Tender, moist and sweet Japanese tsukune, aka chicken meatballs cooked in a sweet yakitori tare (sauce) made without sugar or wheat. This keto tsukune recipe is perfect as an appetizer with drinks, as a healthy meal prep idea or side dish to your dinners.
What is Tsukune?
Tsukune (つくね) is a Japanese chicken meatball usually served on skewers in Japanese izakayas or grocery stores. It is incredibly moist and the meat practically falls apart in your mouth.
It is usually cooked in a sweet yakitori sauce, which is often mistaken for teriyaki sauce. Although the two sauces are similar, yakitori sauce is almost always used for yakitori skewers. While tsukune is traditionally cooked over a yakitori grill, you can also broil it, boil it or fry it. Today I will be introducing an easy way to make tsukune using a frying pan.
While the tsukune batter is normally made with corn starch, I have made a keto friendly version that is gluten free, nut free and starch free so that you too can also enjoy this Japanese delicacy. It’s one of my and my Japanese daughter’s favourite Japanese food.
To make Japanese tsukune, you will need ingredients for the chicken meatballs and for the yakitori sauce. These are the standard ingredients but you’ll find different variations in restaurants here in Japan. In fact most tsukune have nankotsu (chopped chicken cartilage) in them to make them have a bit of crunch. You’ll also find versions with melted cheese stacked on top of each meatball.
- Ground chicken (ground thighs give you juicier results)
- Long green onion (just the white part)
- If you can’t find Japanese long green onion, just use green onions/scallions and chop them up.
- Coconut aminos (or soy sauce, tamari)
- Coconut flour (used instead of corn starch)
- Coconut aminos (or soy sauce, tamari)
- Lakanto Golden
- Xanthan gum (used instead of corn starch to create a low carb slurry)
How to make Tsukune
The first thing you’ll want to do is add all of the meatball ingredients into a bowl. Then you’ll start kneading the meat batter with your hands for at least 3-4 minutes. The longer you do, the more moist your meatballs will become.
Some recipes like to add an egg for extra moisture, but I was using ground chicken thighs so my mixture was already pretty fatty. The coconut flour will help keep everything together.
- Pro Tip！The secret to tsukune is to knead the batter for a long time. This will ensure that the meatballs become extra soft and juicy.
Tsukune Dipping Sauce
Tsukune is usually eaten as is because it’s cooked in a sweet sauce, but you can also dip it in a raw egg yolk. That’s pretty common in Japan, but if you’re scared of eating a raw egg, just make sure to buy pasteurized eggs.
How to Serve Tsukune
Tsukune is usually served on skewers in restaurants, but for home cooks it’s a pain to cook on skewers as they skewers themselves may not fit in your frying pan. I much prefer to cook them as meatballs and can then add them into my husband and daughters bento box.
The raw meatballs can also be used when making nabe, Japanese hot pot. Simply place the raw meatballs in the hot pot along with the rest of the veggies and they’ll cook in the broth. You can also freeze the meatballs before cooking and add them to the nabe hot pot frozen.
What to Serve with Tsukune
Since tsukune is usually served as a main dish, you’ll want to pair it with some side dish like a salad or pickled veggies.
- Japanese sesame dressing: Use this homemade dressing to drizzle over some sliced cabbage.
- Japanese onion dressing: This dressing goes really well on salad leaves, cucumbers and tomatoes.
- Japanese sunomono cucumber salad: A delicious pickled cucumber salad goes well with a protein dish!
- Asian Cabbage Slaw: A great cabbage salad always goes well with tsukune!
- Lettuce leaves
- Thinly sliced cabbage
- An egg yolk as a dipping sauce
These tsukune meatballs can be made ahead for meal prep and can be refrigerated for a week or frozen for about 3 months. Just keep them in a sealed Tupperware and you’ll be good to go.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes! Tsukune can be made with ground turkey, ground pork and even sometimes ground beef (although a bit rare).
Yes, just cook the meatballs without the sauce in an air fryer for about 20 minutes at 350F/180C and then cook the meatballs in the sauce in a frying pan for a couple of minutes just to coat them.
Long green onions are Asian green onions that are about 50cm long and 2cm thick. They’re much bigger than the standard American green onions/scallions. In Asian cooking we usually use the white part a lot in flavoring, but if you can’t find some just use your normal scallions.
Sake is pretty essential in Japanese cooking so if you can’t find it in your local Asian grocery store, you could use a dry sherry or Chinese shaoxing wine. For a non-alcoholic option, simply use chicken broth.
Easy Keto Tsukune つくね (Japanese Chicken Meatballs)
- 1 tbsp (15ml) avocado oil
- Thinly mince the onion and the white part of the long green onion.
- Add all of the meatball ingredients into a bowl and knead with your hand for 3-4 minutes. This will help the fat get released and make your meatballs super juicy.
- Form 18 meatballs with your hands and place them in a large frying pan with the avocado oil spaced out evenly.
- Cook on medium heat a couple of minutes, cover, turn the heat down to low and steam for 3-4 minutes. Uncover, turn the heat back to medium, turn the meatballs around and cook and additional 2 minutes until all sides are grilled.
- Add the yakitori sauce ingredients to the frying pan and coat all of the meatballs with it. Cook for about 2 minutes until the sauce is thickened and all of the meatballs are covered. Turn off the heat and the meatballs are ready to serve.
Nutritional information is provided through calculations made on fatsecret.com. They are approximate only. We cannot guarantee the accuracy of the nutritional information given for any recipe on mypcoskitchen.com. Sugar alcohols are included in the fiber count. Net carbs are the total carbs minus fiber (which include sugar alcohols).
All text, pictures & videos are copyright protected © by Mira Richard-Fioramore for Asian Keto Kitchen.
Shares are very much appreciated, just make sure to share a link and not a screenshot.
Copy/pasting full recipe text to websites and social media is prohibited. Excerpts, single photos, and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to www.asianketokitchen.com with appropriate link back to the original content.