Britain isn’t known as a nation of offal lovers, but we certainly eat it.

It’s highly probable you’ve eaten offal before as it features in a several popular national dishes. Haggis is made by stuffing a sheep’s stomach with liver, heart, lungs and oats. Faggots are balls of minced pork and pig offal wrapped in caul fat. Sweetbreads have almost become a staple of the modern gastropub menu while steak and kidney pie is a classic.

Looking to our European neighbours, many of us enjoy Italian calves liver with onions or sage and butter and a beautifully dressed green salad with chicken livers or gizzards is popular on any French menu prix fixe. And who doesn’t love a rich liver paté?

Although offal such as brawn, chitterlings, tongue, tripe and trotters have fallen from favour in recent decades, take heart – the offal I’m encouraging you to try is not so challenging!

PREVIEW (c)KavitaFavelle-ChickenHeartYakitori-Sept2013-5134

There’s a belief that all offal has a strange texture (like tripe and liver) and a strong flavour (like kidneys) but this isn’t true. Fresh chicken hearts don’t have a strong or distinct taste and they aren’t gritty, gelatinous or crunchy. When grilled quickly on a high heat, they’re tender morsels with a surprisingly subtle red meat taste. In texture, they’re softer than you might expect, with a hint of bounciness like flash-fried fresh squid.

Chicken hearts, although slightly high in cholesterol, are rich in essential B vitamins (including B12, riboflavin and folic acid) and minerals (including zinc, selenium, iron and potassium).

Around the world, they’re extremely popular.

Across South America, the asado (barbecue) is king and an array of steaks is accompanied by sausages and offal. In Brazil, chicken hearts roasted on skewers are an integral part of a churrascaria (grill house) menu.

Although it’s easy to think of the Indian subcontinent as a region of vegetarians, this dismisses the diversity of meat eaten across India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. All have traditional recipes prizing offal, such as the Punjabi Katakat in which a mix of offal is fried in butter and spices.

Offal is most prominent in the cuisines of East Asia. The expression “nothing goes to waste” is put to practice nowhere as well as China, where the popularity of offal is not only due to a desire not to waste any part of the animal but also a belief that many types of offal confer health benefits. As such, offal is considered a delicacy and chicken hearts are enjoyed stir-fried, braised and grilled in many different recipes. In Korea, grilled chicken hearts in a barbeque marinade are commonly sold in street bars, perhaps with a pot of fiery gochujang (a fermented condiment of chilli, rice, soybeans and salt) on the side. In Indonesia and Malaysia, they are one of many types of offal used to make gulai, a type of curry with a rich, spicy, turmeric-heavy sauce.

But my favourite way of enjoying chicken hearts is Japanese yakitori, where different cuts of chicken are threaded onto skewers and grilled over charcoal. Tare, a sweet and salty dipping sauce is sometimes also brushed onto the meat before grilling. Yakitori is popular in izakaya (Japanese pubs) which serve short menus of small dishes designed for nibbling with drinks.

PREVIEW (c)KavitaFavelle-ChickenHeartYakitori-Sept2013-5124


Chicken hearts are not (yet) readily available in supermarkets but Turkish grocery stores with butchers’ counters often sell them and very cheaply too. Alternatively, talk to your local butcher and ask him to order some for you.

Japanese-style Yakitori Chicken Hearts

(approximately) 32 chicken hearts
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon pureed ginger
1 teaspoon pureed garlic
2 teaspoons of sugar
3 teaspoons or mirin (rice wine) or substitute 2 teaspoons of dry sherry + 1 teaspoon sugar


  • Combine the soy sauce, pureed ginger, pureed garlic, sugar and mirin.
  • Toss chicken hearts in marinade before threading onto skewers. I fit about 8 hearts each onto 4 skewers.
  • Grill on a barbecue or cook in a heavy-based griddle on the stove. Cook on high heat for a just few minutes each side (overcooking will result in tough hearts). Brush with extra marinade during cooking.
  • Serve immediately.

