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Tsukune skewers on a plate.
Tsukune (Japanese Chicken Meatballs)
Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
25 mins
Total Time
35 mins

Tsukune (Japanese Chicken Meatballs) is a regular Yakitori dish items. Soft and bouncy chicken meatballs are skewered and chargrilled with sweet soy sauce, i.e. yakitori sauce. The key to my soft and juicy meatballs is the grated onion and the amount of fat in the chicken mince (ground chicken). 

Don't forget to see the section 'MEAL IDEAS' below the recipe card! It gives you a list of dishes that I have already posted and this recipe so you can make up a complete meal. I hope it is of help to you.

Recipe Type: Appetiser, Main
Cuisine: Japanese
Serves: 8 skewers (24 meatballs)
Author: Yumiko
Ingredients (tbsp=15ml, cup=250ml)
  • 450g / 1lb chicken breast mince (ground, note 1)
  • 50g / 1.8oz chicken fat finely minced (note 1)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 egg (large)
  • 1 tbsp grated onion
  • 1 tsp ginger juice (squeeze the juice out of grated ginger)
  • 1 tsp light soy sauce
  • tbsp cornflour/corn starch
  • tbsp sake
  • 40ml / 1.4oz soy sauce (normal Japanese soy sauce)
  • 40ml / 1.4oz mirin
  • ½ tbsp sugar
  1. Add all the Sauce ingredients to a pot and bring it to the boil. Turn down the heat to medium or medium low and simmer for about 4-5 minutes to reduce the quantity by about a third (note 2).

Making Tsukune
  1. Add chicken mince, chicken fat and salt in a bowl and mix well until the chicken mince becomes sticky.

  2. Add the remaining ingredients, except 1 tablespoon of sake, to the bowl and mix well.
  3. Add the remaining sake to the bowl gradually while mixing. The mixture is quite soft but do not add all of the sake specified if the mixture is too soft to grab by hand and form a ball.
  4. Boil water in a pot. Coat a cutlery spoon with oil (not in ingredients).
  5. Grab chicken mince with the left hand (I am a right hander) and squeeze out mince through the thumb and the index finger. The mince will come out forming a round shape (note 3).
  6. Take the meatball with the spoon and drop it into the pot. Repeat this for the rest of the mince (see the step-by-step photo in post).

  7. Boil meatballs for 5-7 minutes until cooked through (note 4). Take the meatballs out and put aside. Cook them in batches so that the surface of the boiling water is filled with no more than one layer of the meatballs.

Griling Tsukune (note 5)
  1. Heat griller, griddle or BBQ (note 6). Oil the rack/grill where you place the meatballs.
  2. Thread 3 Tsukune onto flat skewers (note 7).

  3. Baste tsukune with the sauce using a brush and cook under the griller or on the griddle/BBQ for 1-2 minutes until the meatballs are slightly burnt.
  4. Turn over the skewers and cook further 1-2 minutes. Then baste with the sauce, cook 30 seconds on both sides.
  5. Serve immediately.
Recipe Notes

1. You could have a mixture of 250g / 8.8oz breast mince and 250g / 8.8oz thigh mince, or 100% thigh mince.
You could have just 500g / 1.1lb of breast mince but the meatballs may be slightly dry.

2. The time taken to reduce the sauce depends on the size of the pot. The larger the diameter of the pot, the faster it reduces.

3. The size of the circle made with your thumb and index finger determines the size of the ball and therefore the number of meatballs made in total.

My meatball was 3-3.5cm / 1¼” in diameter and I made 24 meatballs.

4. Cooking time depends on the size of the meatballs. When the meatball is floating and feels light when you pick it up, it is cooked through.

5. I made Tsukune on skewers, but you could cook individually if you like. Or two/four meatballs on each skewer instead of three.

6. The heat can be strong. Because Tsukune is already cooked, all you need to do here is to coat with sauce and get them burnt slightly to give better flavour to them.

7. The flat bamboo skewers used in Yakitori are called 'teppō gushi' (鉄砲串, gun skewer) as the shape is like a gun (in the old days). You can buy teppō gushi at Japanese grocery stores. Some online shops also sell them.

8. Tsukune can be frozen. After boiling, cool them down and freeze them in an air tight container or a freezer bag. To grill, thaw them, then grill as per the instructions.

9. Nutrition per skewer.

serving: 103g calories: 169kcal fat: 8.6g (13%) saturated fat: 0.4g (12%) trans fat: 0.0g polyunsaturated fat: 1.8g monounsaturated fat: 3.5g cholesterol: 70mg (23%) sodium: 594mg (25%) potassium: 280mg (8%) carbohydrates: 6.4g (2%) dietary fibre: 0.4g (2%) sugar: 3.9g protein: 14g vitamin a: 3% vitamin c: 0.7% calcium: 1% iron: 3%