This is one of those dishes that would have never been possible if we only worked on our own. Yes, we have had the word 'yakitori' scrawled on our idea board for some time now, but we only had a vague idea of what it even was. Asian food on a stick? Yeah, something like that.
Andrew Adams, chef of the phenomenal Acre Restaurant in East Memphis, really cleared things up for us as we worked out the menu for our recent Arts Memphis dinner at the Hyde Family Foundation. This yakatori is mostlyAndrew's brainchild here...which explains the general awesomeness of it.
This thing hits on all points! It's sweet from the dates and mirin, sour from the eggplant, salty from the soy, smoky from the smoke (duh), and spicy from the togarashi. The meaty texture from the eggpant and the date drive this thing home. It's really amazing. Tomorrow I'm so going to have the leftovers on a sandwich with lettuce and tomato!
Smoked Eggplant & Date Yakitori
(Special equipment: electric smoker, outdoor grill, bamboo skewers)
1 large Italian eggplant
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon (unseasoned) rice vinegar
about 20 pitted dates
Yakatori sauce (recipe follows)
togarashi (to garnish)
Peel the eggplant and cut it in half. Slice each half into less than 1/4-inch strips. Layer the strips of eggplant into a large glass bowl while salting each later as you go. Allow eggplant to rest for at least 15 minutes. This will soften the eggplant and leach out any bitterness. Rinse the eggplant under cold water and then gently squeeze out any moisture -- just like squeezing the water from a washcloth.
Fire up the smoker to 175 degrees using hickory chunks for flavor.
Return the eggplant strips to the bowl and add the sesame oil and rice vinegar. Toss to coat. Lay strips out onto the trays and place into the preheated smoker for 6 minutes. Remove from smoker and set aside. (*If you do not have access to a smoker, simply add Liquid Smoke to your Yakatori Sauce.)
Fire up the outdoor grill to high. Thread the eggplant strips and whole, pitted dates onto the skewers. You should get about 9 double skewers or 18 smaller, single skewers. Grill for about 5 minutes per side or until well-marked by the grill grates. Make sure to hang the sticks off of the hot part or the grill or protect them with a strip of foil so they don't burn up.
Dip in or brush on the yakatori sauce. Serve immediately. Garnish with togarashi. (Serves 6 as an appetizer or 2 as a meal with some rice.)
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup mirin (sweet Japanese cooking wine)
1/2 cup vegetable stock
2 cloves garlic (smashed)
*1 teaspoon Liquid Smoke (if you do not have access to a smoker)
Into a medium saucepan, place the soy, mirin, stock, and garlic (and optional Liquid Smoke) over medium-low heat until reduced by 1/3. Set aside until ready to use.