This is going to be the easiest post I’ve ever written.
I think writing that sentence will be longer than the ingredients for our recipe. Let’s try:
Chicken. Mint. Salt. Plum Sauce. Shichimi.
Yep. (Wait, what was that last one?) Well, finding the correct ingredients for this one might take longer than a trip to, well… Kushi. But what I can tell you is, you can do this. This recipe is really easy. Really. We promise. It’s not souffle. (Did we trick you with that one? We’re sorry.)
Salty, sweet, savory, spicy… Katie and I recently stopped by Kushi by for a breeze of a grilling lesson. Chef Muneihiro Yonemoto may have been a man of few words due to a language barrier, but like the few ingredients in his chicken kabobs, he got his point across quite clearly.
The true ingredients in Chef Muneihiro’s chicken skewers were fresh farm-raised chicken (from North Carolina, like Katie), Japanese mint called “sho-su,” and kosher salt. As a dipping sauce, he used a plum sauce that was so intensely rich it tasted more like olives or anchovies, along with a seven-pepper seasoning called Shichimi that Kushi seems to use quite a bit around the kitchen.
Chef Muneihiro flattened the chicken breast by butterflying it into a perfectly uniform and incredibly thin canvas. He then lined the side nearest to him with mint leaves and slowly hand-rolled the chicken over the line of mint, creating a log of chicken with mint at the very center. Slicing the chicken log into sushi-sized pieces, he ultimately speared them, quite effortlessly, onto a bamboo skewer. Ladies and gentleman, the man did this in under 5 minutes. I am proud to say, it only took me 15.
(What? You don’t want us to wait for the grill to heat up while we roast some potatoes? We’ve got time, really! But 5 minutes in, really, we were almost done! As long as you take my advice about the grocery store…)
Chef Muneihiro placed the skewers onto a charcoal grill, flipped them once after a minute and half, and again after another minute and a half.
The chicken was very delicately cooked, with the aroma of charcoal and salt and burnt chicken corners. But the best part of this dish is what he does to it next, and this part, too, was just as simple as everything else! Muneihiro placed a dot of plum sauce in the center of each chicken skewer and a miniature mound of Shichimi and another of kosher salt for dipping. Fantastic!
I was so infatuated by this dish, I set out to find the exact accompaniments that Chef Muneihiro had delicately placed on our plate of chicken skewers: the perfectly purple-brown plum sauce (he even gave me the package, which you would think would have made my life easier…) and the red pepper spice mixture speckled with black sesame seeds (which I had photographic evidence that it existed and am still convinced I would like to order by mail).
I went all the way to Falls Church to the H Mart to no avail. At the most recommended Asian market, what kind of mint did they have? Regular. What kind of plum sauce? Kikkomon. How about the seven pepper spice? How about a one pepper spice… FAIL (For the record, I did swing by Whole Foods just to make sure the good stuff wasn’t right under my nose. Nope!)
What I didn’t realize until later was that what Chef Muneihiro would have told us, if he could have through our language barrier, was that this recipe isn’t about using the exact Japanese mint or the seven pepper spice with black sesame seeds or the perfectly savory plum sauce — it was about the ying and the yang. While top notch ingredients raise the playing field of any dish, the real star here is how he pulled our taste buds in every direction: savory and salty chicken dotted with sweet plum sauce and dipped in a peppery spice mixture.
The Kikkomon plum sauce I purchased turned out to be much sweeter than Muneihiro’s - but in a good way. And instead of the seven pepper sauce, we purchased a similar-in-color-only Korean-style spice mix with paprika, chiles, ginger and garlic that ultimately was fantastic.
I’ve actually recreated this dish a second time since our Kushi adventure, and I think I’ve perfected the Americanized version.
Japanese Chicken-Mint Roll-ups
- 3 lbs chicken breast, cut into 5″ x 1 x 1/2″ slices
- 30 small/medium mint leaves
- Bamboo skewers, soaked in water
- 1 oz Ancho pepper, chili pepper, or seven pepper spice seasoning
- 1 oz Toasted sesame seeds
- 5 oz plum sauce
- Roll up one mint leaf in each chicken strip
- Skewer and season with the spice rub and sesame seeds
- Grill, preferably on a charcoal grill, for 10-15 minutes
- Brush on a little plum sauce when the chicken is about finished on the grill
- Serve with a side of plum sauce
So really, don’t bother with the Asian market for the ingredients on this one. Served up with a side of pan-fried rice noodles and some red pepper skewers, it’s the perfect, if ever so slightly unexpected, summer barbecue fare. (Oh, and did I mention my dinner guests didn’t have to roll out gnocchi for an hour? Genius!)