Teriyaki Chicken Sandwich (照焼チキンサンド)
Chicken Teriyaki is one of those rare Japanese dishes that's as popular in Japan as it is in the West. Although the traditional way of having it is to serve it with rice, Teriyaki Chicken is also enjoyed in more modern ways, such as on pizza or in sandwiches.
Teriyaki Chicken Sandwich (照焼チキンサンド - Teriyaki Chicken Sando) has become such a popular variation on the classic that it's sold in almost every convenience store, as well as many bakeries around Japan. Where Western versions of this sandwich often feature grilled pineapple, a Japanese Teriyaki Chicken Sandwich almost always includes an egg. This usually means egg salad at convenience stores, but you may find a quivering over-easy egg atop the chicken in bakeries or restaurants.
Why This Recipe Works?
- Dusting the chicken with a light coating of starch helps the sauce adhere to the surface of the chicken, ensuring it is well seasoned.
- Leaving the skin on allows it to protect and baste the meat, so it does not get tough. Most of the fat renders out of the skin, which changes its texture and helps the skin absorb the teriyaki sauce like a sponge.
- An over-easy egg, made in the same pan as the chicken, adds richness and protein to the sandwich.
Ingredients for Teriyaki Chicken Sandwich
- Chicken - I recommend using skin-on boneless chicken thighs for this. If you can't find this cut in your local store, I have a tutorial on how to debone chicken thighs here. The skin keeps the chicken moist and tender, and since most of the fat renders out of it, its texture goes from rubbery to crispy. As the teriyaki sauce soaks into the skin, it loses its crispness, transforming the skin into a blanket of flavor. Boneless skinless chicken thighs can be substituted. Breast meat will work as well, but it will not be as flavorful or juicy. If you're using breast meat, I recommend butterflying it (cutting it in half horizontally to make it thinner), so it cooks through more evenly.
- Potato Starch - The starch coating helps the sauce stick to the chicken. Potato starch has a better texture and doesn't get gummy like cornstarch, which is why I prefer using it.
- Teriyaki Sauce - Traditional Japanese teriyaki sauce is made with just three ingredients: soy sauce, sugar, and sake (or sometimes mirin). I used Kikkoman soy sauce, but any Japanese-style dark soy sauce will work. For the sugar, I used evaporated cane sugar, which I prefer because it has more flavor, but whatever you have on hand will work, though brown sugar or honey will impart a slightly different flavor. As for the sake, the alcohol burns off while cooking, and it is added for its natural umami and aroma. You can substitute a pinch of MSG for the umami, but there is no good substitute for the fragrance. If you're thinking about using Mirin instead of sake, check the ingredient label before buying it. Most "mirin" sold outside of Japan is a mixture of corn syrup, alcohol, and flavor enhancers and is not real mirin. This is why I recommend using sake over mirin. You can also slather grated ginger or garlic on your chicken before you coat it with starch if you prefer those flavors, but don't add them to the sauce as they will leave it cloudy and dull.
- Egg - This is optional, but as we know from Oyakodon, chicken and egg go great together, and the creamy yolk from an over-easy egg takes this teriyaki chicken sandwich to the next level.
- Bread - Because the chicken is quite substantial, I usually make this sandwich using a hamburger bun. It will also work in a small crusty loaf of bread such as a batard (though you'll need both pieces of chicken for 1 sandwich). I don't recommend using sandwich bread because it will get soggy and fall apart due to the juicy ingredients inside.
- Lettuce - The lettuce is mostly here for texture and color, which is why I like using a very crisp variety of lettuce such as Iceberg.
- Tomato - Tomato adds sweetness and acidity to the sandwich, so be sure to use the ripest tomato you can find. You could substitute pineapple slices if you're looking for a more Western flavor.
- Mayonnaise - I prefer Japanese-style mayonnaise such as Kewpie because it's tangier and has a closer flavor to homemade mayo.
How to Make Teriyaki Chicken Sandwich
To ensure the lettuce is as crisp as possible, soak a few lettuce leaves in a bowl of cold water.
For the chicken, use a tea strainer to dust a thin layer of starch onto both sides. Pat the thighs together to spread the starch evenly, dust off any excess, and then lay the chicken skin-side down in a cold non-stick frying pan (or cast-iron skillet).
