Roots Teriyaki

Yesterday was serendipitous, in teriyaki terms. First off, I received a message noting that someone poking about here couldn’t find a recipe for teriyaki marinade. I was sure there was one, right up until when I poked around and couldn’t find one either. 692 posts over 13 years, and I never wrote about teriyaki? Wow – time to fix that.

Teriyaki is Japanese in origin, and its roots stretch back hundreds of years. At heart, it’s a blend of  sake or mirin, soy sauce, and a sugar. Done right, it’s a perfect tangy balance of sour, salty and sweet – and that balance is the key.

Nowadays, there are myriad variations on the theme, but it’s those roots I’m most interested in. Teriyaki can be done very well with just three ingredients. If you’re diving in to making your own, you should start there. Oh, and come to think of it, it’s grilling season again, too – serendipity redux.

Starting simple doesn’t mean you’ll stay there – in fact I encourage you not to. I’m sure you’ll find a three ingredient version that you really dig and do again and again – there’s a soul satisfying quality to teriyaki made this way. That said, there are lots of other things you should experiment with – Lemon, lime, pineapple, yuzu, sudachi, mandarin orange, ginger, garlic, and chiles come to mind. So long as you keep the ratio of ingredients properly balanced, you’ll love the results.

Ratios lie at the heart of cooking, and teriyaki is no exception. Starting with the three ingredient version, you’ll want 4:2:1 for acid, soy sauce, and sweetener. If you’re looking to marinate a couple pounds of protein, (chicken, beef, pork, fish, extra firm tofu, or veggies), you might go with this

Roots Teriyaki

1 Cup Sake or Rice Vinegar 

1/2 Cup Soy Sauce 

1/4 Cup Agave Nectar 

Thoroughly whisk all three ingredients with a fork, and let them sit for about 15 minutes to get acquainted, then marinate for at least an hour, and as long as 3 hours – Note that fish and tofu should marinate for 15 to 20 minutes, tops. Yes, I know some folks swear by overnight, etc, but – there’s a lot of acid in this sauce, and if you go too long, it’s going to alter the texture of your protein in unpleasant ways.

Seen recipes out there that call for cooking the sauce? That’s done because granulated sugars simply will not dissolve in room temperature acid/soy mixes. If you want to use granulated sugars, you’ll need to simmer your sauce over medium low heat for about 5-7 minutes to dissolve the sugar completely. Cool to room temp before deploying. 

If you’re adding ginger, garlic, chiles, etc – start small. For the base recipe above, a half teaspoon of minced, fresh will deliver the flavor notes without overwhelming the balance of the sauce.

Now, variety – change the acid, see what you think. Sake versus mirin or rice vinegar, and different varieties of same. Switch to citrus or pineapple and you’re in a whole other ballpark. Go way out in left field and try Chinese black vinegar, or balsamic, and you’re in another world altogether.

Change the soy sauce from koikuchi shoyu (dark) to usukuchi shoyu (light), shiro shoyu (white), tamari shoyu, or saishikomi shoyu (twice-brewed). Try Chinese, Thai or Korean soy sauces – whole nuther show there.

A note on Mirin – when you find and try the good stuff, it’s revelatory. Unfortunately, most of what you find in general grocery stores is crap – a pale shadow of the real thing with a bunch of preservatives added. If you have a good Asian grocery nearby, you can get the good stuff, and you should. Real mirin is slightly less alcoholic than sake, and subtly sweet/savory in flavor – it’s a vital ingredient in a lot of Japanese cooking, and it’s absolutely worth it.

Why Agave nectar for the sweetener? Because it‘s a light, neutral flavor and a decent coater/thickener, and makes teriyaki production super easy. For a more authentic option, ask for Mizuame (also known as Millet Jelly), or black sugar syrup (there’s a bunch of makers) at your local Asian grocery. You can use honey or maple syrup as well, with very intriguing results. 

Have some fun, come up with what you dig most, and then call it yours.

A Couple of Rancho Gordo Tweaked Recipes

I wrote about RG beans not long ago, and frankly, they’re still on my mind, as is their stunningly good Pineapple Vinegar. That combo had me digging through old favorite summer recipes and tweaking them for these newfound delights. So here, for your reading and eating pleasure, are a revamped teriyaki marinade, and an incredible three bean salad. Enjoy!

Summer is grilling season, and it wouldn’t be right without teriyaki in the mix. That pineapple vinegar inspired me to alter my go to marinade thusly.

