Shoyu Chicken, or Chicken Simmered in Soy Sauce


Before spotting it on the Humble Bean blog, I have never heard of “shoyu chicken” and would have never guessed it was a Hawaiian dish, since “shoyu” is a Japanese word meaning “soy sauce”. Its presence reflects  the influence of the Japanese cuisine in Hawaii, where apparently immigrants from different ethnic groups have left a rich, fusion culinary heritage.

Last week, when I realised Shoyu Chicken was one of the best dishes I have ever had, I started to google for some more information and found myriads of different versions bearing the same name, but only one recurring ingredient, namely the soy sauce. The recipe from Humble Bean is made with very few ingredients (among which tomato is a very surprising one), doesn’t require any particular attention and cooks literally on its own, so the fabulous, original result is even more impressive.

Hardly a couple of days after my first experience with Shoyu Chicken I saw an incredibly similar “nonya” dish on Mr. Three-Cookies blogs (Three Cookies and Easily Good Eats), called Tau Eu Kay. Thanks to Mr. Three-Cookies I have learnt “nonya” combines “Chinese and Malay cooking, as well as influences from other cuisines such as Thai”. This coincidence made me wonder if nonya and Hawaiian, both fusion cuisines, have more similar dishes. I hope to explore both in the future!

Going back to my – slightly modified – recipe, I made it first with the skin on, but even though my chicken is always free-range and runs a lot (I hope), the sauce was too fat for my taste, so my second Shoyu Chicken was made without skin. The result was perfect, the meat wasn’t dry, so this is the way I intend to prepare it the future. There are always some leftovers of the delicious sauce, which I use the following day on rice, fried vegetables or noodles.

This dish has a historical importance. It is the first time in my life I prefer dark chicken meat from breasts (I have tested both and encourage all the chicken breast fans to try both). Another interesting point is that this is the first Asian dish I know which goes better with red wine (a sturdy one is a better choice here).

It is perfect with Tomato and Shiso Salad I have found on the same blog and the Japanese Onion Salad from Hiroyuki’s Blog on Japanese Cooking.

Preparation: 1 hour – 1h30

Ingredients (serves 2-4 people depending on the size of the legs):

2 chicken thighs (preferably cut in two pieces) with or without skin

100 ml (about 3 fl oz) low-sodium Japanese soy sauce (or 70 ml of “normal” soy sauce)

300 ml (about 10 fl oz) water

60 ml (about 2 fl oz) agave syrup or honey

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 heaped teaspoon powdered mustard (Japanese or English)

125 ml (1/2 cup) canned tomatoes (I have put 3 tablespoons tomato paste+125 ml water)

Bring all the sauce ingredients to boil.

Lower the heat, put the chicken into the sauce and let it simmer for at least one hour until the meat falls apart from the bones.

Finish cooking uncovered until the sauce thickens.

Serve with rice.

45 Replies to “Shoyu Chicken, or Chicken Simmered in Soy Sauce”

  1. I’ve never tried Shoyu Chicken. I have been to Hawaii once but I was too young back then that I didn’t get to enjoy Japanese cuisines in Hawaii. I’m so curious, this sounds like a great chicken dish!

    1. Thank you, Nami! It is great indeed! I was surprised the mixture of soy sauce, tomato paste and syrup can produce such an amazing taste! And remember my efforts to transform every chicken dish to be feasible with breasts? here really the legs are better even for me!

  2. Hmm … the inclusion of the tomato paste sounds interesting. I might just try it out with my tau eu kay or tau eu bak. I’m sure there must be very many different versions of this in the world, more so these days with fusion coming into the new world cuisines. Does Balsamic Infused Soy Kay sound fancy enough? 😀

    1. Thanks, Ping. You have just given me lots of ideas. I will try first tau eu kay (I would love to know how to pronounce it 😉 ), then modify it with a bit of tomato paste, then try tau eu bak and balsamic infused soy kay too! So many delicacies in perspective!

      1. Tau as in “tao”, Eu as in ‘eeww”, Kay as in ‘k’ the alphabet with less emphasis on the “kh”. Tau Eu or sometimes Tao Yew is what you know as Shoyu. Kay is chicken in the Hokkien dialect. Hokkien is Fujian, a province in China where my ancestors came from. Are you getting confused already? Hehe … sorry. Perhaps google might give you a better explanation about the Chinese dialects.

        1. Thank you so much, Ping! I really appreciate your explanations. I will try to remember how to pronounce it (especially when I finally make it! otherwise I will feel ridiculous). I know there are many different dialects in China, does hokkien have also the difficult 5 tones?

          1. I believe the 5 tones applies to the Mandarin language. My hokkien isn’t that great either but it does have its different tones and intoned wrongly could mean one either gets a punch in the face or a smile. I guess that happens in most languages as well.

            1. Tones are a nightmare for someone whose native language hasn’t any tones (so for most languages outside of Asia I suppose). I started to learn Mandarin and remember that even the characters weren’t as scary as the tones… Some words were simply impossible to pronounce for me, I mean impossible to pronounce so that the word was understood… It has never happened in any language I have ever learnt. You know, a foreigner’s accent or intonation might be funny, difficult to understand, but it’s got nothing to do with the tones’ nightmare 😉 , especially since mandarin words are very short so they have to be pronounced perfectly and the tones for the native speakers mean a big difference in the pronunciation. This difference is sometimes not even heard by foreigners, not to mention copying it. Tones discouraged me from learning Mandarin: I have realised a regular and frequent contact with native speakers was obligatory.

