As a child of Seattle, I’m fond of my hometown’s relationship with chicken teriyaki, which is to the Emerald City what cheesesteaks are to Philadelphia and po’boys to New Orleans—a carb-heavy, meat-unabashed, working person’s lunch.
Seattle teriyaki joints are no-frill establishments. Generous hunks of chicken or beef get grilled—at minimum on a grilltop, best over live fire—then brushed with a sweet-soy glaze and served with rice and macaroni salad in a styrofoam container.
It wasn’t until I left the Pacific Northwest that I realized the teriyaki shop was a regional oddity. There are few freestanding restaurants serving this, and what chicken teriyaki I found were tucked away in the cooked section of a sushi restaurant menu. So as with any dishes I miss from home, I tried my hand at making it myself.
For Seattle teriyaki shop purists, you could easily grill boneless chicken thighs, and brush with the sauce below (based on a Masaharu Morimoto recipe, with some tweaks). I happen to like my thighs skin-on and fried crispy, however, so the recipe here resembles more chicken nuggets than the sliced meaty chargrilled hunks found in Seattle. I’m seeking the crunch of the chicken skin through the sticky glaze, and my recipe here achieves that.
- 2 pounds skin-on boneless thighs (about five or six deboned pieces)
- 1/2 cup Japanese soy sauce
- 1/2 cup mirin
- 1/2 cup sake
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup chopped yellow onion
- 2 cloves roughly chopped garlic
- 1 tsp. corn starch + 1 tsp. warm water
Kindly ask if your butcher will debone chicken thighs for you, while keeping the skin on. Most likely you’ll need to do this yourself. Consult your favorite video-streaming site for instructions on deboning thighs. Here’s a good one.
Next we’ll tenderize the thighs with a check from chef Tatsuo Saito, host of the Japanese cooking show Dining With The Chef on NHK World. Every chicken thigh has an upper and lower half. The lower half tends to be more sinewy with longer strands of muscles, which toughens up when cooked. Saito suggests pounding with the heel of a chef’s knife to tenderize this lower half, be careful not to cut through the meat. Afterward, divide each thigh into four quadrants, and lightly salt and pepper both sides.
To make your homemade teriyaki glaze, add soy sauce, mirin, sake, chopped onions and garlic into a sauce pan. Add the 1/3 cup of sugar, or if you’d like it less sweet, use 1/4 cup. Bring sauce to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for seven minutes, stirring once in awhile. This sauce should emerge glossy with some viscosity. Pour sauce through strainer into a bowl, discarding the solids.
In a wide-surfaced frying pan, add a splash of vegetable oil and turn heat to medium-high. Place chicken thigh pieces skin-side down, be careful not to overcrowd the pan (you’ll likely have to do this in two batches). Now let it sit. Don’t jiggle it. Don’t nudge it. Let it sear for five minutes or more, or until the skin turns a caramel gold color. Please be patient with this step. Once sufficiently crunchy, flip pieces over and fry for another three minutes. Remove chicken onto a plate and discard all but a tablespoon of chicken grease and oil from pan. Fry the second batch of chicken thighs.
In a small bowl, mix cornstarch and warm water together. Pour half of this mixture, along with half of the teriyaki sauce into the frying pan, and on medium heat, add back half the chicken pieces, skin side up. The sauce will bubble and thicken, coating the crispy chicken pieces. Spoon the thickened sauce over the chicken until the pieces are sticky and glazed, about another minute or two. Plate the finished pieces, and repeat with the rest of your fried chicken, the other half of your cornstarch mixture, and the remainder of the teriyaki sauce. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve immediately with rice, making sure to drizzle additional pan glaze over the chicken.