Street vendors cross East Asia scrunch small pieces of meat onto skewers and baste them over hot coals with a sweet and savory sauce. Amid the sizzle and aromatic puffs of smoke, the sauce thickens to a luscious glaze, and -- importantly -- the meat cooks up fast.
This combination of speed and bold flavor has always appealed to us at Milk Street, but for weeknight skewers we exchange the open-air grill for the easy, controlled heat of a broiler. The near-direct heat chars the peaks of the skewered meat, and the valleys catch little pools of caramelizing sauce.
These savory-sweet chicken skewers from our book "COOKish," which limits recipes to just six ingredients without sacrificing flavor, are loosely based on Japanese yakitori. We layer on the flavors -- first as a quick marinade for the chicken, then as a basting sauce, and finally as a finishing sauce. The final coating helps sesame seeds or scallions -- or both -- adhere to the chicken.
Maple syrup may not be traditional, but it punches up the flavor of the glaze with more complexity than traditional sugar without additional ingredients. And the heat of freshly grated ginger helps to balance the sugars in the soy sauce glaze.
Serve with rice and a crunchy slaw or make into a sandwich or wrap with shredded vegetables and a smear of mayonnaise. For easy cleanup, line the baking sheet with foil.
MAPLE- AND SOY-GLAZED CHICKEN SKEWERS
Start to finish: 40 minutes
½ cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger OR 3 medium garlic cloves, finely grated OR both
2 tablespoons neutral oil
¼ cup maple syrup
1½ teaspoons sherry vinegar OR cider vinegar
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, halved lengthwise
Sesame seeds, toasted OR thinly sliced scallions OR both
Stir together the soy, ginger and oil. In another bowl, combine 3 tablespoons of that with the maple syrup and vinegar. Toss the chicken with the remaining soy mixture. Heat the broiler with a rack 4 inches from the element. Scrunch the chicken onto metal skewers, then set on a rimmed baking sheet. Broil until well browned, about 12 minutes, flipping once. Brush lightly with the soy-maple mixture, then broil until lightly charred, 2-3 minutes per side. Brush with remaining soy-maple mixture, then sprinkle with sesame seeds.