Ume-Shiso Chicken Skewers

ume_shiso_rRobert-Gilles (from Shizuoka Gourmet) reminded me by one of his comments I haven’t cooked yet any recipe from Izakaya: The Japanese Pub Cookbook by Mark Robinson, a fascinating book I was offered several months ago. Apart from the mostly easy and seducing recipes, the book describes the atmosphere, the menus, the history and even the etiquette of several Japanese pubs. It is a real tribute to the izakayas, showing a real passion of the owners, each of them creating a unique place which seems more than just a pub. Reading this book is a bit like travelling without moving from your sofa… (but then every good cookbook has this effect on me). Anyway, yesterday I have finally chosen Ume-Shiso Rolled Chicken, in other words chicken skewers with shiso (perilla) and bainiku paste, presented in the Morimoto izakaya’s chapter.


Shiso (紫蘇), or perilla, is a Japanese aromatic dark red or green herb (though it’s also used in other countries, since my Thaï grocery shop sells a particularly strong-scented perilla variety all year long), with an astringent taste and strong fragrance, while bainiku is a paste made with pickled Japanese ume plum. I am a huge fan of pickled ume (umeboshi), but it was the first time I used the bainiku paste, rarely appearing in the Japanese recipes (at least the ones I happen to find). Ume plums are often pickled with shiso leaves, which apart from the taste change the plums’ colour  and my bainiku also had this beautiful dark pink colour. According to Mark Robinson, shiso, umeboshi and chicken are classic pairing in the Japanese cuisine.

The rolling and cutting were a bit tricky for me and every round had a different size (I am sure CG, the highly skilled bento magician from the Cooking-Gallery wouldn’t have the slightest problem). The result was however worth my efforts, since shiso and bainiku proved perfect with the chicken. The sour bainiku taste “woke up” the delicate chicken, while the grassy, strong shiso added another dimension, creating a very complex and original combination I have never experienced before (I understood at once why this combination is so popular). I had these skewers (with a glass of shiso shochu of course) for dinner, with some rice and stir-fried vegetables, but I can very well imagine them served as a snack at a home party and, even better, in one of the izakayas featured in Mark Robinson’s book… (My only modification is marinating the chicken for 15 minutes in sake.)

By the way, I would like to proudly announce that my traditional Crème Brûlée recipe was chosen and sucessfully prepared by Three Cookies‘ and Easily Good Eats‘ author (yes he is a very hard-working person with two frequently updated blogs!). He has even managed to obtain a delicious result without a blowtorch. So, if you want to make a crème brûlée and don’t have a blowtorch, visit one of his blogs and ask for advice.

I would also like to thank once more Giulia from Alterkitchen, for having honoured me with so many blog awards. Grazie mille Giulia! She is also one of those hard-working bloggers and has two blogs: one in Italian and one in English.

Special equipment:

6 – 8 skewers, depending on their size

a very sharp knife

pastry brush

Preparation: 30 minutes

Ingredients (serves 2):

2 chicken breasts

about 10 big shiso leaves (here I have used very dark “red” perilla, but green variety is more often used in such recipes)


(a couple of tablespoons cooking sake)

“Butterfly” the chicken breasts or simply cut them in two, reducing the thickness.

In order to obtain thinner meat layers, you can butterfly the chicken breast and then, with a sharp knife cut the meat’s width again in two (this is what I did with meat in the cas of the above skewers; the grilling time is quicker, but the meat is slightly drier).

Click here to watch an excellent short video explaining how to butterfly a chicken breast.

Cut the meat horizontally into 2 cm strips.

Marinate the strips in sake for 15 minutes.

Pat them dry.

Cover them with shiso leaves and roll very tightly.

(You can put a bit of salt on the side where the leaves are placed, but not too much, since the bainiku is very salty.)

Cut the rolls into 3 mm slices and put the resulting “wheels” on the skewers.

Grill them or fry them until cooked.

Brush the skewers with bainiku and serve.

