Tsukune (Japanese Chicken Meatballs) Recipe

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Tsukune, Japanese-style chicken meatballs, is off the charts delicious! With soft and juicy meatballs basted in a sweet, salty, and little sticky sauce. This tsukune recipe is keto and low carb. The meatballs are incredibly flavorful and I guarantee your guests will have no problem eating one after another!

I’ve long been a big fan of Tsukune (Japanese grilled chicken meatballs) and all things yakitori (Japanese grilled chicken skewers). The meatballs are soft and juicy inside and slightly charred outside, drizzled with a caramelized sweet soy sauce.

Our most recent trip to Tokyo brought back all the memories of these delicious Japanese chicken meatballs. I took several photos and even a quick iPhone video below just to show you how amazing these meatballs are. And it goes without saying that I have to make a keto and paleo version to share with you!

WHAT IS TSUKUNE

Tsukune (つくね) means Japanese-style meatballs. The ground meat (or minced meat) could be chicken, pork, or even fish. The most popular version is made with ground chicken so people often associate the Tsukune recipe with Japanese grilled chicken meatballs.

Often, the meatballs are cooked yakitori style – skewered and grilled over a charcoal fire – but they also can be pan-fried or baked.

YAKITORI TARE

The meatballs are basted and brushed in a sweet soy sauce or yakitori tare, a thick Japanese grilling and dipping sweet soy sauce that tastes similar to teriyaki sauce. The flavor is salty and sweet and with great depth of flavor. Today I use my keto teriyaki sauce to simplify the recipe. I also have a Whole30 teriyaki sauce for Whole30-ers!

These grilled meatballs are perfect for summer BBQ recipes and I’ll show you two methods to make this dish – pan-fried (indoor) and grilling (outdoor).

HOW TO MAKE TSUKUNE RECIPE (A SIMPLIFIED VERSION)

I use ginger juice (from grated ginger) and grated shallot to make my meatballs extra flavorful. With only 7 ingredients, the meatballs are seasoned with toasted sesame oil, scallions, grated shallot, ginger juice from grated ginger, coconut amino, egg yolk, and some salt and white pepper.

  1. Combine all the ingredients with ground chicken and stir the mixture until it is very sticky. This step helps the meatballs come together since there are no binding ingredients (bread crumbs or starch).
  2. The mixture is quite soft and easy to fall apart. Use a cookie scoop to help you form the meatballs. Then grease your hand with some olive oil to shape the meatballs into a smooth surface.

Pan fry a small amount of mixture first to test the flavor.

IF PAN-FRYING

This is a simple way to enjoy Tsukune fast! I use this method at home since I don’t have an outdoor space.

  • Lightly flatten the meatballs into small patties (about ½-inch thick). Pan fry them with avocado oil about 4 minutes total and brush with the keto teriyaki sauce.

IF GRILLING

The meatballs are super soft and juicy because there are no binders. Here are some tools to help you:

  • Use a narrow flat skewer with a handle at one end.
  • It’s important to use a perforated grill tray or grill grid on top of your grill surface in order to support the skewers or they will fall apart.
  • Flatten the meatballs into small patties (about ½-inch thick) and thread them onto the skewers. Cradle the entire skewer in your hand to keep the meat on the stick and place it on the grill grid/tray.
  • Grill the first side about 3-4 minutes and rotate to grill the second side about 2-3 minutes. Brush with the sugar free teriyaki sauce as you rotate the skewers.
The picture shows displaying the grilled meatballs over a plate of butter lettuce

SUMMARY RECIPE TIPS FOR THE BEST TSUKUNE MEATBALLS

  • You can use ground chicken breast or thighs or a combination.
  • The meatballs can be made up to 24 hours ahead in the fridge.
  • Grate the ginger and squeeze the ginger juice to the meat mixture.
  • Use some muscle to grate the shallot. The meatballs will be extra flavorful and juicy.
  • The tsukune meatballs are super soft and juicy because there are no bread crumbs or starch.
  • You can pan fry them in patties (easiest way) or thread them onto skewers and grill.
  • When grilling, use narrow flat skewers and a perforated grilling grid to support the skewers from falling apart.
  • Brush with low carb teriyaki sauce or Paleo Whole30 teriyaki sauce.

TSUKUNE (JAPANESE CHICKEN MEATBALLS)

Served as an appetizer or a main course, Tsukune is a popular Japanese dish made from chicken meatballs. The dish can be made simple with just a few ingredients or more complex with added seasonings. Tsukune can be cooked in a variety of ways, including frying, grilling, and baking.

Ingredients

Tsukune is a Japanese dish made from chicken meatballs. The dish is often served as a yakitori, which is a type of skewered chicken. You can make Tsukune with ground chicken or turkey. And it is often mixed with various seasonings, including ginger, sake, and soy sauce.

The meatballs are typically grilled or broiled, but they can also be pan-fried.

Preparation

It is said that Tsukune (Japanese chicken meatballs) were invented by a monk who wanted to come up with a dish that was both nutritious and easy to eat. The dish is simple enough to make – just chicken, breadcrumbs, and seasonings mixed together and formed into balls – but it’s so flavorful and satisfying that it’s become a popular comfort food in Japan.

The dish is known for being a dish that can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. So, you should serve Tsukune with “tsuyu”, or a dipping sauce made with soy sauce and sake.

Conclusion

Chicken meatballs, or Tsukune in Japanese, are a popular dish in Japan. They are made by combining ground chicken, breadcrumbs, onion, egg, and seasonings. The mixture is then rolled into balls and typically cooked in a broth or served with a dipping sauce. You can eat Tsukune as an appetizer or main course.

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