Chicken teriyaki, tender chicken breast marinated overnight in the teriyaki sauce zinged up with ginger, garlic and cinnamon. Plus, a bonus: the simple and authentic version of teriyaki sauce.
Homemade vs. shop bought
In the realm of cookery there are a lot of things completely not worth the effort of making them at home from scratch.
Pad Thai sauce for instance: apparently even highly ranked Thai restaurants don’t make their own but buy - equally highly ranked – ready-made paste.
Puff pastry is another instance. I am all right making rough puff but the genuine article? No thanks. And ditto - chefs swear by good all-butter brands. True, they might be paid to swear by those brands, but what you can buy is good enough for me.
Cooking with fresh tomatoes in the middle of winter, a thousand miles to the north of the Mediterranean? You must be joking. They tinned the ripest ones in Italy back in August so I didn’t have to watch my red fruit dissolving into gallons of pinkish water now.
I’m obviously not even glancing into the direction of ketchup, shrimp paste or wasabi, and teriyaki sauce appeared to belong with those things. Well there’s a surprise for you, as it was for me.
It’s completely worth it. Goodbye, Kikkoman. Farewell, Blue Dragon. I won’t see you now unless for soy sauce which I don’t intend to produce at home just yet.
What is ‘teriyaki’?
The meaning of the word in Japanese is ‘glazed cooking’, coming from the combination of ‘teri’ - ‘shiny’ and ‘yaki’ – ‘cooked over direct heat’.
One of the most popular teriyaki dishes is yakitori, pieces of chicken cooked on skewers, glazed with tare (dipping sauce or marinade) which often is teriyaki, with or without added ginger and garlic.
Authentic Japanese teriyaki sauce
Just so you know that I know: the authentic Japanese teriyaki sauce is a far simpler affair than the recipe below.
It is equal volumes of sugar, Japanese soy sauce (shoyu), sake and mirin, Japanese sweet wine. The mixture is simmered for half an hour or so until reduced by half. If you need this in a recipe format, here goes:
- 120ml (½ cup) shoyu
- 100g (½ cup) sugar
- 120ml (½ cup) sake
- 120ml (½ cup) mirin
- 2 spring onions, white part only
Combine the ingredients in a small saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer until reduced by half, about 30 minutes. Like my fancy sauce below, it will keep in the fridge indefinitely, in a tightly closed bottle or jar.
The recipe above is from Kenji Lopez-Alt’s book The Food Lab. The recipe below comes from New York Times Cooking, adapted by John T. Edge.
I’m tempted to say the simple one is better but I won’t because the fancy one is really gorgeous, albeit not so authentic. It’s the American Japanese version, but as Kenji himself often says, if it’s tasty, who cares?
What’s shoyu vs. soy sauce?
Just like the authentic version of teriyaki, shoyu is soy sauce only simpler and arguably more natural. It’s made from fermented soybeans, wheat, salt and water while Chinese soy sauces, be it light or dark, usually have quite a few colouring and thickening agents added. They are not as transparent as shoyu and have a sweeter aftertaste.
In the recipe below (and the one above) obviously using shoyu is recommended but don’t sweat if you can’t easily get it: Chinese light soy sauce is a perfectly good replacement.
How to make the fancy teriyaki sauce
It’s quick to make since instead of cooking the mix down, it is subsequently thickened with corn flour. But I do love the additional heat from cinnamon sticks, garlic, ginger and black pepper. That however means the mixture needs to be strained after cooking to get rid of the ginger-garlic and cinnamon bits.
At this stage finishing the sauce to keep and store in the fridge means adding some cornflour slurry and cooking it in. When cooled down, the sauce can be decanted into a container for future uses.
If used as marinade, cool it down without the cornflour addition.
How to make teriyaki chicken
So, as I learned from Kenji, teriyaki chicken is shockingly inauthentic. Teriyaki sauce in Japan is used mainly on fish and seafood, plus, surprisingly, on burgers and steak.
But since it’s supposed to be ‘glazed cooking’, without specifying the cooked material, I don’t see us committing any culinary crime here. Plus, and that’s what matters, the chicken is delicious.
Breast fillets or thighs are marinated overnight in the teriyaki marinade (not thickened with the cornflour).
The following day lift the chicken from the marinade and roast it in hot oven for twenty minutes or so – the salt in the marinade will have both flavoured and tenderised the meat.
In the meantime, turn the marinade into sauce by adding the cornflour slurry and simmering it to thicken – and to make it safe to use as a sauce as well, eliminating the contamination with any bacteria from raw chicken by cooking.
When ready to serve, slice the chicken thickly, drizzle with the sauce and serve with plain rice, sprinkled with spring onions.
More Japanese recipes
Miso marinated haddock seared and baked to a succulent, golden beauty. Inspired by Nobu black cod, it is truly an outstanding fish dish.
Negimaki-style veal escalopes, marinated in teriyaki and sliced across like sushi rolls. A party snack with a wow-factor or a dish for the special dinner à deux.
Yaki onigiri, grilled Japanese rice balls glazed with miso and stuffed with pickles. They taste like cooked sushi and are considerably easier to make, with just a pastry cutter.
More Asian chicken recipes
Bang bang chicken made the authentic way is poached, shredded chicken served with crunchy vegetables and a mind-blowing peanut butter sauce.
Chicken yu xiang, chicken breast pieces cooked in Sichuan ‘fragrant fish’ sauce which has seafood only in the name. With the addition of dried cranberries for the sweetness and almonds for crunch.
Kung pao, or gong bao chicken recipe, chicken and peanuts stir fry with thick and spicy sauce. Authentic taste of a good kung pao chicken takeaway made at home, with the spiciness from chilies and Sichuan peppercorns.