If there’s one item that defines the food served at Izakaya Rintaro, it’s yakitori. These skewers of bite-sized pieces of grilled chicken are prominent on the menus of most izakayas, casual Japanese restaurants that serve drinks and bites of food. Rintaro, the San Francisco restaurant of chef Sylvan Mishima Brackett, is no different; there, yakitori is an art form that is carefully prepared in a highly specific way.
“Japanese food tends to be precise, even when it’s really casual,” says Brackett. “There’s a lot of subtle, not terribly difficult, some technically challenging techniques, like very particular ways of cutting things.” This, in part, is what distinguishes yakitori from chicken kebabs, he explains, adding “The skewering is very particular. It’s the way you cut the chicken thigh and how you roll it to keep it under tension before you put the skewer through, so it doesn’t flop all over the place.”
Another step in the cooking process that sets yakitori apart from what we know as basic grilled chicken is the glazing: Skewers are dipped into the tare, or sauce that’s used for glazing, multiple times throughout the grilling process to build complex flavor. Each night the tare pot is boiled to sanitize the sauce, which is then used for the next day’s yakitori. Eventually, the charred chicken flavor builds up and creates a unique and unmistakable depth of flavor. Similar to a sourdough starter that’s been around for many generations, a chef’s tare can be years in the making: Brackett’s is now seven years old.
The key to a lacquered coating (and rich flavor) is patience, according to Brackett. “As you cook [yakitori], you will put it on a hot grill with a little salt for the thigh, cook it a tiny bit on the outside, dip it into the tare, let that caramelize and cook, dip it again and cook it some more, and then dip it again and cook it some more. So it gets three dips, usually. Every time you dip it and cook it, all of that tare caramelizes on top, and you get that really beautiful shiny seasoning. If you just dip it before you start and then grill it, it will not look nearly as beautiful, and you won’t get that layered shine of the yakitori tare.”
Our food team spent months working with Brackett on a yakitori tare made with soy sauce, sugar, sake and mirin (rice wine), which he developed to help home cooks re-create the flavors of yakitori. “What’s difficult about it is that our tare is now seven years old. We keep adding to it, and as you cook the chicken, the smoky taste of the meat goes back into the tare that you’re dipping it in. Then you boil that at the end of the night and mix it with a big batch, so it gets deeper and more complex.”
Translating that flavor into a product was a challenge that took months for Brackett and our team to perfect (the key, it turns out, involved nuanced ingredients like dark roast chicken stock). “The difficult thing was trying to get that complexity,” he tells us. “Anybody can just mix a bunch of ingredients, but it doesn’t taste like much; it just tastes really raw.”
To make Izakaya Rintaro’s style of yakitori at home, stock up on our Sake Soy Grilling Glaze and follow our recipe for Sake and Soy Chicken Yakitori. To achieve a similar effect, pour the grilling glaze into a tall, narrow container, such as a pint glass. Then, working with one skewer at a time, dip the chicken in the glaze to coat before putting it on the grill. Repeat the same process twice more to thoroughly glaze the chicken. If you to build extra flavor into the sauce, you can do as he does in the restaurant, boiling the tare completely through after cooking to make it safe to use for glazing at a later time.
Learn more about chef Sylvan Mishima Brackett and how he transformed Izakaya Rintaro into a party for friends and family to celebrate his new Williams Sonoma cooking sauces.