Even though Asians are considered a minority in the United States, with about 5% of the total population, there are regions, especially on the West Coast, where Asian immigrants have heavily influenced the culture, arts and cuisine over the past few decades.
Like a number of other Asian recipes known in the United States or the Western World in general such as California rolls or fortune cookies, chicken teriyaki is a recipe that you would probably not find in Japan.
Teriyaki (照り焼き) is actually a cooking technique that is used in Japanese cuisine where meats or fish is broiled or grilled with a glaze of sauce typically composed of soy sauce, mirin, and sugar.
In Japan, the teriyaki method is mostly used to prepare fish or seafood such as yellowtail, marlin, skipjack tuna, salmon, trout, mackerel, or squid as well as hamburger or meatballs. Outside of Japan, meats such as chicken, pork, lamb, and beef are also used.
The term teriyaki derives from the teri (照り), which means “shine”, and yaki (焼き), which means “grilling”, “broiling” or generally cooking. This traditional cooking method, which is as popular as yakitori (chicken skewers) and sukiyaki (hot pot with vegetables and thinly sliced raw beef), was originally created by Japanese cooks during the seventeenth century.
The tare (タレ) or “sauce” is typically prepared with soy sauce, mirin (or sake), and sugar. The sauce is boiled and reduced to at least half in order to reach the appropriate thickness. The fish (or meat) is marinated in this sauce before it is grilled, broiled, or sometimes pan-fried in modern versions of the recipe.
The teriyaki sauce was actually made more popular by early Japanese immigrants who settled in Hawaii. They created a distinctive marinade based on traditional teriyaki using local products like pineapple juice, which they blended with soy sauce. This Americanized version of teriyaki also includes garlic in addition to the original traditional ingredients.
It is mirin that brings its special flavor to teriyaki sauce. Mirin is the result of the fermentation of cooked glutinous rice that is obtained with a species of fungus (koji) that is mixed with shōchū (Japanese distilled alcohol). It is a sweet and syrupy rice wine similar sake, which comes in the form of a pale amber liquid.
Mirin is a condiment that is mainly used in Japanese cuisine, but also other Asian cuisines such as Korean. I actually used it in my gobo kinpira, using the Japanese cooking technique of kinpira which consists in “sautéing and simmering” vegetables.
One of the mistakes I made in the past was to use chicken breast. The best piece of chicken for chicken teriyaki is actually chicken thighs (deboned). The thighs will absorb more of the marinade, and will stay juicy, tender and moist even after cooking.
- 1 lb deboned chicken thighs
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons mirin
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons black sesame seeds
- 2 tablespoons white sesame seeds
- Mix the soy sauce, mirin and sugar in a large shallow container. Place the chicken thighs, cover and marinate for at least 20 minutes.
- Heat up the oil in a nonstick saucepan over medium to high heat. Place the chicken thighs and cook on one side for about 4 minutes.
- Turn the chicken over, then pour the marinade into the pan.
- Reduce the sauce until it is thick (about half of the original volume) and chicken is fully cooked, about 6 to 8 minutes.
- Cut the chicken into pieces, then drizzle the sauce on the chicken.
- Sprinkle with black and white sesame seeds and serve with white rice.