Asian Recipes/ Dinner/ Japanese/ Recipes

Tsukune – Japanese Chicken Meatballs

10/02/2021

Super juicy chicken meatballs – Japanese style! These Tsukune skewers are grilled to perfection in just 25 minutes, and slathered in a sweet soy sauce to finish them off. Perfect for BBQs over charcoal or a quick dinner in the frying pan!

Three skewers with small Japanese style chicken meatballs.

Why We Love This

Tsukune meatballs always reminds us of our favourite yakitori restaurant in Japan. We’ll order these along with plate after plate of favourites like yakitori chicken, gyoza, and potato salad, so much yum. Just add a glass of beer or chuhai (flavoured shochu highballs) and great company to enjoy them with!

Juicy, tender and so full of flavour, you can cook them on a skewer or, if you’re feeling a little lazy, simply fry them separately in a pan. 

We love the yummy caramelised flavour from basting them in the sweet soy sauce.

Shiny tsukune are coated in a teriyaki style sauce.

What is Tsukune? 

Tsukune is a type of Japanese meatball, most often made from seasoned chicken mince. Yakitori restaurants will often thread them onto a bamboo skewer and cook them yakitori style over a charcoal grill. But they can also be fried in a pan or baked separately without the skewer.  

The name tsukune comes from the Japanese word tsukuneru which means to ‘knead by hands’.

Once the meatball mixture is prepared, there are a few common variations in presentation, such as the sausage shaped tsukune hand-formed around skewers, or rolled and pressed out into mini hamburger patties. 

Tsukune are a popular treat for oshogatsu (Japanese New Years celebrations) and osechi ryori (traditional Japanese foods enjoyed on New Year’s Day).

In Japan, chicken tsukune is often made from a blend of chicken breast and thigh meat, and sometimes includes the chopped cartilage as well. Today we’re simplifying the recipe by using just chicken mince from the supermarket. 

Just like yakitori chicken, tsukune can sometimes be basted with yakitori tare (yakitori sauce). It’s quite similar to teriyaki sauce, so feel free to use that if you already have some in the fridge. Another popular option is a simple sprinkle of salt (shio), which helps to bring out all the juicy flavours in the meatballs without taking over the dish. 

What You’ll Need

For the meatballs:

  • Chicken Mince – Today we’re just using regular supermarket chicken mince. If you prefer, you can make your own homemade mince in a blender or by finely chopping chicken breast and/or thighs with a knife. If the chicken mince is low in fat, you can add finely chopped chicken fat or a splash of vegetable oil, which will stop the meat from drying out as you cook it. Don’t like chicken? You can swap for turkey, fish, pork or beef, or do a mix of half protein and half minced tofu etc. 
  • Binder Ingredients – We use eggs and breadcrumbs but you can swap the breadcrumbs for potato starch or cornstarch if needed. This helps to bind all the ingredients together and help the meatballs hold their shape while cooking.  

For the sauce:

  • Soy Sauce – For the best flavour and quality, use a Japanese soy sauce such as Kikkoman brand which has the perfect balance of flavour and salt. 
  • Cooking Sake –  This is a type of rice wine made for cooking. It’s lighter and more delicate in flavour than Chinese cooking wine, but you can use either in this recipe. Look for it at Asian grocers or online. You can substitute with sherry or a blend of 50:50 vodka and water in a pinch.
  • Sugar – We used raw sugar but any kind of sugar should work well.

OR – Just use Teriyaki Sauce!

Teriyaki Sauce – Make your own or use a store bought brand such as Kikkoman. If making your own, feel free to experiment with the quantity of each ingredient until the flavour is just how you like it.

Ingredients laid out to make Tsukune Chicken Meatballs.

How to make Tsukune:

  1. In a large mixing bowl, add the chicken mince, spring onions, egg, ginger and breadcrumbs. Knead with your hands until the mince turns pale and smooth and is evenly blended.
  2. Use a spoon to scoop out a portion of the mixture (1-2 tbsp). Dip one hand in water to coat your hand, then take the portion of mixture and gently press into a ball shape with your fingers. Press 2 pre-soaked skewers through the meatball until it’s two thirds of the way down the skewers. Smooth out the edges.
  3. Repeat step 2 to add another 1-2 balls onto the skewers.
  1. Heat the vegetable oil in a large frying pan over medium-high and add the meatball skewers. Cook for 2-3 minutes on one side until nicely browned, then flip and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Remove from the pan.
  2. Pour the sauce ingredients into the pan and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to low and return the skewers into the pan. Baste the top with sauce. Cook for one minute, then flip and baste again.
  3. Remove from the pan and serve immediately.

