Much of teriyaki’s appeal is built into the term. It refers not to the sweet-and-tangy sauce Americans know so well, but rather to a Japanese cooking technique in which any number of sauces are used to lacquer (teri) meat cooked over direct heat (yaki).
Most home cooks begin with the same core ingredients—some combination of soy sauce, sake, the sweet rice wine mirin, plus a little sugar— for a sauce that forms the foundation of countless meals. Used to baste grilled or pan-seared meat, it reduces to a savory-sweet glaze.
But add ginger (shoga) to the same sauce and you get shogayaki, which in Japan is even more common at home than teriyaki, says Nami Chen, author of the popular Japanese cooking blog Just One Cookbook. The gingery sauce most often is used with sautéed thin pork cutlets. Chen says she might marinate the pork briefly if she has time, but just as often she sears the meat first, then adds the sauce to the pan to finish.
“It’s just a family favorite,” says Chen, who also makes a delicious variation of shogayaki with miso. “Some use a little more ginger, others do it a little sweeter, some more salty. It might be a different taste but it always goes well with rice.”
As we developed our recipe for shogayaki, we saw an opportunity to double down on the marinade’s gingery, savory-sweet flavors. We generally skip marinating meats— rarely can the flavor penetrate the flesh—but the relatively salty combination of ginger, miso and soy sauce had promise. Sodium increases a marinade’s ability to penetrate meat, drawing flavor inward. Using the sauce to first marinate the pork creates the first layer of flavor. We get a second, fresher layer by repurposing the marinade to create a rich pan sauce for coating the finished cutlets.
In Japan, the meat of choice for shogayaki is thinly sliced pork loin. The thin cuts of meat cook quickly and make it easier for the seasonings to penetrate. But because making thin, even slices requires some challenging knife work, we opted to pound thin slices of pork tenderloin even thinner. As a bonus, the pounding breaks apart the muscle fibers, making it even easier for the meat to season. Additionally, ginger has an enzyme called zingibain that helps tenderize meat.
Finally, we stirred scallions into the sauce as it reduced in the pan for an added fresh note. Steamed rice and shredded cabbage are perfect for sopping up the juices of the richly glazed cutlets.