Teriyaki is a great way to add flavour and pizazz to almost any dish. Whether it's beef, chicken, pork, seafood, or even a vegetable dish, adding teriyaki sauce can really turn food into a meal. This leads to questions about teriyaki sauce, including what's in it, how it's made, and the difference between store bought and homemade varieties. Learn more about the ingredients in teriyaki sauce and how you can use them to add great flavour to your cooking.
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Teriyaki is actually a centuries-old cooking technique from Japan. While westerners may generally think of teriyaki as a sauce, the word actually refers to the method of cooking sliced meat or fish in a thick sweet sauce. According to the New World Encyclopedia, this method first came into use in Japan sometime during the seventeenth century. In Japan, teriyaki is commonly served with fish, which is not as popular in the West. The oldest and most traditional recipes call for only four ingredients: soy sauce, mirin, sake and sugar.
When thinking about the ingredients in teriyaki sauce, it's important to distinguish exactly what kind of sauce you're talking about. Because teriyaki is so flexible, the name has been applied to almost any vaguely Asian sauce that is both sweet and salty. Bottled sauces are very different from those made at home, although they do share many of the same basic ingredients. If you're shopping for a basic teriyaki that only includes traditional ingredients, then look for brands that are imported from Japan. If, on the other hand, you'd like to try a more innovative sauce with other flavours, Western brands may be a great idea and frequently come in more than one variety to give you even further options.
Today, teriyaki is incredibly convenient, as there are dozens of brands of sauce that you can grab and go with in a hurry. However, almost all teriyaki sauces still derive their base from the four simple ingredients that have been in place for hundreds of years. Soy sauce makes up the largest portion of almost all teriyaki, with sugar usually the most common second ingredient. The other two traditional ingredients (sake and mirin) are both types of Japanese rice wine. In many bottled preparations, these ingredients aren't included. Bottled sauces also frequently include other flavours, such as ginger or garlic, and also usually use some form of chemical preservative.
What many people might not realise is that teriyaki is actually really easy to make at home. All you need to do is whisk together ½ cup sugar, ½ cup soy sauce, and 3 tablespoons mirin (or other sweet white wine), cook the mixture until slightly thickened, and then use just as you would a pre-made sauce. If you like, you can also include 2 tsp cornstarch (to make thickening quicker and easier), red pepper flakes, ginger, garlic, sesame seed and oil and really almost anything else you'd like. Simply whisk in these additional ingredients, and you can make your own teriyaki.
Cooking with Teriyaki
Now that you have teriyaki sauce, whether handmade or store bought, you're ready to use it. The most common way to do so is to add the sweet sauce during the last few minutes of cooking. Cover your dish lightly in the sauce, and be sure to spoon sauce over any larger portions. Be sure to watch carefully and stir diligently, as the high sugar content in teriyaki means it can burn easily. Your dish is ready when the sauce is glossy and coats the other ingredients. If you want even more teriyaki flavour, you can also use the sauce as a marinade, allowing meat to absorb its flavour from between 1 and 24 hours
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