Shoyu Chicken Is The Hawaiian Dish You Should Know About

While there are loads of chicken recipes to be familiar with when your plate needs an easy serving of protein, you may eventually crave new flavors that make chicken nights exciting again. The good news is that your kitchen may already be stocked with the ingredients needed to make shoyu chicken, a widely popular hybrid dish in Hawaii infused with umami goodness.

"Shoyu" is Japanese for soy sauce and it lends a rich, salty taste to chicken when cooked using a Chinese technique involving a long poach in the sauce. This savory Hawaiian entree is made authentic when you use shoyu, which differs from other soy sauces in its fermentation method and base ingredients. Thankfully, Kikkoman, one of the world's most famous soy sauce brands, is shoyu and is an easy find in stores if you don't already have some stocked up. To balance out the punch of soy sauce that's absorbed by the chicken, sugar and ginger are also used to amp up the sweet and zesty undertones the dish is well known for. The taste is often thought of as a creative twist on teriyaki chicken.

Most Hawaiian households have unique versions of traditional shoyu chicken and potlucks or parties across the islands can't truly start without it. The recipe is delightfully straightforward, with white rice and macaroni salad being the two main sides that are commonly paired with it to complete the experience.

Shoyu chicken is the result of multiple cultural influences

The rolling mountains, crystal clear waves, and swaying palms aren't the only things that make the Aloha State a beautiful corner of the world. Its culture is also a thing of beauty and its culinary scene is a big part of that. Many dishes and new flavors were brought over by immigrants from Japan, China, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and several other countries to create a one-of-a-kind blend of tastes. Shoyu chicken was a result of this multicultural shift, becoming commonly sold by housewives to plantation workers in the form of bento box lunches known as okazuya. Today, there are still several Japanese okazuya delis spread across the main islands where shoyu chicken can be ordered as a filling plate lunch.

While this Hawaiian food's exact origins aren't known, it's beloved for its simplicity. Some variations of shoyu chicken may include a few slices of juicy pineapple, adding an added layer of complexity and signature local flavors to the meal. Others enjoy preparing it by barbecuing or frying the chicken after it's done marinating in the soy sauce to reach a crispy finish. Honey, mirin, chicken broth, and even sherry are used in some recipes, and some may prefer a thinner sauce or one thickened with the help of a cornstarch slurry. Many people could agree that the traditional taste of shoyu chicken shines through best when the recipe calls for basic ingredients.

How to make easy shoyu chicken at home

When cooking shoyu chicken at home, the Kikkoman soy sauce does most of the heavy lifting. It's important to get a balanced flavor by using sweeteners like brown sugar or mirin but these are typically seen as optional recipe adjustments for those who are keen on using the best sugar substitutes. Otherwise, normal white cane sugar does the trick when combined with the shoyu, freshly grated ginger, garlic, and diluted with a bit of water. Poaching the chicken is the ideal way to use the "low and slow" method when cooking it, ensuring the meat is moist and begins to fall off the bone when it's ready. Skin-on chicken thighs are simmered in the aromatic mixture for 30 minutes before they're flipped and left to marinate for another 30.

Typical garnishes for shoyu chicken are chopped scallions or sesame seeds. The sauce can be stored and used for any leftovers. This flavorful dish is often said to be even better the next day after the soy sauce has had a chance to seep into the chicken for even longer. Adding pineapple slices is one optional topping that can be a real treat. If the classic sides are served with it, it's a match made in heaven. A bed of white rice does well to soak up the saucy marinade, while a creamy batch of macaroni salad reduces the overall saltiness of the chicken.

Where to eat shoyu chicken in Hawaii

You're likely to find many local hotspots across each of Hawaii's main islands that serve shoyu chicken, complete with hefty scoops of rice to soak up the excess soy sauce. Okazuya shops like the family-owned Kawamoto Store in Hilo are great local options where it can be ordered for just over $2.00. While the Big Island has lots of choices, Oahu also has it's fair share of quick-stops and drive-ins to choose from. While it's often sold at affordable prices, there are more expensive ways to dine on shoyu chicken. One such place is a Hawaiian comfort fast food chain called Zippy's. There, a regular-sized portion can be ordered for just shy of 16 bucks, and a "mini" meal goes for around $12.

Rather than experiencing this dish through the lens of fast food, you'll always have the best luck when dining on a plate of home-cooked shoyu chicken or scoring some at a lively Hawaiian luau. However, if you don't live there and won't be boarding a flight anytime soon, making it yourself isn't complicated. With the right technique and ingredients, you could end up creating something close to traditional right in your own home.