Chicken teriyaki is usually among the most popular items on the menu at the average Japanese restaurant in the United States, although it may be a surprise to learn that it does not feature on menus in Japan. That is because it is actually more of an American tradition than a Japanese one, according to the known history of teriyaki and teriyaki sauce.
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"Teriyaki" is thought to have originated around the 17th century in Japan. The term actually refers to a method of cooking, one of three that are today well known internationally, the other two being "yakitori" and "sukiyaki." The common denominator in all three is "yaki" which is interpreted to mean "grilled." Teriyaki sauce though, may have originated outside Japan.
Origins In Hawaii
It is said that the history of teriyaki sauce can be traced back to early Japanese immigrants who settled in Hawaii, and who created a distinctive marinade using local products like pineapple juice, which they blended with soy sauce. Eventually, the sauce that most people call teriyaki was born. Its ingredients are brown sugar, cornstarch, garlic, mirin (rice wine) sake, soy sauce and sugar.
A 1962 entry in the "Merriam-Webster Dictionary" defines teriyaki as a noun, meaning "A Japanese dish of meat or fish that is grilled or broiled after being soaked in a seasoned soy sauce marinade." The definition further explains the terms "teri" as "glaze" and "yaki" as "broiling." The timing of this entry reportedly correlates with the rise in popularity of Japanese cuisine in the United States during the 1960s.
Traditionally, teriyaki sauce has been a favorite marinade sauce for chicken, beef, fish and other meats. After they are marinated for a minimum of 30 minutes (longer for a more pronounced flavor), the meats are usually grilled, then served with vegetables and rice. Because teriyaki sauce is sweet, it can also be used as a dipping sauce.
It is interesting to note that in Japan, there is apparently no official teriyaki sauce history, and the term refers rather to the aforementioned cooking method, and applies primarily to the preparation of fish, such as mackerel, salmon, trout and tuna.