Making Mealtime Meaningful: Discover how we're giving back with the 12T Cares program →

Seattle-Style Chicken Teriyaki

A take out classic with a complex sweet an savory sauce.

When you share or print a 12 Tomatoes recipe,
you're making mealtime meaningful.
100% of the Share to Care sponsor fees fund meals for families in need. Learn More

Every place has its takeout, and in Seattle, the quick comfort takeout comes over a bed of white rice and a side of creamy coleslaw. Seattle-Style Chicken Teriyaki has been more of a staple than the nation brand Starbucks. While Vietnamese pho has been taking the cheap and affordable lunch scene by storm, chicken teriyaki still holds a nostalgic feeling connected to industrial Seattle before it became the booming technology hub it is today. Chicken teriyaki is a quick convenience-comfort that you can find in any district of the Emerald City. Here, this version replicates the regional staple, minus the three-day marinade wait time. A sweet amber-hued sauce clings to simple, accessible chicken for a meal you can get from prep to plate in no time.

Via: melissajonas/Flickr

Chicken teriyaki is not an invention uniquely to Seattle, but how the sauce is used was quite revolutionary. Originating in Japan, this sauce is a simple sauce home cooks used to dress chicken, fish, meat, vegetables, and rice. The sweetness from the mirin and soy sauce and the complexity from the burned-off sake make the sauce ubiquitously loved, and even the pickiest of children would dive into anything covered in this sweet brown sauce. When Toshi Kasahara immigrated to Seattle in the mid-1970s, he took Japan’s simple, homey sauce and brought it to the lunch scene. Chicken thighs were marinated in the sweet and salty garlic-infused sauce and then grilled until the chicken got charcoal grill marks. Kasahara franchised the chicken teriyaki concept and at one point had thirty restaurants with his name. But nowadays, unless you go out to Mill Creek, you won’t be able to get Kasahara’s original chicken teriyaki.

Via: J. Kenji López-Main/YouTube

Yet the story doesn’t end there. When you walk into your average Seattle teriyaki shop, you’ll find teriyaki on the menu alongside bibimbap and that’s because most of the shops today are run and operated by Koreans. Kasahara wasn’t the only person in the teriyaki game. John Chung started a restaurant in the 1980s with teriyaki as the star, being sandwiched between bread to become the working man’s quick lunch. At the time, the Lockheed Shipyard employed a large number of Korean immigrants, and when they were laid off in the late 1980s, many were itching to own their own businesses. With Chung’s influence, the business plan for chicken teriyaki spread word of mouth through the ever-connected Korean Church community. While Kasahra’s teriyaki is charbroiled and has a strong grilled flavor, the teriyaki found at many Korean teriyaki joints is grilled fast. Chung’s quick griddle top method cut down on the prep time, having the chicken from marinade and on top of the bed of rice (or bread) in five minutes.

Here this version pays homage to both versions of Seattle’s beloved meal. A pairing of soy and mirin partners with sugar, ginger, garlic, and lemon for a strong flavorful sauce. Marinated for a little bit and then cooked in the pan the sauce becomes a glossy amber color quite similar to that of maple syrup.

The ingredients aren’t too wild. Ideally, chicken thighs have more flavor, but sometimes it’s hard to find the right cut, boneless chicken thighs, this recipe also works with chicken breasts as well.

Start by making your marinade. In a bowl combine soy sauce, granulated sugar, mirin, minced garlic, minced ginger, and lemon juice.

Add the chicken to the marinade. If you’re doing a quick marinade, you can simply wrap the bowl with plastic wrap and set it in the fridge. If you’re looking to marinate the chicken for more than an hour, it’s best to transfer the marinade and the chicken into a large gallon zip-top bag. Make sure to press as much of the air out of the bag, and set the bag on a baking tray in the fridge (just in case it leaks it doesn’t leak out into your entire refrigerator).

Once the chicken has been marinated, start heating up your skillet and oil. You can also use butter as well.

Cook the chicken, flipping onto the other side.

Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and slice into strips.

Whisk in cornstarch and pour the sauce into the pan you just used and bring the marinade to a boil.

Reduce it to a simmer and cook until it starts to thicken.

Add the sliced chicken back into the pan, tossing to coat. This step isn’t necessary, but it coats all sides of the chicken for a deep and intense bite of flavor.

And it’s done!

Served over a bed of freshly cooked rice and a side of dressed salad, you have yourself a taste of Seattle teriyaki goodness!

The sauce is sweet without being cloyingly sweet. The lemon, garlic, and ginger base calms the sweetness with a deep aromatic kick, and the soy gives the sauce a great, complex earthy tone.

This sauce is far from your average bottled grocery store sauce and is super versatile. You can use it with a variety of proteins and even coat veggies in it. This Seattle-Style Chicken Teriyaki is great for outdoor grilling too, as you can get the charred flavor from the grill and still quickly boil down the sauce in the kitchen to get the divine, saucy experience.

Either way, this is a staple that might taste better than what you get at your local restaurant!

Yield(s): Serves 4

14m prep time

15m cook time

1h inactive

Rated 4.6 out of 5
Rated by 7 reviewers

Allergens: Soy, Nuts

When you share or print a 12 Tomatoes recipe,
you're making mealtime meaningful.
100% of the Share to Care sponsor fees fund meals for families in need. Learn More
  • 1 cup low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons mirin
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 3 lbs chicken breasts or boneless skinless thighs
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil or butter
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds (for garnish)
  1. In a bowl combine soy sauce, sugar, mirin, garlic, ginger, and lemon juice.
  2. Place chicken in the marinade, wrap with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for a minimum of 1 hour (it can be marinated in an airtight zip top bag for 24 hours).
  3. Once marinated, set a large skillet on a medium-low heat and heat up the oil (or melt the butter).
  4. Cook chicken for 5 to 6 minutes on one side and another 5 minutes on the other side.
  5. Remove from the pan and set on a cutting board and slice into strip-like pieces.
  6. Whisk cornstarch into the remaining marinade and pour into the same pan you used to cook the chicken.
  7. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, cook until the sauce reduces and thickens, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add in the sliced chicken, tossing to coat or pour on top of chicken before serving.
  8. Serve over rice and garnish with sesame seeds if desired. Serve and enjoy.