My first experience with teriyaki was in a shopping mall food court: A small piece of chicken with a sticky, dark glaze was offered to me on a toothpick. The thing that sold it was the deeply savory, slightly sweet smell emanating from behind the restaurant's counter. It reminded me of caramelized onions and garlic and another thing that as a kid, I couldn't put my finger on. Now, I know it's teriyaki's signature marinade, which involves soy sauce, sake or mirin, and sugar.
Today's recipe is a riff on teriyaki, which is a centuries-old technique literally meaning "shine" or "luster" (tare) and "grill" or "broil" (yaki). Cooked over or under a live flame, protein or vegetables are basted with a marinade that turns into a glaze and coats the food. In this variation, adapted from Ali Slagle's cookbook, "I Dream of Dinner," teriyaki's signature flavor comes together in a pan on a burner, making the process achievable even without an open flame.
Slagle's original recipe features chicken, but fish, including tuna, mackerel and salmon, are often given the teriyaki treatment in Japan. Here, you'll let cubes of salmon soak up a marinade of soy sauce, honey, garlic and ginger. While that's happening, you'll whip up quick pickles by letting crunchy vegetables, such as bell peppers, onions, celery, radishes, snow peas, carrots or cabbage, soak in a rice vinegar, salt and sugar slurry.
Then, heat a pan and, using tongs or a slotted spoon, pluck out the cubes of salmon and begin sauteing them. Once they're well-browned and somewhat shiny, add the rest of the glaze to the pan. It will bubble furiously and then settle into a syrupy sauce.
Serve the salmon, pickled vegetables and extra glaze over steamed rice. It's not the traditional way to teriyaki, but it's a fine and flavorful representation of the genre.
Sticky Salmon With Sushi Rice and Pickled Vegetables
Total time: 25 minutes
In place of salmon you could use cut-up chicken, sliced mushrooms, tofu or tuna.
FOR THE RICE
1 1/4 cups water
1 cup sushi rice, rinsed if desired
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
FOR THE SALMON
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless salmon fillets, preferably center-cut, patted dry and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/3 cup honey
2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
3 cloves garlic, minced or finely grated
1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, finely grated
1 tablespoon neutral oil, such as grapeseed
1 tablespoon unsalted butter (optional)
FOR THE PICKLES
1 cup thinly sliced bell peppers, cabbage, snow peas, carrots or other crunchy vegetables
1/2 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon fine salt
Make the rice: In a medium saucepan, stir together the water, rice and salt. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover, decrease the heat to the lowest setting and cook until the rice is tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and keep covered.
Marinate the salmon: In a medium bowl, toss together the salmon and pepper. Add the soy sauce, honey, rice vinegar, garlic and ginger and stir gently with a fork to combine, making sure each piece of fish is well-coated.
Make the pickles: In a small bowl, toss together the vegetables, vinegar, sugar and salt until well-coated. Set aside to pickle, stirring occasionally.
Cook the salmon: In a large, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until it shimmers. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the salmon to the skillet, shaking off any excess marinade. Cook, flipping the pieces once or twice, until browned, about 3 minutes. Add the marinade and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring the salmon in the sauce, until the sauce is dark and syrupy and the salmon is cooked to your liking (cut open a piece to check if you'd like), another 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter, if using, letting it melt into the sauce.
When ready to serve, fluff the rice with a fork and stir in 1 tablespoon of the vinegar mixture from the vegetables to flavor it. Divide the rice and salmon evenly among bowls and serve with pickled vegetables on the side.
NUTRITION INFORMATION Per serving (1 cup rice, 3/4 cup salmon, 3 tablespoons sauce, without the pickled vegetables, as the ingredients are too variable for a meaningful analysis). Calories: 548; Total Fat: 11 g; Saturated Fat: 2 g; Cholesterol: 78 mg; Sodium: 1177 mg; Carbohydrates: 71 g; Dietary Fiber: 1 g; Sugar: 27 g; Protein: 40 g. This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian's or nutritionist's advice.
Adapted from "I Dream of Dinner" by Ali Slagle (Clarkson Potter, 2022).