Wandercook’s Tips

  • Soak the Skewers – Soak in water for at least 5-10 mins, this helps prevent the skewers from burning. Regular skewers work fine – using two for each makes them easier to cook. But if you have flat cocktail skewers these will make it even easier to cook one side at a time. 
  • Mixture Too Sticky? – Use some water on your hands to stop the meatballs from sticking while you knead. 
  • Be Patient – Don’t flip the meatballs until they’re browned on one side. This will stop them falling apart if you try to flip them too early. 
  • Baste As You Cook – After pouring the sauce into the pan and re-adding the skewers, continue basting with sauce to make sure each skewer is evenly coated.
  • Skewer Type – If using flat skewers, that are wide, you only need to use 1 skewer. If you’re using skinny round skewers, like in our images, then we recommend using 2 skewers to help hold the meat on.
  • Storage – You can store uncooked skewers in the fridge for a day, covered in an airtight container, or you can freeze them for up to a couple of months. If cooked, they’ll last in the fridge for 2-3 days, or you can also freeze these and reheat in the microwave or frying pan when you want them.

FAQs

What should I serve with tsukune?

Tsukune are perfect as entrees/appetisers, as a side or main dish.
 
Condiments – Add a sprinkling of salt or shichimi togarashi chilli powder. Small dabs of wasabi add a delicious kick. We recommend trying the chicken as it is first to see what you think, then feel free to season to taste. 

Popular Side Dishes – Tsukune are a must-order item at our favourite yakitori restaurant chain in Japan, along with steamed edamame, pork gyoza dumplings, Japanese potato salad and yakitori chicken skewers with chicken thigh and spring onions. For a simple meal, serve with steamed rice and Japanese takuan pickles.

Can I freeze them?

Yes, you can freeze them before or after cooking. Cooked meatballs should be allowed to cool first. Place them on a lined baking tray so they aren’t touching each other and pop in the freezer for an hour until they’re frozen solid. Then transfer them to a freezer safe bag or container and keep frozen for 1-2 months. Uncooked meatballs should be thawed in the fridge overnight before cooking. Cooked meatballs can either be thawed overnight or reheated straight from the freezer.

Variations

  • Add Flavour – Add extra veggies and herbs such as finely chopped onion, carrots, zucchini or perilla leaves in with the minced chicken. 
  • Make Burgers – Form the mince into larger patties to suit burger buns. Top with lettuce and tomato, and drizzle with kewpie mayonnaise and sriracha.
  • Skip the Skewers – Cook the chicken meatballs directly in the frying pan without threading onto skewers. 
  • Optional Seasonings – Sprinkle with regular salt, matcha salt or yuzu kosho.
Skewers of tsukune chicken meatballs on a wooden board.

Want more tapas-style Japanese treats? Here are some of our favourites:

★ Did you make this recipe? Please leave a comment and a star rating below!

Three chicken meatball skewers on a wooden board.

Tsukune – Japanese Chicken Meatballs

Super juicy chicken meatballs – Japanese style! These Tsukune skewers are grilled to perfection in just 25 minutes, and slathered in a sweet soy sauce to finish them off. Perfect for BBQs over charcoal or a quick dinner in the frying pan!
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Course: Dinner
Cuisine: Japanese
Servings: 8 Skewers
Calories: 137kcal
Author: Wandercooks
Cost: $8

Equipment

Ingredients

For the sauce:

or

Optional:

  • 3 perilla/shiso leaves finely chopped

Instructions

  • In a large mixing bowl, add the chicken mince, spring onions, egg, ginger and bread crumbs. Knead with your hands until the mince turns pale and smooth and is evenly blended.
  • Use a spoon to scoop out a portion of the mixture (1-2 tbsp). Dip one hand in water to coat your hand, then take the portion of mixture and gently press into a ball shape with your fingers. Press the skewer through the meatball until it’s two thirds of the way down the skewer. Smooth out the edges.
  • Repeat step 2 to add another 1-2 balls onto the skewer.
  • Heat the vegetable oil in a large frying pan over medium-high and add the meatball skewers. Cook for 2-3 minutes on one side until nicely browned, then flip and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Remove from the pan.
  • Pour the sauce ingredients into the pan and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to low and return the skewers into the pan. Baste the top with sauce. Cook for one minute, then flip and baste again.
  • Remove from the pan and serve immediately.

Video

Nutrition

Calories: 137kcal | Carbohydrates: 4g | Protein: 13g | Fat: 7g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 74mg | Sodium: 449mg | Potassium: 370mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 60IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 16mg | Iron: 1mg
Hey hey – Did you make this recipe?We’d love it if you could give a star rating below ★★★★★ and show us your creations on Instagram! Snap a pic and tag @wandercooks / #Wandercooks
Tsukune - Japanese Chicken Meatballs

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