Shoyu Chicken

Shoyu Chicken is a popular dish in Hawaii and an easy one-pot dish. In addition to a satisfying home meal, you will find it on the menus of local restaurants, plate lunch spots, and lunchwagons. As with many comfort foods, each family, each cook has their own recipe but the combination of shoyu, sugar, ginger, garlic, and chicken thighs are what they have in common.

Shoyu chicken

What is shoyu?

When I lived on the mainland, I had to remind myself that most people don't use the word shoyu. Shoyu is Japanese-style soy sauce but in Hawaii the term is used ubiquitously for all types of soy sauce. A favorite local brand is Aloha Shoyu (I have heard of people taking Costco-sized bottles back to the mainland with them). Kikkoman Soy Sauce is another favorite brand.

What is shoyu chicken?

Shoyu chicken is chicken that is braised in a flavorful shoyu-based sauce. It is almost always made with bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs. I have seen some recipes that use chicken drumsticks or boneless, skinless chicken thighs. In my experience, shoyu chicken is never made with the breast.

The chicken is first browned on the skin-side before being braised. Once the chicken is cooked, the sauce is lightly reduced but is not turned into a thick gravy.

Shoyu chicken

Making shoyu chicken

While there are some variations in preparing the chicken - browning the skin first, broiling the skin after braising, not browning the skin at all - the most personalization comes in preparing the braising liquid.

My aunt taught me that the way to prepare the sauce is to dissolve sugar in shoyu until it won't dissolve anymore. As you might imagine, this could take some time to try to decipher the exact amount of sugar needed. Over the years I have settled on a 1:1 ratio of shoyu to granulated sugar. Some recipes call for brown sugar but traditionally I have always made it with granulated sugar.

For flavoring, ginger and garlic are a must but the amounts can vary. Addition of mirin or green onion stalks are optional. Other ingredients I've seen in recipes are honey and oyster sauce, but some ingredients like paprika, Worcestershire sauce, or oregano are not traditional at all. Those ingredients may make a flavorful chicken braise but they don't make shoyu chicken (just my personal opinion but I'm pretty sure there are a lot of folks here in Hawaii who would agree).

How to serve shoyu chicken

In my opinion, the best way to serve shoyu chicken is with steamed rice sprinkled with furikake. You could make it plate lunch-style and add a scoop of mac salad, if you like. (Yes, in Hawaii we love our carbs, vegetables are an afterthought.)

Shoyu chicken is a relatively easy weeknight meal but you could make a double or triple batch on the weekend and enjoy it throughout the week.