The verb "yaku" points at two fundamental traditional Japanese cooking techniques: "grilling" and "pan-frying." The same verb nowadays is also used for a wide range of Western cooking techniques which are not part of the Japanese cuisine: to "bake" (in an oven), to "broil" (where the heat source comes from above and a broiler pan is used), to "roast" or to "toast."
Cooking over an open flame - grilling - is the oldest method of cooking known to mankind and is one of the fundamental ways of cooking in Japan. Ideally, grilling is done over charcoal (as it still is in exclusive restaurants), but nowadays mostly a gas flame is used. For easier handling, the ingredients - fish or chicken - are usually skewered. The other technique used in Japan is pan-frying, used exclusively when making Japanese omelet.
Yakimono is one of the fundamental categories of Japanese cooking, like aemono, agemono, nimono, suimono, sashimi etc.
Some of the fine points of yakimono in Japan are:
- This is the fundamental way for cooking fish, but it is also used for meat and some vegetables (mushrooms, aubergines).
- To stop cooking when the heat has barely reached the center but the outside is crisp - the center should be moist.
- In Japan the customers are not asked whether they want their dish "medium rare" etc., the cook decides. In fact, in one grilled piece of meat all degrees should be present.
- In a formal meal, yakimono are eaten towards the end, so the volume is never large.
- The Japanese never strive for an aromatic, smoky flavor as in Western barbecue.
There are various implements for grilling and pan-frying in Japan:
- Hand-held on skewers (kushi) above an open fire
- On a griddle (yakiami) - this is the most common way. Even Japanese gas stoves in private homes can be fitted out with small griddles.
- On a stake at the central hearth, the irori. The traditional way in farm houses, still used for ayu (sweetfish) in shops in tourist areas.
- On a portable cooking stove (konro) or clay table brazier (shichirin) - both fitted out with a small griddle. You often find these in restaurants and ryokan (inns), as people assume it is fun to grill your own food.
- On an iron hot plate (teppan) - became popular after WWII, but many Japanese still consider teppanyaki as half-Western. Also used for okonomiyaki.
- On a glazed pottery tile or plate (toban) or on a hot stone (ishiyaki) - the traditional variant of the teppan, now very rare (only in specialist restaurants).
- For pan-frying, a technique only used to make Japanese omelet, the typical square (Kanto area) or rectangular （Kansai area) omelet pan (tamagoyaki nabe) is used.
[Yakitori on skewers]Ingredients used are:
- In the first place white-fleshed saltwater fish - flounder (karei), sea bream (tai), sea bass (suzuki), mackerel (saba), red tilefish (amadai). But also eel, conger eel, lobster, squid, and shellfish, plus small freshwater fish as ayu (sweetfish). The most popular technique for grilling fish is Shioyaki, "salt-grilling," where the fish is salted and then grilled.
- Popular types of meat are beef (Japanese beefsteak from wagyu), pork, and chicken (for yakitori).
- Only a limited number of vegetables is grilled: mushrooms, eggplant, small green peppers, asparagus.
- Grilled foods can be basted with sauces based on sweetened soy sauce: teriyaki, kabayaki (for eel) and yakitori sauces. This is only done when the foods are already half-grilled.
- Another way of grilling is Dengaku, where the ingredients are dressed with a sweetened miso topping and then grilled on skewers. Most commonly used for eggplant (nasu) and dofu.
Often skewers (kushi) are used:
- Fish are carefully skewered on iron skewers; there are various ways of skewering fish, such as "wave-skewering," "fan skewering," "stitch skewering," "side skewering," etc.
- Chicken bits are skewered on bamboo skewers (yakitori)
- Bamboo skewers are also used for kushiyaki.
Some popular grilled and pan-fried dishes are:
- Saba no Shioyaki, Salt-grilled mackerel
- Suzuki Shioyaki, Salt-grilled sea bass
- Sake no Yuanyaki, Salmon in Yuan-style
- Tori no Yuanyaki, Grilled chicken in Yuan-style
- Hotategai no Ogonyaki, Golden fried scallops
- Dashimaki tamago (Atsuyaki tamago), Thick, rolled omelet
- Buri no Teriyaki, Yellowtail teriyaki
- Tori no Teriyaki, Chicken teriyaki
- Unagi no kabayaki, Grilled eel basted with a thick sweet sauce
- Yakitori, Japanese BBQ chicken
- Buta no Shogayaki, Ginger pork saute
- Gyuniku no Yawatamaki, Beef and burdock rolls
- Teppanyaki, slices of meat and vegetables grilled on an iron plate
- Wafu Steki, Japanese-style beefsteak
- Okonomiyaki, Japanese pancake
- Piman no Nikuzume, Stuffed green peppers
- Wafu Hanbagu, Japanese-style hamburger steak
- Tofu Dengaku, Bean curd dengaku
- Nasu Dengaku, Eggplant dengaku