              1. Well, I can understand your frustrations in the tones since I’m having difficulty with them myself and I’m Chinese.
                My grandparents once told me never to open my mouth to try speak Chinese if I ever visit China or I’m definitely going to get scalped … not just for shopping but also for massacring the language. 😀 So, yeah, you’re right, there are some teeny intonations that we tend to miss since our ears are so tuned to whatever language we were brought up with.

                1. I am sure people appreciate when you talk Chinese, I hope they don’t want to scalp you when you make mistakes 😉

  3. Finally it comes, and sounds absolutely delicious. This brought back memories – at uni I used to cook chicken in tomatoes and soy sauce (without sugar etc) very often and haven’t had it since. Right now I can picture the pot, dish, smell…thanks for bringing back memories. I need to bring my mind back and start working…

    There could be more similar dishes between nonya and Hawaii cuisine. Nonya cuisine uses a lot of coconut which is popular in Hawaii also, though they don’t eat much hot food (I think). Oh, and spam in popular in Hawaii but probably not in nonya.

    1. Thank you so much, Mr. Three-Cookies. I’m happy it brings you good memories. It sounds like you used to eat very well when you were at the University! I have also discovered two days ago that I have an old Hawaiian cookery book I bought last Spring second-hand on a book sale (it gives you an idea of how many cookery books I have…) so I will try to find some interesting recipes (although I must say it’s full of dishes with pineapple, which I hate in savoury version and it reminds me the only pizza I hate (served in non-Italian chains of course): with pineapple chunks and ham). I am looking forward to see your other dishes from the nonya book. I think I have seen spam in my old cookery book.

        1. Actually I should count them one day (but for my defense I can say at least half of them are second or even third hand!).

    1. Thank you so much, Jeno! It is effortless and if I had some chicken legs I would do it once more tonight since it’s very convenient.

  4. Beautiful dish and well done! This looks like a simple recipe and there is also a chinese version which has even fewer ingredients eg without mustard and is also delicious when served with steamed rice. It reminds me of comfort food from home. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you, Chopinand! Frankly speaking I don’t feel the mustard in the finished dish. I must try putting some more next time. I can very well understand it’s comfort food (it will be a comfort dish for me very soon!).

  5. I would never have thought of combining tomatoes with soy sauce, but it sounds like a great idea…! I’ve read that there are a lot of Japanese in Hawaii and that bento is a quite normal thing there – have to visit Hawaii too one day ;)!!

  6. Talk about a one pot wonder – I love recipes like this! The realities of a working mom with boys in competitive sports means that I am always on the go and sooo appreciative of quality, no fuss meals. The sauce looks absolutely scrumptious – I love how the tomato, soy and agave come together in a glaze of delight 🙂 and I bet those thighs are pretty tender and juicy. This is jumping to the top of my meal list!

    1. Thank you so much, Kelly. I’m not a working mum, but I’m sometimes too lazy to do anything requiring lots of time and/or attention, but on the other hand I refuse to feed myself on sandwiches or worse! Agave makes me feel less guilty because the sauce is actually quite sweet and if using sugar, I would put quite a lot of it.

  7. I think I need to make this! I prefer thighs in a lot of dishes because they’re so tender. Anyway, this looks fantastic.

    1. Thank you, Greg! I didn’t have even canned tomatoes (the fresh ones I had were mini-romas and I love them too much raw to put them in a cooked dish; not to mention their price), so I used tomato paste. If you have fresh ones, just peel them and mix in a blender or chop them.

  8. I would never have thought to put canned tomatoes and soy sauce together but come to think of it, it makes alot sense as the sourness of the tomatoes, saltness of the soy sauce and sweetness of the sugar of the agave would combine to make a very appetising and wonderful dish! I love using the thighs too as it’s so much more flavourful!

    1. Thank you, Sylvia. Before I saw this recipe I had never thought about combining tomatoes and soy sauce either.

    1. Thank you, Caroline. When I didn’t have any meat or rice left, I wiped some sauce off with bread 😉 It was also excellent the following day with other dishes.

  9. That dish looks really delicious!



    P.S. The black & white picture on my blog was taken in Geneva (old town)…

    1. Thank you, Rosa. Thanks for the confirmation about the photo, that’s what I suspected, I was furious I couldn’t locate the street or the restaurant, but it’s the mystery of the black and white photos 🙂

  10. Beautiful – I bet it’s really tasty. Does it go on the chicken like a type of sticky glaze? Reminds me a bit of barbeque marinated chicken… yummy!

    1. Thank you, Charles. It wasn’t as sticky as barbecued meat, since the chicken cooks in the sauce… The advantage (when compared to barbecued chicken) is that there is lots of leftover sauce!

  11. Made your shoyu chicken last night – my husband *adored* the glaze (I did not mention that it was a new recipe – this was a free and unsolicited compliment 🙂 I might try it with slightly less sugar next time although I hope I can approximate the consistency which was perfect. Our boys loved it too Sissi! Thanks.

    1. Kelly, we have such a cloudy awful morning (very frequent here) and your message arrives like a ray of sunshine! Thank you so much for trying this recipe and, most of all, for letting me know how it was appreciated. I am very happy you and your family liked it! The original recipe calls for the same volume of sugar and soy sauce, but last time I made it I added 60 ml agave syrup, which was perfect for me. Now you have made me want to have it once more this weekend! I’m going to see my butcher today!

    1. I’m glad you like it so much. Thank you for letting me know. You make me happy every time you make one of the dishes I post 🙂

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