PREVIEW (c)KavitaFavelle-ChickenHeartYakitori-Sept2013-5144


This piece was previously published in the November 2013 issue of Good Things Magazine.

  14 Responses to “Japanese-style Yakitori Chicken Hearts”

  1. Well I think you know that I love offal and have barbecued chicken hearts before to unsuspecting guests before using a simple herb marinade. Will have to give this recipe a go though.

    • Oh yes indeed. It’s a fairly simple marinade, can be used on other cuts as well. Hope you like!

  2. Interesting, i tried these in Tokyo and found them to be very crunchy – I liked the taste but crunchiness put me off a little.

    • I’ve never had them crunchy before — was it a crunch on the outside as though they were cooked on high heat or throughout? Wondering if they were just over or undercooked. I’ve eaten many hearts, mostly in South American and Asian dishes, but not encountered crunchy ones before.
      The yakitori I never developed a taste for is the cartilage pieces – I like minced cartilage within chicken balls but not whole pieces of it – way too crunchy for me!

    • It was crunchy all the way through, maybe it was cartilage then? That’s my only experience of eating ‘heart’ so nothing to compare it to. The chef spoke little English (and me even less japanese!) so may well have been a translation issue!

    • Maybe so! Did it look at all like the ones in my photo, shape wise? They’re rarely cut into pieces I think, so the shape is pretty distinctive…

  3. I think the shape was the same but not sure! I shall just have to try them again :)

    • Hope you like. If you go to the South American rodizio restaurants in London, they often have chicken hearts!

  4. Hi! Nice to meet you. I’m yuko from Japan. I enjoyed reading your blog because you love Japanese food. If we have a chance, I’d love to exchange information on British and Japanese food.

    • Would be a pleasure, Yuko! I do love Japanese food. We visited Japan for the first time in 2012, and I wrote about it on the blog here:
      We also went again last year (2013) and I’m going to be writing more posts for the blog soon.

  5. Nice post – I’m not Chinese but I hate anything going to waste. I gave a class on jointing a chicken last week and was left with 24 hearts and livers. I briefly blanched the hearts, then trimmed them up and sliced them in half – and quickly seared them with a dousing of tare on their way out to my guests as pre dinner canapes – 1 heart, sliced into to, made a good size nibble on a cocktail stick.

    I made a pate with the livers (traditional: livers, onions, thyme, brandy, port and butter) but instead of sealing with butter I made a ginger teriyaki jelly to seal the top. Lovely sweet saltiness with a hint of East Asian flavours.

    My best offal experience was in a motsu restaurant near Haneda airport – I was asked if I liked sashimi (in Japanese). What arrived was a plate of pig sashimi – heart, liver, tripe, tongue and something from the back of the neck (sign language used!). Once I was over the initial shock, I was pleasantly surprised – the textures migt be a bit challenging to some – the Japanese like soft, slippery things (qv sea urchin and tofu) but the biggest revelation was that being uncooked, none of it had that nasal iron flavour). Although I must admit, I do wonder how I would have coped without lots of freshly grated ginger, sesame oil and soy sauce!

    • I’ve never tried pig sashimi, but I’d definitely like to!

      I must admit, I seal my chicken liver pate with butter, but the ginger teriyaki jelly sounds amazing!

  6. So, I assume, since hearts are so lean, they must be left deliberately “undercooked” to remain palatable. Am I correct in assuming that there should still be some pink in the center? Every recipe I come across says to cook them all the way through (some suggesting an hour or two cooking time, which seems outrageous)…but I have to assume that its due to typical American hysteria surrounding the cooking of meats/poultry.

    • Hi Timmy, I would not presume to contradict U.S. guidelines, as I am not a qualified food safety professional. I would comment, however, that I’m not alone, speaking as a European cook, in finding much of U.S. food safety guidance enormously over cautious. I cannot instruct you on your personal approach.

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