Cooking prime cuts of meat and other foods over live fire is considered a quintessentially American activity, the heart of many celebrations and holiday meals. In Japan, the native grilling tradition has even deeper roots -- starting centuries before Christopher Columbus ever saw his first ship.
"The Japanese Grill," by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat, explains that in ancient times, Japanese homes were built around an open hearth, supplying warmth and a place to grill fish for the entire family. Traces of that grilling-centered diet can be found in the modern Japanese breakfast of rice, pickles and grilled fish, even if that fish gets cooked on apartment stoves.
The Japanese Grill by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat
Ten Speed Press; 184 pages, $25
A thousand years of refinements and innovations have brought Japanese grilling to an edible art, where even the alignment of chicken pieces and scallions on a skewer is considered for aesthetic affect. In their second book together, Ono and Salat offer a primer on classic Japanese grilled dishes, marinades, sauces and side dishes, plus the best Japanese approaches to American grilling classics.
Yakitori -- skewers of meat, seafood or vegetables grilled over charcoal -- are "one of the most popular and beloved foods in Japan," the authors write.
The best yakitori are assembled with painstaking care, focusing on specific sauces and skewering techniques to bring out the best flavor. In Japan, as many as 30 different cuts of chicken are prepared on skewers, including livers, necks and skin. The cooking technique is a two-stage process, partly cooking the meat, then brushing on sauce that caramelizes as the food finishes.
Authentic chicken teriyaki tops the book's poultry offerings, which also include chicken as spice-rubbed wings, pounded breast cutlets, butterflied legs; Japanese-style turkey pastrami and miso-glazed quail.
For grilling fish and seafood, the book concentrates on using a few flavors to draw out the best in the ingredients. Salt-grilled head-on shrimp and whole red snapper with ponzu dipping sauce rely on obtaining top-quality ingredients.
Applying Japanese flavors and techniques to American classics like a porterhouse steak results in crossover temptations like the porterhouse with garlic-soy marinade. Cooking the meat partway, then helping the surface brown with more brushed-on marinade, promises crusty yet juicy results.
Most of the recipes in "The Japanese Grill" can be executed using ingredients found in well-stocked Western New York supermarkets or Asian markets, but shoppers may have to mail-order some ingredients, like spice mixtures, that may not be available in local stores.