I make the biggest messes in the kitchen. This is not quaint, controlled disorder with scraped-clean plates piled perfectly beside the sink. No, when I’m done, there’s tomato sauce splattered on the wall and walnuts found miscellaneously in my silverware drawer and herb sprigs spread like confetti on the floor. Sometimes, I don’t mind cleaning up the mess, a good podcast on my iPod, my mind justifying the activity as my daily workout. But sometimes, I do.
Thank goodness that in recent months my cooking has focused on simple weeknight meals, the kind that don’t take a lot of energy to prepare. That means marginally fewer dishes in the sink (though they always seem to add up when you don’t have a dishwasher). Still, no matter how few splashes of stew decorate the wall at the end, I always find the kitchen the best place to channel my creative energies, and dinner prep a crucial time for coming back to myself after a long or weird or tiring day.
A simple dinner, like this Chicken & Cauliflower Yakitori, is therefore the culinary equivalent of limiting finger painting to a piece of paper or two. While it includes some wild moments of marinating and skewering, in the end, the abstract painting-like drips and splatters are contained. In your sink, there will be just one pot, one cutting board, and one baking sheet.
My creative spirit wouldn’t sacrifice taste for neatness, of course, and this dish has both. Traditional yakitori marinade contains sweet, salty, and umami notes from soy sauce, sugar, and reduced wine, and here those flavors saturate the chicken so deeply that even though I bake the skewers instead of grill them, each piece is full of flavor. These morsels of chicken sit next to crispy-edged roasted cauliflower florets that have been doused in the same yummy sauce and that lighten up the skewers so that you can eat more, or have leftovers.
Chicken & Cauliflower Yakitori
Makes 12 skewers, serves 4 as a main
Leave a decent amount of the stem on each piece of cauliflower so that it doesn’t break apart when you string the veggie onto the skewer. Also, as I note below, if you don’t have the patience for skewering, just scatter the veggies and chicken on a baking sheet and bake til done. Serve with rice, or on their own.
For the sauce
2/3 cup white wine
2/3 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 a small onion, peeled
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1″ piece ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
For the chicken
12 small wooden skewers, soaked for at least 20 minutes
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 8 cubes each
1 head cauliflower, cut into bite-sized pieces–you’ll need 24 pieces
1/2 a red onion, cut into wedges
First, make the sauce: combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes, until reduced by about half.
Pour the marinade into a shallow dish. Let come to room temperature, or thereabouts. Add the chicken, cauliflower, and onion to the dish and marinate in the fridge for at least 30 minutes and up to a few hours. If it’s easier on your schedule, you can do this in the morning before work.
When you’re near ready to eat, preheat the oven to 425°F. String the ingredients onto the skewers in this order: 1 piece cauliflower, 1 piece chicken, 2 slices red onion, 1 piece chicken, 1 piece cauliflower. Placed on a parchment-lined baking sheet about 1 inch apart. Bake 30 to 35 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the cauliflower is crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. The chicken will cook a little more quickly than the cauliflower but won’t dry out thanks to the marinade. If you’re in a rush, just scatter the chicken and cauliflower on the baking sheet