I have a friend who is a Japan and China scholar. (What an over-achieving combination, eh?) One time she invited us to her home and served what she called chicken teriyaki – it was cooked in a skillet, just the way she learned to do it in Japan, she said. I was incredulous because it wasn’t like the versions I’d eaten at Japanese restaurants in the United States. Those renditions, which I considered definitive, where grilled and brushed with a sticky sweet brown sauce.
I shelved that experience for years until last week, when I suddenly had a hankering for chicken teriyaki. Maybe it was because I’d made the batch of pickled ginger that I had Japanese food on my mind, which wandered to what I figured was an iconic dish of Japanese cuisine. I learned some interesting things.
One, teriyaki is not as popular in Japan as it is outside of Japan, according to my friend Hiroko Shimbo in her amazing book, The Japanese Kitchen. I amokay with that because chicken teriyaki probably sold well with Japanese restaurant owners outside of Japan. Call it the kung pao chicken syndrome. Moreover, she explains that “teri” means gloss and “yaki” means to broil or grill. Made from mirin, sake, soy sauce and sometimes sugar, teriyaki sauce is a finishing sauce meant to glaze. That made sense but why cook it in a skillet?