By far the easiest Japanese dish to make at home, and a great introduction to Japanese flavours for the nervous first-time diner, teriyaki chicken- whether served on skewers, tucked inside a fluffy burger bun, or crowning a bowl of pearly white rice- has become one of the most recognisable faces of washoku the world over. The alchemical combination of the three classic sauce ingredients- soy sauce, mirin and sake, create the quintessential basic Japanese flavour that so many other dishes build upon, and the addition of warming, soft brown sugar thickens the sauce into an incredibly sticky, mahogany lacquer. It is the lustrous glaze that is referred to in the name of this cooking technique- teri literally meaning shine and yaki, to grill, although use of the term has now expanded to include the sauce too, leading to the bottled sauces on the supermarket shelves that we’re all familiar with, but bearing little resemblance to the simple, authentic dish at its roots.
Sweet, sticky, intensely savoury and endlessly versatile, this technique lends itself just as well to thin beef steaks, chunky pork chops, pieces of salmon or mackerel, blocks of tofu or even meatballs and burgers, but to my mind, chicken thighs are the ultimate subject for teriyaki. Biting through the crisp, slightly charred skin covered in the deep red-brown caramel glaze, giving way to the succulent, delicate white flesh of the thigh before finding your way to the soothing, polished rice is a delicious mouthful, needing just a hint of the nutty snap of toasted sesame seeds to push it into the realms of perfection.
(Any cold, leftover teriyaki chicken makes a wonderful sandwich filling when accompanied by crisp iceberg lettuce, a squirt of Kewpie mayonnaise, and served on the softest bread you can find.)
- 6 chicken thighs (approximately 500g)
- 125ml sake
- 125ml mirin
- 125ml soy sauce
- 30g brown sugar
- four portions of cooked Japanese rice
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds (to serve)
- 2 spring onions (to serve)
- Remove the bones from the chicken but leave the skin on the thighs as this helps keep the meat succulent and also chars nicely, adding extra interest and texture to the finished dish. Pour the soy sauce, sake and mirin into a large bowl and add the sugar, stirring well to make sure it dissolves completely; place the chicken thighs into the liquid and allow to marinade in the refrigerator for at least two hours.
- Take the chicken out of the fridge an hour before you want to cook it. Remove the chicken from the sweetened soy sauce mixture (reserving this for later) and pat it dry with kitchen roll before placing a large frying pan over a high heat. Lay the chicken pieces skin side down into the hot pan and fry them for three to four minutes, resisting the temptation to move them around- the fat from the skin will melt out and allow it to scorch and crisp slightly. Flip the chicken pieces over and cook on the flesh side for another minute then turn the pan down to medium, pour the reserved marinade over the chicken and continue to cook until the sauce has thickened and become glossy. Whilst it bubbles away, baste or brush the chicken with the sauce to build up a deep, lacquered coating on the outside of the pieces.
- When the chicken is cooked, and covered with a sticky glaze, remove the thighs from the pan and rest for five minutes before slicing into bite-sized pieces. Divide the cooked rice between four serving bowls, anointing each with a spoonful of the pan juices then arrange the teriyaki on top. Sprinkle each bowl with a pinch of toasted sesame seeds and a nest of finely shredded spring onion for a touch of spicy freshness.
Serves four people.