Cookout Japanese style

Yaki-nasu (grilled eggplant)

Here in the Bay Area, it’s the middle of the summer, which means cook out season.  Most people barbeque staples – such as burgers, ribs, grilled chicken and sausage. But how about adding some Japanese items into the mix?  They are super easy, a crowd pleaser, and your friends will really appreciate it too!

When we bought our house, my husband insisted we get a grill.  Growing up in Japan, I didn’t quite understand why Americans love grilling out so much.  Yes, it tastes good, but “putting food on the hot grill is not cooking!”, I thought.  I told him that he needs to be in charge of the grill because I’d be in charge of the kitchen.  Well, I was very wrong.

I quickly found one can use a grill for Japanese food too!  Especially since we don’t have an exhaust fan in our kitchen, nor one of the tiny enclosed grills that Japanese use for most grilling, I found it actually quite convenient. (By the way, the Japanese barely do cookout, especially in their own yard — maybe because in the major cosmopolitan areas people do not have ANY outdoor space.)  And even though our grill is gas (faster than charcoal), our beloved Weber grill always give me great results, and fewer dishes to wash.  Love it!

So out of many possibilities, I’d like to share four very different and easy grilled dishes.  Since they are cookout food, I didn’t specify the amounts or portions of ingredients.  Just figure out how many people you are grilling it for (and how many leftovers you want), and multiply the amount stated in the recipe. 


Sake-kama (Grilled salmon collar) with grated daikon and ao-shiso leaves

Sake-Kama (Grilled salmon collar) 鮭かま 

This is a really great dish which many Japanese restaurants serve for nearly $15, but if you grill it at home, it’ll be probably a few dollars at the most.  It’s really easy, flavorful, and highly recommended.  You can try this with Hamachi (yellowtail) collar too.  Call your fishmonger in advance, and ask them to save the collar for you.


  • Salmon (or hamachi) collar
  • Salt
  • Optional: Daikon radish, shredded ao-shiso leaves, and/or ponzu if preferred
  1. Salt the salmon collar lightly.
  2. Grill at 400F (about 200C) for about 10 min or until cooked through, flipping after 5 minutes.
  3. Eat as is, or if you want, garnish with grated daikon radish (squeeze out the liquid lightly) and shredded ao-shiso leaves.  It’s also good with ponzu.  (There’s meat on both front and back sides, so make sure to flip it and nibble the tasty bits on the back as well.)
  • How to make ponzu

Mix 3 tbs soysauce, 2 tbs rice vinegar, 1 tbs citrus juice (orange, meyer lemon etc.) and 1/2 tbs sesame oil.  It’s a very versatile sauce and Japanese people love it. If you frequent Japanese restaurants, you know how often they use this.  You can use on your regular salad, wakame seaweed salad and with cucumbers. Keeps about 2 weeks in the fridge.


Yaki-nasu (Grilled Eggplant)  焼きなす Photo on top


  • Smaller eggplants: about 1-2 per person (Japanese, Chinese or Italian eggplants will do.  Avoid using large American eggplants 
  • Ginger: about 1/2 in cube per person (1cm), grated
  • Your favorite seasoning
  1. Grill eggplants until very tender.  Make sure to turn half-way through.
  2. Peel the skin.  If hard to do so, use a spoon to scrape the flesh.  If preferred, cut into bite size pieces.
  3. Garnish with grated ginger and your favorite seasoning. Serve chilled or room temperature.  I actually like it straight off the grill too.
  4. Seasoning: try soysauce, men-tsuyu, ponzu, or just by itself (I like it this way too, you can taste the sweetness and smokiness of the eggplants.) 
  5. Alternative garnishes: beside grated ginger, try shredded ao-shiso (green perilla) or bonito flakes.

Note: You can make extra Yaki-nasu, and store it in the fridge to make not only other Japanese dishes, but also Thai food, Middle-eastern food, etc.  Examples: salads, dips, as a topping for cold noodles, put into Japanese meat-sauce, etc.


