Teriyaki Chicken in Lettuce Cups

Teriyaki Chicken.

Teriyaki Chicken in Lettuce Cups.

If there is one thing we know about cooking, it is the “80/20 rule”. And in the case of cookbooks, this is almost doubly true. We tend to get more than 80% of our recipes from just 10%-20% of our (ever-growing collection of) cookbooks. So when we get a new cookbook and we find a bunch of good recipes, it is cause for a small celebration, or at least some extra cooking. And it looks like we have a winner with Debra Samuels’ “My Japanese Table“, her book on simple Japanese home cooking. So far we’ve made a number of recipes like Sushi Balls (good stuff and good fun) but often it is the simple recipes that define a good cookbook, and Samuels’ recipe for Teriyaki Chicken is a great example.

Samuels describes Teriyaki sauce as “the Swiss-Army knife” of Japanese sauces, and that description is spot-on. Sweet, salty and tangy, Teriyaki goes well with chicken, beef, fish, veggies and rice. It just works, and we use it often, particularly as a glaze for fish. But, somewhat shamefully, we never made it ourselves. Happily, Samuels has an easy recipe and we decided to make it, and we are unlikely to ever buy store-bought Teriyaki again, homemade is much better. The homemade sauce has bright flavor with just enough ginger, glossy color and smooth texture.

Making the Teriyaki sauce is simple. Just combine, simmer and reduce mirin (Japanese cooking wine), sake, brown sugar, soy sauce and fresh ginger. It takes about 45 minutes. but you can make Teriyaki in large batches and it will keep in the fridge for at least a month. But unless you make a very big batch, we doubt it will last that long- you can use Teriyaki on pretty much anything. Basically, you can put this on a shoe and it will taste good…but why not try Teriyaki Chicken, instead?

And while it seems so “old-school”, good homemade Chicken Teriyaki is incredibly tasty, and a reminder of why many of us fell in love with Japanese cooking in the first place. And it’s easy to make. Simply season and brown chicken breasts (skin on or off) then add some of the Teriyaki sauce and simmer the chicken, turning often, until done. Then, while you rest the chicken, reduce the remaining Teriyaki and chicken juices into a thick glaze. Coat the chicken with some of the Teriyaki glaze, slice and serve.

And how do you serve Chicken Teriyaki? Samuels suggests with rice, shredded lettuce, some toasted sesame seeds, and a squeeze of lemon, and that will be very good. But we suggest making lettuce wraps (like ssam) with the sliced Teriyaki chicken, Japanese rice (or coconut rice), toasted sesame seeds with a variety of sliced fruits and veggies. In this case we used sliced peaches, quick pickles and avocado. Tasty, and a pretty complete meal. (And while perhaps not traditional, a few drops of Sriracha also work pretty well.) But however you serve Teriyaki, the bright big flavors and beautiful color will remind you this is a dish you should make more often…

Teriyaki Chicken in Lettuce Cups:

(Adapted from Debra Samuels)


What You Get: A very tasty sauce that keeps for weeks and works with most proteins and veggies. And a good chicken recipe.

What You Need: No special equipment required. But when cooking with chicken, a digital meat thermometer is a very good idea (yes, we always say this).

How Long? About 40 minutes to make the Teriyaki sauce. About 20 minutes to make Teriyaki Chicken.


(Makes 2 and 1/2 cups, recipe can be halved)

Teriyaki sauce:

  • 2 cups mirin
  • 2 cups sake
  • 6 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • 6 slices of fresh ginger, smashed

Teriyaki Chicken In Lettuce Cups:

(serves 4-6)

  • 4 boneless chicken breasts (skin on or off)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons neutral vegetable oil like Canola or Grapeseed
  • 1/2 cup Teriyaki sauce (see above)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
  • 1 lemon cut in wedges
  • 1 head of sturdy red or green-leaf lettuce for wrapping
  • Fruit slices like peach, nectarine or mango
  • Sliced veggies like cucumber, carrot and radish or quick pickles
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • Sriracha (optional, if you want to add a bit of heat)


  1. To make the sauce, combine the sake and mirin and a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and cook 2 minutes to burn off the alcohol. Add the sugar and cook until it dissolves. Then add the soy sauce and ginger slices and cook boil for 1 minute. Turn the heat to medium-low and cook for another 35-40 minutes until the sauce thickens and has a syrupy consistency. Remove the ginger slices, and place the sauce in an airtight container in the fridge, it will keep for at least a month.
  2. To make the chicken, season each chicken breast liberally with salt and pepper. Place a medium skillet over medium heat until hot and add the vegetable oil. Place the chicken in the skillet and brown for 2 minutes on each side.
  3. Pour the Teriyaki sauce into the skillet with the chicken and bring to a boil for 1 minute (add some water if you need a little more liquid- you will reduce the sauce later). Reduce the heat to low and simmer the chicken breasts in the sauce. Turn the breasts every 1-2 minutes until the chicken is cooked through, about 6-10 minutes depending on the size and shape of the chicken breasts (use a digital thermometer or “cut and peek” to check doneness). When done, remove the chicken from the pan and allow to rest on a cutting board.
  4. Meanwhile, turn the heat up to high and bring the sauce to a boil and reduce until you have a thick glaze. Then remove from the heat.
  5. To assemble, slice the chicken and arrange on the lettuce leaves, add some Teriyaki sauce. Add rice, fruit, vegetables and sesame seeds. Top with more Teriyaki sauce and Sriracha, if you like. Serve with lemon wedges on the side.

14 thoughts on “Teriyaki Chicken in Lettuce Cups

  1. This … perfect for me – that love chicken – I eat so much at times I’m afraid to get feathers and wings. Teriyaki is an other weakness I have. Thanks a million for this on. File here we come.

  2. I like how this is recipe is total Japanese/Korean fusion. I make teriyaki-like chicken with Japanese flavors quite a bit, though I usually use thigh meat instead of breast meat. I should try it out ssam-style in lettuce cups!

  3. I love the idea of simmering in the sauce – I’ve had issues of not enough flavor with some recipes…and I can’t wait to try the wraps as you’ve suggested, especially with the marvelous peaches at the store right now! I always think of peaches as being the last breath of summer, and apples as the first breath of fall!

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