Published May 1, 2009.
This Japanese-American standard is synonymous with chewy, flavorless meat shellacked with saccharine-sweet sauce. To beef things up, we turned to a trick from the grill.
True Japanese teriyaki is as simple as it is restrained: Take a glossy, salty-sweet glaze made with soy sauce, sake, and mirin (sweet Japanese rice wine) and paint it over grilled fish to accent its delicately smoky flavor. Over time, beef and chicken were introduced and the dish morphed into the tired renditions now found at many Japanese-American restaurants: chewy, flavorless slivers of meat daubed with a thick, overly sweet sauce.
We wanted juicy, charred steak embellished by a well-balanced, sweet and savory glaze that would be robust enough to stand up to the beef.
We decided to use inexpensive steak tips—this cut’s marbling melted into the coarse muscle fibers of the beef as it cooked, adding flavor and making it seem more tender than other cheap steaks. As for the meat’s preparation, slicing the meat into cutlets across the grain shortened the muscle fibers so the texture was more yielding. To add moisture to the meat, we soaked the strips of meat for a half hour in soy sauce, a little sugar, and some mirin, which worked beautifully. We also added scallions and ginger to the marinade, along with a few cloves of garlic. A bit of orange zest, while not authentic, contributed freshness. A few teaspoons of oil prevented the meat from sticking to the grill. We still thought the beef could be smokier and more charred. Our single-level fire was not concentrating the heat enough, so we banked all the coals to one side of the grill for a modified two-level fire. Positioned over this higher mound of coals, the steak came out well charred and juicy.
As for the sauce, we combined sake, mirin, soy sauce, and sugar. However, the sauce took an hour of simmering to reach the perfect consistency. To streamline cooking time, we decided to use a classic thickening ingredient: cornstarch. A small amount was all it took to achieve a nice syrupy texture, and a mere 15 minutes on the stovetop softened the raw alcohol edge.list of recipes