Traditional Japanese cuisine is guided by principles that, at times, can verge on the philosophical. One of those principles is anbai. To sum it up in a nutshell, anbai means achieving a harmony between the basic flavors. Teriyaki, the classic sauce and marinade, is a great example of the concept. Based around three headstrong main ingredients—soy sauce, ginger, and sugar—it relies on a careful balance of each to strike the right contrast between salty, sweet, savory, and spice.
If you’re looking to hone in on your Japanese cooking techniques, you really couldn’t find a better place to start than teriyaki. Making the sauce is incredibly simple, yet it captures all the fundamentals of what it takes to create great flavor.
We’ll be covering the mother of all teriyaki recipes here: teriyaki chicken breasts. The meat first gets flattened and tenderized before going for a sear. It’s then set aside, but the sauce is poured right in to the pan, deglazing the surface and picking up any delicious browned bits that the chicken has left behind. Lastly, it’s left to reduce, creating a thick and velvety sauce that glides over and clings to the meat like a delicious brown cloak.
Ready to get started? You will need:
- a grater
- a small saucepan
- plastic wrap
- a large frying pan or a meat tenderizing mallet
- a knob of fresh, peeled ginger
- one scallion
- low-sodium soy sauce
- honey or sugar
- two boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- vegetable oil (not olive oil)
- Grate the ginger and slice the scallion into thin rings (both the green and white parts).
- Make the sauce: mix three parts soy sauce with one part honey or sugar.
- Put the sauce in the small saucepan and bring it to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the honey or sugar. Add the ginger, turn off the heat, and add the ginger, letting it steep in the sauce while you prepare the chicken.
- Put plastic wrap on top of the chicken breasts and hit them with the mallet or frying pan until they’re flat. Use a fork to poke holes in the chicken all over on both sides. This will help the meat absorb the sauce.
- Coat the bottom of the frying pan with oil and heat over medium-high heat until the pan and oil are both hot. Add the chicken and cook on one side without moving until browned, about 10 minutes. Turn over and cook the other side until browned, another 10 minutes.
- Take the chicken out of the pan and place it on a plate. Pour the sauce into the frying pan and bring it to a boil.
- Put the chicken back in the pan with the sauce and turn it to coat. Cook until the sauce reduces and thickens a little.
- Put the chicken on a plate, pour the sauce over it, and top with scallions. Serve it with rice, if desired.
Once you’ve mastered this basic method, you can apply it toward a whole range of other proteins. Here are some ideas:
1. Easy Teriyaki Chicken
While the above recipe is something of a freeform approach, this recipe will help you get your portions just right. Get our Easy Teriyaki Chicken recipe.
2. Teriyaki Salmon
Salmon benefits from a few hours of marinating in teriyaki, which helps that savory-sweet flavor penetrate through every inch. Get our Teriyaki Salmon recipe.
3. Flank Steak Teriyaki
Flank steak is a great match for teriyaki because its big flavor really holds its own against the concentrated taste of the sauce, while its loose, coarse grain is perfect for soaking up every bit of liquid. Get our Flank Steak Teriyaki recipe.
4. Teriyaki Tofu and Veggie Stir-Fry
Tofu and veggies are ideal teriyaki fellows, too. Just make sure to let the tofu develop a bit of a crusty sear and allow the veggies stay a little bit raw and crisp so that you have some nice crunchy surfaces for the sauce to slide over. Get our Teriyaki Tofu and Veggie Stir-Fry recipe.
5. Grilled Teriyaki Pork Chops
Our teriyaki pork recipe takes the salty-sweet combo one step further by adding some succulent, grilled pineapple rings on the side. Get our Grilled Teriyaki Pork Chops recipe.
Original story by CHOW Food Team, updated by Miki Kawasaki.