I only recently realized that Seattle’s ubiquitous teriyaki restaurants are sort of a Seattle-only thing. I never really liked teriyaki chicken growing up – and I’m still not always the biggest fan of overly sweet foods – but after 5 years at the UW eating at Nasai teriyaki, University Teriyaki, and Best of Bento (note: that place may have given me food poisoning), I have grown accustomed to the salty-sweet glazed grilled chicken, huge portion of white rice, and that deliciously nutrientless iceberg lettuce salad.
Luckily, chicken teriyaki is a really simple dish to make at home. It is also a great opportunity to use chicken thighs, which are a wonderful food. They are cheaper than chicken breasts, and they’re nigh-impossible to overcook. Plus, they have a more substantial flavor that stands up to the sugar and soy in the sauce. You can buy boneless chicken thighs at almost any store (they’re usually less than $2/lb), or you can buy bone-in and ask the butcher to bone them for you (he/she totally will). Or, you can visit Youtube for some helpful hints.
Mirin, the sweet Japanese cooking wine, is the traditional source of sweetness, but many restaurants simply use sugar. Mirin is not hard to find, and it’s inexpensive, but you can do without it. I use a combination of sugar and rice wine vinegar; you can also use sugar and a bit of sweet white wine, like Riesling.
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1.5 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of big chunks of fat, if any
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup soy sauce (No kidding. Don’t worry, it’ll be OK. If you insist, you can use low-sodium soy sauce.)
- 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
- 1 clove garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press
- Sriracha or other chili sauce, for serving
In a large frying pan, heat the oil over medium high heat until shimmering. Add the chicken thighs and cook, without moving, for about 5-6 minutes or until deeply browned. Using tongs, flip the pieces over and cook on the other side until browned, another 5-6 minutes.
Add 1/2 cup of water and scrape the bottom of the pan to get up any stuck on bits. Let everything bubble around a little bit until things look pretty dry again, 2-3 minutes. Meanwhile, mix the sugar, soy sauce, vinegar, and garlic in a small bowl.
Add the contents of the bowl to the pan and stir well, flipping the chicken pieces a few times to make sure they’re well-coated in the sauce. Continue to cook until the chicken is done (peek with a paring knife) and the sauce is thickened to a glaze. If the sauce looks like it’s burning before the chicken is done, add a little more water.
Remove the chicken to a cutting board and cut into strips. If the sauce is too thin, let it boil over medium-high heat until thickened. Add the chicken back to the pan once more, stir well to coat with sauce, and serve over white rice.