Rancho Gordo Pineapple Vinegar powered teriyaki marinade
Rancho Gordo Pineapple Vinegar powered teriyaki marinade

RG Pineapple Vinegar Teriyaki Marinade

1/2 Cup Chicken Stock, (Veggie stock or water are both fine too)

1/4 Cup Tamari

1/4 Cup Pineapple Vinegar

2 Tablespoons Agave Nectar

2 Tablespoons Rock Sugar (Dark Brown Sugar is fine too)

1 Tablespoon Toasted Sesame Oil

1 Tablespoon Arrowroot

2 Cloves fresh Garlic

1” fresh Ginger Root

Trim, peel, and mince garlic and ginger.

In a sauce pan over medium heat, combine tamari, vinegar, agave, sugar, sesame oil, garlic, and ginger.

Whisk to incorporate – When sauce begins to scale, reduce heat to low.

Combine arrowroot and stock, which to incorporate thoroughly.

Add stock mixture to sauce and whisk thoroughly. Allow sauce to heat through, whisking steadily, until it reaches the thickness you like, about 2-4 minutes.

Remove sauce from heat and transfer to a non-reactive bowl, allow to cool to room temperature before use – You can set up an ice bath in a second bowl to hasten that process if it’s hot where you are, like it was today where we is…

marinated skewers, full of summer goodness!
marinated skewers, full of summer goodness!

Separate some to use as a dipping sauce if desired.

That same stuff, along with dang near any or all RG beans, inspired this twist on Three Bean Salad.

Classic Three Bean Salad
Classic Three Bean Salad

Three bean salad is a delight in the dog days of summer – Cool, tangy, and hearty to boot. While I truly love the traditional base of pinto, wax, and green beans, you can and should do whatever mix you like – This is the perfect time of year to play with whatever is fresh at hand. The beauty of that freedom is that the dish really does change in very fundamental ways when you vary the bean trio, even with the same dressing. What I show below is my personal fave, but there too, you can and should go with what you’ve got fresh in the garden whenever possible. The mainstays to me are the rhythm section of that dressing – Rancho Gordo’s incredible Pineapple Vinegar, and fresh avocado oil – It creates a beautiful base to go just about anywhere from – I just got this stuff, and am absolutely enamored with it, so I re-did my go recipe, (which used live cider vinegar), to reflect same.

Bean salad should have whatever you love in it, period.
Bean salad should have whatever you love in it, period.

Speaking of Rancho Gordo, it’s there that a raft of stunningly delicious bean options await – Their heirloom stuff is so good, you can easily hop down the rabbit hole trying out different combinations. Their garbanzos, limas, and yellow woman beans make an incredible trio, with a delightful depth and breadth of flavors and textures, and again – That’s just one of many, many options. The quality of these beans is so far above anything else, you truly must try them.

Yet another combo...
Yet another combo…

Three bean salad definitely likes a little time for things to marry, so it’s a great dish to make ahead. And of course, if you have other veggies you love, that are ready to rock, add those too – You sure don’t need my permission!

Urban’s Go To Three Bean Salad

1 Cup Rancho Gordo Rio Zape Beans

1 Cup Fresh Green Beans

1 Cup Fresh Wax Beans

1 Cup Sweet Onion

1 stalk fresh Celery, with leaves

Sea Salt and fresh ground Grains of Paradise, to taste

For the Dressing

1/2 Cup Avocado Oil

1/3 Cup Pineapple Vinegar

2 Tablespoons fresh Shallot, minced

1-2 cloves fresh Garlic, minced

2 Tablespoons Agave Nectar

1 teaspoon fresh Thyme

1 teaspoon fresh Dill

1/4 teaspoon Chile flake

Rio Zape Beans should be cooked to al dente.

Blanch green and wax beans in boiling water until al dente, about 2-3 minutes – Have a bowl of ice water ready beside the stove, and plunge the beans into that as soon as they’re right.

Rinse and stem onion and celery, and then medium chop, (chiffonade celery leaf).

Rinse, stem and mince garlic, thyme, and dill.

In a large, non-reactive bowl, combine all beans, onion, and celery. Season with a three finger pinch of sea salt and a half dozen twists of grains of paradise – Gently toss to thoroughly incorporate.

In a second non-reactive bowl, combine all dressing ingredients and whisk to incorporate thoroughly.

Allow dressing to marry for 15 minutes, then dress salad with a steady drizzle – You may or may not want to use all of it, so stop when you’re happy with the ratio.

Allow salad to marinate, chilled, for at least 2 hours prior to serving.

Will do fine refrigerated for a couple days, if it lasts that long…