Yaki-tomorokoshi (grilled corn)

Yaki-tomorokoshi (Grilled Corn)  焼きとうもろこし 


  • Corn
  • Soy sauce
  • Mirin
  1. Prepare and grill corn as you normally would.  I like to take the silk off but keep the husks on, soak in water for about 20 min., and grill at about 400F (200C) for 20 min.  Turn halfway through so that it grills evenly.
  2. In the meantime, cook 2 tbs each of soy sauce and mirin in a small pot on the stove or microwave until boiled down to half volume.  You can double, triple, or make even more of this sauce to use for more corn, yakitori or yaki-onigiri.
  3. When the corn is partially done remove the husks (careful – they’re hot!!), brush the soy sauce mixture evenly on the corn and again turn the corn so that it’ll have even grill marks.
  4. Serve hot.


Yaki onigiri

Yaki-onigiri (Grilled rice balls)   焼きおにぎり 


  • cooked sushi rice 1c per person. (Note: Long grain rice such as jasmine rice, basmati rice etc. is not sticky enough to make onigiri.  Brown sushi rice is not the easiest either. )
  • Soy sauce and mirin mixture from above.
  1. Make onigiri (rice balls)
    • Traditional (hot and painful) method: Prepare a bowl of cold water and fine salt in a shaker.  First soak your palms, and sprinkle some salt on your palm.  Then…  are you ready? you put about a 3/4 cup of hot rice (yes, fresh from the steamer) on your palm and press it into the familiar triangular shape.  Now, as you can imagine, it’s very hot and painful.  After one, you probably will not want to make any more.
    • So here’s an easier version:
      • Add about 1/2-1c of cooked rice (ideally warm to hot) into a plastic bag (the kind you put your vegetables at a super market).  Sprinkle some salt if needed. 
      • Push the rice into one corner and press into a ball by holding it together tightly as if you are making a ball with sand.  Take it out and make the second one in the same bag. 
      • Note 1: You can also do the same with plastic wrap (Since the material is thinner, you need to make sure the plastic doesn’t get between the rice). When you want to bring them to a picnic, or freeze them (to later microwave and eat), they are already individually wrapped and ready to go.
      • Note 2: If you want to add something tasty in the middle, put a rather deep hole (not all the way through, though) with your finger, place about 1/2 – 1 tbs of things you like to eat such as a piece of grilled salmon, pickled plum, bonito flakes mixed with soy sauce, grilled cod roe, etc.  and press rice back into the space to close the hole.  Ideally, the contents should be completely covered with rice.
      • Note 3:When you eat onigiri as it is, put a 2-inch square piece of nori on both sides (seaweed, the same kind they use for sushi) on top.  Do not use seaweed before you grill it — it will burn! 
  2. Grill onigiri until both sides are crispy but not colored much yet. Brush the soy sauce/mirin reduction evenly on all sides.  (or just soy sauce and mirin mixture or soy sauce only). 
  3. Put the rice balls back on the grill until the grill marks are on both sides and the sauce gets crispy.

You can also make things like Yaki-shiitake (put a few shiitake mushrooms in skewers pre-soaked in water and grill) or asparagus wrapped with bacon…. mmm…  : )…   And of course, yakitori.  But we have to save this one for later.

So add a few of these to your next cook out, and let me know how you and your friends liked them!

どうぞ召し上がれ!(Dozo meshiagare! Bon Apetit! in Japanese) 


2 thoughts on “Cookout Japanese style

  1. I want to try the corn, and eggplant this weekend. The salmon collar looks great. I was not familiar with that term (collar), but I will ask at our local seafood shop. We are lucky to be right on the Gulf (Pensacola, FL) so have excellent supplies of fresh fish and seafood. I assume the collar is that area right between the head and the rest of the body? (Our fishmongers sell something call “snapper throats” from red snapper, but I have never tried it. . .:)

  2. Hi Beth,
    Thanks for visiting my blog! You are right. Collar is the area between the head and the rest of the body, where the pectral fins are. I don’t know what “fish throat” is, but that sounds intriguing! (I guess anything food related, especially seafood is intriguing to me!) I definitely have to try it when we are in the Gulf Coast next time!

    Let me know how your corn and eggplants turn out!

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