One of the dishes I always look forward to eating each time we visit Hawaii is Shoyu Chicken. Tender, juicy, sweet and savory.
Hawaii, known for beautiful beaches, friendly locals, ukuleles and Shoyu Chicken. Okay the Shoyu Chicken part might be a bit of a stretch, but it's not entirely an exaggeration. Ask any local or tourist to name 3 Hawaiian dishes. I’m pretty sure Shoyu Chicken will come up on many lists.
One of my favorite spots for Hawaiian Shoyu Chicken (also called Soy Sauce Chicken) is Nagasako Okazu Deli on the island of Maui. It's a small, unassuming deli with a line of locals out the door and a very friendly staff. Their Shoyu Chicken is fantastic and always on our list of must-eats! If you're on Oahu and looking for a plate lunch of Shoyu Chicken, Rainbow Drive-In is always a popular option.
Our thoughts go out to everyone on Maui who were affected by the wildfires of 2023. Maui holds a special place in our heart. We are saddened to hear of the immense devastation, but we know Lahaina will be back stronger than ever.
We ate at Nagasako Okazu Deli every time we visited Lahaina. Our first time was back in 2007, before Yelp was popular. We discovered this hidden gem by accident and had been loyal customers since.
To the Nagasako family who owned this deli: You were the inspiration for this recipe and you are the reason why we love Shoyu Chicken so much. We always looked forward to visiting you. Our kids call your restaurant, "the one with the really nice people."
Which Cut of Chicken Works Best?
Hawaiian Shoyu Chicken is traditionally made with bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs and it really is the ideal cut. Every element adds something to the dish. The bone adds complexity and natural sweetness, while the skin adds flavor and texture. The chicken thighs also hold up to braising without drying out.
Any part of the chicken that consists of the same elements will work as well, such as drumsticks or wings. All with the bone in and skin on, of course. Avoid using breast meat since it's easy to overcook and it won't stand up to braising.
My Secret Ingredient for Shoyu Chicken
I'm going to share with you the secret ingredient for my Hawaiian Shoyu Chicken recipe. It's pineapple juice! Trust me, the pineapple juice takes it to another level. It adds a natural sweetness to the dish and the acidity brightens it up. Altogether, it adds so much complexity to Shoyu Chicken. Plus, since it's a Hawaiian dish, it just makes sense.
In this recipe, I made sure it yielded plenty of sauce. You'll want enough to coat the chicken and to drench your rice with. It's that good!
How to Make Hawaiian Shoyu Chicken (Step by Step Photos)
This Hawaiian Shoyu Chicken recipe is very easy to make and best of all, you only need one pot. I use a Dutch oven primarily for the size and ease of clean up. I like the depth of a Dutch oven since it helps keeps most of the splatter contained when browning the chicken. You can use a large stainless steel pot as well.
This recipe can easily be doubled to feed a larger crowd or for an extra meal. It reheats well and actually tastes better the next day.
1) Brown the chicken thighs in a Dutch oven or large pot. Begin with skin side down and cook over medium-high heat until the skin is nicely browned. Flip the thighs over and brown the other side. The chicken does not need to be fully cooked at this point, just browned. Remove and set aside. Repeat with the remaining thighs.
2) Once all the chicken thighs have been browned, turn the heat down to low. Use a few paper towels to absorb the fat that remains in the pot. Add garlic and ginger and cook until they become aromatic. Stir in brown sugar and allow it to melt and caramelize. This will bring out some extra richness in the sugar.
3) Deglaze the pot by stirring in chicken broth, soy sauce and pineapple juice. Be sure to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom. Add the chicken thighs in a single layer, if possible. Turn the heat to medium-high and let it come to a boil. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes on medium-low heat.
4) Uncover and turn the heat back to medium-high. Mix together cornstarch and water to make cornstarch slurry. Stir half into the sauce and allow it to return to a boil. Repeat with the cornstarch slurry, a tablespoon at a time, until you reach your preferred consistency.
TIP: I use the lid of the Dutch oven to hold my browned chicken thighs while I continued to brown the rest of the thighs. It keeps from dirtying up another plate and makes this truly a one-pot dish.
In Hawaii, Shoyu Chicken is typically served as a plate lunch with two scoops of rice and mac salad. At home, we like to serve it with rice and veggies. Bok choy or kailan makes a great pairing. Be sure to have some of the delicious sauce on the side for dipping, or to pour all over the rice. It goes so well together. No matter what you pair it with, I'm sure you'll love this Hawaiian Shoyu Chicken recipe.
- 8-10 chicken thighs, bone-in, skin-on
- 2 cups chicken broth
- ½ cup light soy sauce
- ½ cup pineapple juice
- 3 inch knob of ginger, sliced
- 6 cloves of garlic, smashed
- 5 tablespoon brown sugar
- 6 tablespoon cornstarch
- 6 tablespoon water
- Heat a Dutch oven or large pot over medium-high heat. Drizzle in a little oil, just enough to coat the bottom.
- Add chicken thighs skin side down and brown until the skin becomes golden and crispy. Do this in batches to avoid overcrowding the pot.
- Flip the chicken over and brown the other side. The thighs don't need to be completely cooked at this point. We're just looking to brown them.
- Remove from the pot and set aside. Repeat with the remaining thighs.
- Turn the heat to low and use paper towels to soak up the fat from the pot. Be careful not to scrape up the browned bits. This is the good stuff!
- Over low heat, add ginger and garlic and cook until they become aromatic. Be careful not to burn the garlic.
- Add brown sugar and allow it to melt and caramelize, stirring occasionally.
- Deglaze the pot by stirring in chicken broth, soy sauce and pineapple juice. Be sure to scrape up all the browned bits on the bottom of the pot.
- Return the chicken thighs to the pot and arrange them in a single layer, if possible. Turn the heat to medium-high and let it come to a boil. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes over medium-low heat.
- Stir together the cornstarch slurry. Over medium-high heat, carefully stir in half of the cornstarch slurry and let it come to a boil. If it's not thick enough, repeat with the cornstarch slurry, one tablespoon at a time, until you reach your desired consistency.