Put the pan over low heat and let the fat in the skin slowly render out. This gently cooks the chicken while basting it, which keeps the chicken plump and juicy. It also gets rid of the rubbery texture of the skin while transforming it into a sponge that will soak up the flavors of the teriyaki sauce.
After about ten minutes, the skin should be crisp, and the chicken should be cooked about halfway up the sides. Flip the chicken over and turn the burner up to medium heat. Pan-fry the chicken, flipping it over every minute until it registers 160 degrees F (71C) on an instant-read thermometer (another 5-6 minutes). Carryover cooking will continue to raise the temperature, and the chicken will be cooked some more in the sauce, so you don't need to get it up to 165F. Transfer the chicken to a plate.
Break the eggs into opposite sides of the pan and fold any stray flaps of egg over towards the center. This will give the eggs a shape that will fit neatly in your bun. When the egg whites are mostly cooked through, flip the egg over and fry the second side until the yolk reaches your desired doneness. I like my yolks runny, so I only give it a few seconds on the second side. I don't recommend preparing eggs sunny side up for sandwiches because the fragile yolk will rupture prematurely when covered with a bun.
Transfer the eggs to a plate, and use paper towels to wipe out all of the oil and juices from the pan. This is important because the oil will make the teriyaki sauce greasy and cloudy.
Add the sugar, soy sauce, and sake to the clean pan, and allow the mixture to boil until it has thickened to the consistency of maple syrup. As the teriyaki sauce thickens, the bubbles will get large and glossy, which is a good sign it's ready for the chicken to go back in.
Add the chicken back into the pan and flip it over continuously until the starch coating has absorbed the teriyaki sauce and it's formed a thick glossy glaze.
To build the sandwich, spread a tablespoon of mayo on the bottom bun. Layer on a few slices of tomato, and then dry the lettuce and tear it to fit. Top the veggies with the chicken and fried egg, and then finish your teriyaki chicken sandwich off with the top bun.
Other Teriyaki Recipes
The beauty of sandwiches is that they're easy to customize, and you can add anything you like. That being said, in Japan, a teriyaki chicken sandwich typically contains chicken teriyaki as well as egg. The egg can be in the form of egg salad, boiled egg, or an over-easy egg. I also like to add lettuce and tomatoes to my sandwich for a little more variety in color, texture, and taste.
For Teriyaki Chicken
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tomato (sliced ⅕-inch thick)
- 2 leaves lettuce
- 2 tablespoons Japanese mayonnaise
- Soak the lettuce in cold water while you prepare the other ingredients.
- Dust both sides of the chicken with an even coating of potato starch (using a tea strainer makes this easy). Pat the chicken against each other to spread the starch around and remove any excess.
- Place the chicken skin-side down in a cold non-stick frying pan, put the pan over low heat, and allow the fat to slowly render out of the skin. This will take 8-10 minutes.
- When the skin has crisped and the chicken is cooked halfway up the sides, flip the chicken over and turn up the heat to medium. Continue pan-frying the chicken, flipping it over every minute until it's cooked through (another 5-6 minutes). The best way to check it is to use an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the chicken. It should read 160 degrees F (71 C).
- When the chicken is cooked, remove it from the pan.
- Break two eggs onto opposite sides of the pan and use a spatula to fold any extra flaps of egg over towards the yolk to shape the egg so it will fit in your bun.
- When the white is mostly cooked through, flip the eggs over and continue frying until they reach your desired doneness. I like the whites fully set, but the yolk still runny.
- Remove the eggs from the pan and use a paper towel to wipe out all of the chicken fat from the pan.
- Add the sugar, soy sauce, and sake and let the mixture boil until it's thickened up a bit and is forming large glossy bubbles.
- Return the chicken to the pan and repeatedly flip until the chicken is coated in a thick glaze.
- To assemble the sandwich, spread a tablespoon of mayonnaise on each of the bottom buns.
- Top this with the tomatoes.
- Drain and dry the lettuce and add a few layers on top of the tomatoes.
- Add a piece of chicken teriyaki.
- Top with a fried egg and cover with the top bun.