Shoyu Chicken

published Jun 1, 2023
Shoyu Chicken Recipe

A simple dish that’s beloved in Hawaii featuring bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs simmered in a salty-sweet combination of soy sauce and brown sugar.


Prep10 minutes

Cook1 hour

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overhead photo of Shoyu Chicken in bowl over rice with macaroni salad
Credit: Meleyna Nomura

Shoyu chicken — a simple dish featuring bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs simmered in a salty-sweet combination of soy sauce and sugar — is beloved in Hawai’i. Served with white rice and macaroni salad, it’s a staple at plate lunch restaurants, potlucks, and dinner tables across the islands.

What Are the Origins of Shoyu Chicken?

Shoyu chicken is classic local-style food in Hawaii. While not something Native Hawaiians ate before colonization, it’s part of the food culture that has emerged from plantation life, in which bits and pieces of dishes from different immigrant nations came together to create their own unique cuisine. Inspired by dishes like Japanese teriyaki and Filipino adobo, shoyu chicken is considered a hallmark of Hawaiian-style food. 

What Is the Difference Between Shoyu and Soy Sauce?

Broadly speaking, shoyu is the Japanese term for soy sauce; it is also the standard terminology for soy sauce in Hawai’i. So don’t worry if you don’t see any bottles labeled “shoyu” on your grocery store shelf. Kikkoman soy sauce is a popular choice when making this dish in Hawai’i, and is widely available in most grocery stores. 

Credit: Meleyna Nomura

How to Make Shoyu Chicken

I’ve eaten this dish countless times, and they all differ a bit depending on the cook. I consulted family members, and perused blogs as well as my collection of plastic comb-bound community cookbooks. Modern shoyu chicken recipes typically use bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs. They provide the most succulent meat after a long simmer. The bones contribute heft to the broth, while the skin adds a considerable amount of fat. You can easily skim off some of the fat from the top of the broth after cooking, but I don’t bother. In my humble opinion, chicken fat-coated rice is one of life’s greatest savory treats.

Most recipes include water, shoyu (soy sauce), and sugar plus some ginger and garlic. But, variations often include several wild-card ingredients like sake, mirin, oyster sauce, honey, sherry, chicken broth, and onion. Some recipes reduce the sauce down, while some thicken it with cornstarch, and others leave it as is, a thin broth. My version cuts back on the sugar, opting for a combination of brown sugar and mirin for sweetness as well as added flavor. I also use less cooking liquid than many recipes call for, resulting in a slightly sticky, flavorful sauce that runs through the grains of rice and mingles with the creamy macaroni.

Shoyu Chicken Recipe

A simple dish that’s beloved in Hawaii featuring bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs simmered in a salty-sweet combination of soy sauce and brown sugar.

Prep time 10 minutes

Cook time 1 hour

Serves 6

Nutritional Info


  • 1 cup


  • 3/4 cup

    shoyu (soy sauce)

  • 1/4 cup

    packed light brown sugar

  • 1/4 cup


  • 1/4 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper

  • 4 cloves


  • 1 (3-inch) piece

    fresh ginger

  • 4

    medium scallions

  • 8

    bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs

  • Cooked white rice, preferably short grain, for serving


  1. Place 1 cup water, 3/4 cup shoyu (soy sauce), 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar, 1/4 cup mirin, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper in a large pot or Dutch oven. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.

  2. Meanwhile, prepare the following, adding each to the pot as you complete it: Peel 4 garlic cloves. Smash a 3-inch piece of ginger with the flat side of a knife. Halve 4 medium scallions.

  3. Add 8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs to the pot skin-side down in an even layer (they can overlap). Cover and reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer for 30 minutes.

  4. Uncover and flip the chicken thighs so that they are skin-side up, arranging them into a single layer. Adjust the heat as needed to maintain a simmer so that the sauce bubbles between but not up and over the pieces of chicken. Simmer uncovered until the chicken is tender, about 30 minutes more.

  5. Transfer the chicken to a serving platter. Spoon off any fat from the surface of the sauce if desired. Serve the chicken and sauce with cooked white rice.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: Shoyu chicken can be made up to 4 days ahead. Reheat over medium heat on the stovetop until warmed through before serving.

Storage: Refrigerate the chicken in the sauce in an airtight container for up to 4 days, or freeze for up to 3 months.