27 Replies to “Ume-Shiso Chicken Skewers”

  1. I recently tried ume plum wine which a Japanese friend brought from Japan. I think it was ume plum, or some variety of plum which can be toxic I think unless prepared carefully. I don’t think its possible to buy this in many countries outside Japan. It was distinctive and delicious to drink.

    Thanks for the mention, much appreciated. I know its impossible to guess from the name whether Three Cookies is a she or he but its a he:) I am absolutely 100% sure:)

    1. Forgive-me this mistake! English language is not the best to guess the sex of the author either 😉 Anyway, I repair this error straight away!
      Ume plum wine is made of the same ume, a kind of fruit apparently close to the apricot, but strangely called “ume plum”. This fruit is I think mostly picked when still unripe… The wine, as well as the umeboshi paste (bainiku) is available here only in the Japanese shops.

        1. It’s normal. Luckily I could change it straight away! I felt a bit stupid, so I have checked the “About” page once more. Impossible to say 🙂 One of my best friends is a huge cookies fan (she calls herself a cookie monster), so maybe that’s why I assumed you are a woman…
          Mr. Three-Cookies sounds great and funny as a nickname! I like it a lot. It also sounds more “personal” than “Three-Cookies” 😉 Although Three-Cookies works perfectly well as a blog title. Mr. Three-Cookies from the Three-Cookies blog. Sounds perfect to me!

      1. Nami, I enjoy reading every single of your comments and here it’s not intruding, but joining a conversation, so I’m very happy for your comment! I still feel a bit stupid about it 😉
        Please, do intrude as often as you want and wherever you feel like!

      2. How did you guess? I guess there is a 50% chance of getting it right, or 33% chance:) sissi, no need to feel stupid. I don’t use photos, don’t use my real name etc so there are no clues. Now there is:)

          1. Haha you two are funny. Well, women tend to extend their conversation very long… Like saying one thing and blah blah blah… like me. Gotta keep the comment short!! >_< But, Mr. Three-Cookies, your comment is very straightforward and cut to the point. Like, "Oh beautiful…."Oh you are sweet…blah blah" you know what I mean? Sorry my English is not good enough to explain. I heard some English expression to explain this before but forgot. See, I keep going on and on? 😉

            1. Sorry I meant – Mr. Three-Cookies won’t talk like that. Plus, by reading his post, I could kind of sense it’s more of male writing….but I didn’t want to mention anything in case I was wrong! LOL. I keep it quiet, so don’t worry! 🙂

              1. I see… Even though I have noticed this, it wouldn’t have been enough to give me the clue! I think Nami you have better psychological skills too 🙂

  2. Sissi, that is a thing of beauty!!!! My mother in law (who is Vietnamese) grows shiso in her herb garden, though she is back at her country now so I don’t have access to them. Nami said they cost about $1 a leaf at San Francisco, wooo zaaa!

    1. Thank you, Jeno! I think they were particularly messy… Every “wheel” has a different size. I must improve! On the other hand they were delicious, I will make them very soon once more. Here in Switzerland the Japanese shops sell shiso only in the Summer and it’s quite expensive too, but I am lucky to have also a Vietnamese/Thaï shop, where I buy a huge bunch with about 50 leaves for the equivalent of 2 $! They also sell lots of different Thaï herbs all year round and cheaper than the basic parsley in a Swiss shop! I have tried already second year in a row to grow shiso on my balcony and it doesn’t work (it worked when I bought a small plant last year in a Japanese shop, but from the scratch it doesn’t sprout…). Apparently I should chill the grains before sowing. I’ll try it next year.

      1. Here in the Japanese shop I think they sell it also in a 10 leaves package, but in general the same products (often made in Korea) are cheaper in the Vietnamese shop. Although the shiso I buy there was grown in Thailand I don’t see a difference in taste and it’s still the same rather greenish variety. I only hope my Japanese shop starts selling shiso in the pots like last year, but I’m not sure… They have very few customers now. It makes me angry that people don’t believe there is no danger, since everything is double checked…

  3. Wow, these look really good…! I have never seen Shiso in Germany, if I should find the leaves one day, I’d definitely give this recipe a try, especially because I can imagine that chicken with ume paste must taste gorgeous together…!

