conclusion that Japan is right about chicken. The thighs and legs are where it’s at. The breasts are too lean, too dry, and too mild. I have turned some into chicken katsu but it needs to marinade for a while to develop any flavor at all.
I have really learned to appreciate chicken’s other cuts at some restaurants nearby. There is a yakitori shop down the street that makes great tsukune, grilled chicken meatballs. I don’t know exactly what’s in her recipe, but I’ve heard that the secret to a delicious and flavorful tsukune is organ meats and some cartilage ground very fine. Whatever the recipe, the tsukune is fabulous there. At Aburiyatei, our favorite izakaya nearby, they really know how to cook delicious chicken. Of course, they make great kara-age (Japanese-style fried chicken), but who doesn’t? Sometimes we order a sampler of yakitori. My favorite is the wings, grilled until they’re crispy and delicious and served with a sprinkling of salt. I also found out that I really like the gizzards, who’d have thought it? Another dish that’s surprising and delicious is the pari-pari tori-kawa sarada, or crispy-crispy chicken skin salad. It’s a pile of leaf lettuce, long onions, and shredded daikon with a tangy ponzu dressing. Instead of being topped with croutons, it’s finished with crispy deep-fried chicken skin. It’s delicious, crispy, and so much more flavorful than crispy bread or noodles would be. My favorite chicken discovery there was the tori-kawa gyoza. It was a daily special, so I’ve only tried it once, but I always check the specials list for it, just in case it’s back. The tori-kawa gyoza was gyoza wrapped in chicken skin instead of the traditional wheat-noodle wrapper. They were skewered and griddled until they were browned and crispy. It was a delicious reminder of how good a part most people think is not worth eating can be.
America, how lucky you are that the best parts of the chicken are also the cheapest.