Of all the recipes we cook when we’re missing Hawaii, Shoyu Chicken is heaviest in rotation. Not to say we don’t adore Haupia Pie or savor Saimin, but Shoyu Chicken is a recipe that works as well for a weeknight meal as it does for feeding a crowd. It helps that most of the recipe uses pantry ingredients we almost always have on hand.
But What Is Shoyu Chicken?
So we’re all on the same page, let’s cover our bases. Shoyu Chicken is local recipe found in Hawaii where chicken is simmered together with shoyu and sugar, and a variety of flavorings that are most commonly ginger, garlic, and chiles. The dish is named after shoyu, which is the Japanese style of soy sauce that is rounder and sweeter than the Chinese style and made with a mix of soy and wheat.
Like so much local food in Hawaii, it has basis in the plantation era when immigrant groups worked and cooked together. Since sugar was one of the main crops (along with pineapple), a lot of dishes call for it.
Where To Find Shoyu Chicken In Hawaii
Shoyu Chicken is one of the classic options you’ll find when you order a plate lunch. FYI, a plate lunch is a local meal found in Hawaii that’s akin to a bento or a Southern meat and where there is a meat element, rice, and local style mac salad.
As such, you’ll find Shoyu Chicken everywhere from classic plate lunch spots to fundraisers and roadside stands. And, since locals like to get together in big crowds to hang, it often makes an appearance in homes since it’s no fuss and can easily feed a crowd.
Difference Between Shoyu Chicken And Teriyaki Chicken
It must be said that Shoyu Chicken is not Teriyaki Chicken (aka “Teri Chicken” in Hawaii), which is why you’ll often see both listed on a menu. They are indeed very similar seeing as they both have soy sauce and sugar but they are different. Where Teri Chicken often adds in sake or mirin, is often grilled or broiled, and has the sauce reduced to a glaze, Shoyu Chicken doesn’t have alcohol, adds in ginger, garlic, and chiles, is simmered, and the sauce is spoonable and not a glaze.
It’s a subtle but distinct difference. Bottom line, if you’re traveling to Hawaii and want more charred soy flavor, go for Teri Chicken; or, for more slow-cooked flavor, go for Shoyu Chicken.
Tips To Make Shoyu Chicken
Before you start cooking, here are a few key tips to making Shoyu Chicken:
- Use Low-Sodium Soy Sauce: Most locals in Hawaii swear by using Aloha brand soy sauce for this recipe but it’s hard to find on the mainland. We suggest using low-sodium soy sauce so it isn’t too salty.
- The Key Ratio: Our go-to ratio is two parts water and/or broth to 1 part low-sodium soy sauce for a final flavor that has lots of soy but isn’t too salty.
- Add Both Sugar And Honey: Traditionally only sugar would be used since they used to have tons of it growing in Hawaii. We like to do a mix of brown sugar and honey for a mix of deep flavor and so that the honey helps every so slightly thicken the sauce.
- Use Bone-In, Skin-On Chicken Thighs: Sure, you can use any cut of chicken you’d like but the classic cut are bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs because they have tons of flavor and get really tender.
- Let It Cook (Or Sit) For More Flavor: If you want to eat quickly, just cook the chicken until it’s cooked through (about 15 minutes). But, if you have more time, we suggest simmering it for a minimum of 45 minutes, which will result in maximum flavor and in chicken so tender it almost falls off the bone.
- Reduce The Sauce A Touch: Again, this isn’t Teriyaki Chicken so you’re not making a glaze. However, you can reduce the sauce a touch so that it better just coats the chicken. Also, when you’re reducing the sauce, be sure to diligently skim off the fat — that way you get minimal greasiness and max flavor in the final dish.
- Eat The Flavorings: Once everything is cooked, all the aromatics aside from the ginger are very much edible. We like to eat ours with a few garlic cloves, a spoonful of onions, and a chile!
- Add It To The Slow Cooker or Instant Pot: To make even easier work of this, go ahead and add it all to your slow cooker or Instant Pot.
- Personalize It! Like so many recipes, there are not hard-and-fast rules here. Feel free to change the ratios of liquids, add less sugar, or add more chiles, as you please!
Simmered Shoyu Chicken Recipe
For Cooking The Shoyu Chicken:
- 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth or water or a mix of the two
- 1 1/2 cups low-sodium soy sauce or tamari to make it gluten freeee
- 1 cup packed brown sugar or a mix of half honey half brown sugar
- 1 medium head garlic top cut off
- 1 (3 inch) piece fresh ginger halved lengthwise
- 1 medium jalapeño peppers halved lengthwise (optional)
- 1 medium sweet onion peeled, halved, and cut into half moon shapes
- 4 pounds skin-on bone-in chicken thighs (about 12 to 16 thighs)
For Serving The Shoyu Chicken:
- thinly sliced green onions (aka scallions) for garnish (optional)
- toasted sesame seeds for garnish (optional)
- Cooked white or brown rice for serving
- Cook The Shoyu Chicken: Combine the water or broth and soy sauce with the sugar and/or honey in a large pot, bring to a boil over high heat. Add the garlic, ginger, jalapeño, onion and chicken then reduce to low heat. Simmer, turning occasionally, until chicken is fork tender and garlic cloves easily pop out of the head of garlic, about 45 minutes more.
- To Serve The Shoyu Chicken: Remove chicken to a serving platter. Remove ginger, garlic, jalapeños, and onions and set aside. Bring sauce to a boil, skim off excess fat, and cook until reduced slightly, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, add chicken and other ingredients back to the sauce and turn to coat. Serve chicken over rice with a spoonful of sauce, any of the garlic, jalapeño, or onions you'd like as well some sliced green onions and sesame seeds, if desired.TIP: Cook the shoyu chicken completely up to two days ahead then store refrigerated in the cooking liquid. Rewarm before serving.