Thursday, August 20, 2009

Teriyaki Beef

My Venture into Teriyaki

I had eaten American-style teriyaki for years before traveling to Japan for the first time. I was unaware that the food you order in many Japanese restaurants in the U.S. had been Americanized to the point where it was no longer recognizable to someone from Japan. One time in Tokyo, I was having dinner with an alum of the university where I work. The menu was in Japanese but had beautiful pictures of various foods you could order. The alum recommended that I try the eel teriyaki – a dish for which this particular restaurant was famous. I had had a bad experience in Korea with a baby octopus and was, therefore, in no hurry to take the advice of someone recommending eel. My friend explained that, in Japan, seafood is the protein of choice for teriyaki. I love seafood but opted for the chicken teriyaki because the picture in the menu was out-of-this-world. In the U.S., teriyaki is often made with chicken breasts that have been cut into pieces and covered in a thin, sweet sauce. At this restaurant in Japan, the chicken teriyaki was prepared with thigh meat, grilled, and basted with teriyaki sauce that caramelized on the top of the meat – in much the same way Americans do barbecue. The sauce was prepared with a perfect balance of soy sauce and sugar – the ultimate salty-sweet combination. The flavor was definitely assertive. With one hand, it slapped you across the face with the salty kick of soy sauce and gently caressed you with the pleasant sweetness of sugar with the other. No boneless, skinless chicken breasts. No cloyingly sweet sauce. No extra sauce for your steamed rice. This was NOTHING like the way we do it in the U.S. How could the Japanese have gotten it so wrong?

The small amount of bold sauce on the chicken was tamed by the bland, white rice on which it was served. Any more sauce and the sodium level would have shriveled you up. Any more sugar and it would have been syrupy. The meat was succulent – almost falling off of the bone. Each bite had me craving for more. This was teriyaki the way teriyaki was supposed to be eaten. I only had one complaint. My dinner consisted of one chicken thigh on a little pile of rice, 2 pieces of sushi, a lettuce leaf with a slice of tomato on it, and some green tea -- for the bargain price of US$76. No wonder Japanese people are so skinny. They can't afford to eat! That was like a dollar for every grain of rice!

This recipe is my attempt to recreate the bold flavors of that wonderful teriyaki I had in Japan -- with a little twist of my own. Today, I'm using beef instead of chicken for a really, really good reason. Chicken was not on sale but flat iron steak was. Yep, that's the reason. I'm cheap. When making this, don't expect a thin, sweet sauce. The sauce should easily coat the meat when finished. When you add the meat to the top of the rice, don't add extra sauce or the dish may get too salty. Use a slotted spoon to scoop the meat and veggies out of the pan and leave the extra sauce behind. The sauce that clings to the meat should be more than enough to season the steamed rice. This recipe cooks up FAST so have everything ready when you turn on the skillet. Enjoy – and happy teriyaking!

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Teriyaki Beef
(Printable Version)

1 lb flat iron steak or flank steak, cut 1/4" thick across the grain and on the bias
1/4 cup regular soy sauce
2 TBSP rice vinegar

1 TBSP sesame oil
2 TBSP vegetable oil
2 TBSP flour
2 TBSP cornstarch

2 TBSP dark soy sauce (or 2 TBSP regular soy sauce if dark is unavailable)
2 TBSP regular soy sauce
1/2 cup water
2 TBSP rice vinegar
1/2 cup plus 3 TBSP sugar
3/4 tsp grated fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 pinches red pepper flakes

1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/4" strips
1 bunch scallions (white and light green parts), cut into 3/4" pieces

Cut the steak across the grain and on the bias into 1/4" thick pieces. To cut the meat on the bias, position your knife on top of the meat (perpendicular to the grain), then tilt your knife at a 45 degree angle, then slice through the meat. Place the cut meat in a resealable bag, add the soy sauce and rice vinegar, then seal and refrigerate for about 2 hours.

After 2 hours, make the sauce by whisking together the soy sauces, water, rice vinegar, sugar, ginger, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Set aside.

Add the meat to a colander and allow it to drain. While it is draining, combine the coating ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk. Add the meat and toss to coat evenly.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat with 2 TBSP oil. Add half of the coated meat in an even layer and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes, flip, and cook 1 to 2 minutes longer. Add the meat to a clean plate and add some additional oil to the pan if needed. Cook the other half of the meat and remove it from the pan when done.

Add the sauce, red bell pepper slices, and scallions to the skillet and allow the mixture to briskly simmer for 2 minutes. Add all of the meat to the skillet and toss to coat. Cook 2 to 3 minutes or until the sauce has thickened enough to coat the beef. Add the beef and veggies on top of a bed of steamed rice using a slotted spoon – leaving most of sauce in the skillet. This recipe serves 4 but can be easily halved to serve 2.


  1. I love this recipe. Especially your comments on why Japanese are skinny.


  2. Made this for dinner tonight. My husband and teen son devoured it. Said it was restaurant quality! Will definitely make it again.


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