Chicken Teriyaki (鳥照り焼き) is a lunchtime staple in Japan, filling bento boxes being carted off to offices and schools alike. Teri refers to the lacquered sheen that teriyaki sauce develops on the surface of the chicken, while yaki means grilled. Almost any cut of chicken can be used, but chicken teriyaki is most commonly prepared with the leg meat (thighs or drumsticks) which is filleted to ensure it cooks evenly. The skin is left on the chicken to keep the meat moist and it takes on a wonderful caramelized hue while getting slightly crispy as it grills.
Long before sushi became the ambassador of Japanese cuisine to the rest of the world, chicken teriyaki invaded the west, and for better or worse it came to represent the whole of the Japanese culinary repertoire. Perhaps it was the short list of approachable ingredients or the exoticism of food from the far east. Whatever the reason, it’s become so ingrained in American food culture that even Paula Deen has a teriyaki recipe.
So what makes for an authentic teriyaki sauce?
It’s simple… equal parts soy sauce, mirin, sake, and sugar.
It’s not that I have anything against those fancy sweet soy marinades with ginger, garlic, chili, green onions, sesame seeds, and or fruit puree in them, but sauces with these ingredients aren’t teriyaki sauce since they cloud the teri. Ginger, sesame seeds, green onions and chili are garnishes that are occasionally added after the chicken has been cooked.
Traditionally, the unseasoned chicken is grilled over coals then basted with teriyaki sauce. To tenderize and season the chicken all the way through, I brine it first in soy sauce and sugar, grill it, then shellac a few coats of teriyaki sauce on to finish. This seems to get the best balance of color, texture and flavour. I’ve written the directions for a broiler, but just reverse the cooking order (skin up, then down) if you are using a grill.
By using maltose or honey in the teriyaki sauce, the sauce gets thick without having to add any cornstarch. If you do use honey, make sure you use one without a strong flavour of its own.
Serve this chicken teriyaki whole or chopped up on a bowl of steaming hot rice with some extra sauce. The leftovers make great oyako donburi which will be a topic for another post.
Note: I also have an easy pan-fried chicken teriyaki recipe
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1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons Japanese soy sauce
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons mirin
4-6 skin-on filleted (boneless) chicken thighs
for teriyaki sauce
2 tablespoons mild flavored honey (or maltose)
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons sake
Combine the water, soy sauce, brown sugar and mirin in large ziploc bag and add the chicken thighs. Press out as much air as you can and seal the bag. Let this sit in the fridge for at least an hour.
To make the teriyaki sauce, just add the honey, soy sauce, mirin and sake to a small sauce pan and boil over medium heat until the sauce is glossy and slightly viscous (it won’t get quite as thick as the jarred types). It should take on a caramelized taste but be careful not to burn it.
When you’re ready to grill the chicken, turn the broiler on and move the oven rack up to the upper position. Put a wire rack on a baking sheet (I use the rack out of my toaster oven), and put the chicken thighs skin side down onto the rack (the idea is to keep the meat elevated off the pan).
Grill until brown then flip so the skin side faces up. Baste the skin side with teriyaki sauce and continue to broil until the skin is golden brown with just a few charred spots. Give the chicken one final baste with the teriyaki sauce and serve.