    1. Thank you, CG! With your skills I am sure you would make perfectly equal and beautiful chicken rolls!

  4. Sorry I intrude conversations of twice here. =P Sissi, you made such a wonderful skewers! We use bainiku (neri ume) & shiso combo a lot. Like, dumplings, and make a sandwich with sliced pork…just many variation! I love this combination and your skewers make my mouth water… you know plum does that trick. Wonderful job Sissi!

    1. Do intrude, please!!! Thank you for the kind compliments. I know I should work especially on the rolls’ size and try making them equal. Frankly I didn’t mind it during the dinner, but yours and some other bloggers’ dishes look so perfect, I feel I should be more disciplined and accurate, two words which don’t define me at all 😉 Thanks for the suggestions! I will by trying to find ideas for this shiso+ume combination since it was incredibly good! And I love the sour bainiku taste so much!!!

      1. Like I said, you have a talent of creativity that not everyone has (like me). I am trained to be like a robot (sort of) growing up in Japan. Haha. You got me inspired with shiso and I went to buy them today. Still $1.29 for 10 leaves! >_<

        1. You, not creative??? I can’t believe it! I can’t say with the recipes because most of the recipes you make are mysterious an new to me anyway! But with the photos??? With the way you arrange the dishes and the way you present them, you are extremely creative and I would love to be able to do all this! You made me laugh with the “robot” training 😉 I am sure it’s not true in your case!
          If you lived closer, I would send you a huge box of shiso 🙂 Why don’t you grow it from the grains?

          1. I live RIGHT next to the canyon where there are wild animals like deer, racoons, rabbits, coyotes, mountain lions…all sorts of thing. When we moved, we put nice flowers and did all the work, and one day it was all gone like a joke. One night we were watching a movie and we saw deer munching on our plants in our front yard. Now we have fake grass on our backyard (really nice!) and cactus in the planter. Def no precious veggie in my house. Photo…hmmm… it’s been luck sort of. I still don’t know how my camera works (believe me, I am not very technical/mathmatical) and I take like 100 pictures and some works out. LOL. My husband uses lightroom to edit my photo so that makes it even nicer than real food. So strange! As for setting…hmm…I try to focus on food more than styling and if I style a bit, then it’s influence from other blogger. But my mind only works symmetrical and not a “creative” way tho. I work very well in systematic condition and that is my comfort level (see, sounds like robot?).

            1. I didn’t know you lived so close to the wild animals! In my city flat I have problems with little sparrows on my balcony (They would eat all of my parsley and I had to put wooden skewers all around each tiny plant, otherwise they would destroy everything.) I can’t even imagine what a big wild animal can do!
              For me your photo making process sounds very creative, but I won’t argue 😉

  5. How pretty does that look! Only if it was vegetarian! I’ll have to think hard to find a substitute…It’s so hard to find Japanese ingredients here…

    1. Thank you Shilpa. I’m sorry it’s not vegetarian 🙁 Maybe you could substitute the chicken with thin aubergine strips? Or mushrooms (not strips, but simply skewered)??? (I might try one day with mushrooms maybe!). If you eat fish, you might of course try it with a fish with firm flesh (Do you eat fish? I have a vegetarian friend who sometimes does). For the Japanese products I think there are many online shops offering the basics.

  6. These are beautiful. I think not something to make quickly!
    I’m sure they were delicious: shiso, chicken breast, and umeboshi is a flavor combination to consider for lots of things. What about using the combo as a summer noodle topping or for onigiri?

    1. Thank you, Tess, and welcome to my blog! Thank you for the ideas. I might maybe ground the chicken and make an onigiri filling, mixing it with shiso and umeboshi…

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