Hawaiian Shoyu Chicken

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My family's Hawaiian Shoyu Chicken is pure local-style comfort food! Chicken thighs slowly simmer in a garlicky, gingery shoyu sauce until fall-apart tender. It's savory-sweet goodness, best served with a scoop of rice & mac salad. Best yet, this is an easy shoyu chicken recipe – made with 6 simple ingredients, this is a one-pot recipe that takes less than 1 hour to prepare. Slow cooker & Instant Pot instructions provided.
Shoyu chicken plated in a floral-patterened blue dish over rice with bok choy. The chicken is garnished with sliced green onions & sesame seeds. The bowl sits atop a white surface, next to a blue linen napkin, gold flatware, a small bowl of sliced green onion, & a second bowl of shoyu chicken.

As a born-&-raised Midwest kid, comfort food holds an extra special place in my food-loving heart. As a born-&-raised Midwest kid with a Hawaiian mom, though, my favorite childhood comfort foods stray a little bit from the Midwest norm. Sure, we ate plenty of meat & potatoes, but we also had many of the local-style foods near & dear to my mom’s heart – Grandpa’s beef stew, stir fried noodles, SPAM musubi, teriyaki everything, &, of course, shoyu chicken.

If shoyu chicken is new to you, you’re in for such a treat. It’s essentially a braised chicken dish made with chicken thighs & a shoyu-based sauce with brown sugar, garlic, & ginger. The chicken braises until it’s totally fall-apart tender, soaking up all of the salty-sweet flavor of the shoyu sauce. It’s a total staple in Hawaii, & it’s one of my all-time favorite comfort food meals.

This particular recipe is based on the shoyu chicken my mom always makes. She rarely measures anything when she cooks, though, so I referenced a recipe in my grandpa’s Hawaiian Electric cookbook & tested, tweaked, & retested until it tasted like Mom’s. It’s an easy-to-make one-pot meal & I know you’ll love it as much as we do!

Shoyu Chicken – Recipe Highlights

This Hawaiian shoyu chicken is…

  • SALTY SWEET GOODNESS. Humble chicken thighs slowly simmer in a salty-sweet sauce made from soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, & ginger. The chicken becomes fall-apart tender & it soaks up the rich umami flavor of the sauce.
  • EASY TO MAKE. Unbelievably easy, in fact – it’s a one-pot recipe made with just 6 staple ingredients. It comes together in 1 hour or less of entirely inactive cooking time. Plus, it’s slow cooker- & Instant Pot-friendly. Check the Recipe Notes for guidance!
  • A TASTE OF HAWAI’I. An iconic local Hawaiian meal with Japanese origins, best enjoyed plate lunch-style with rice & mac salad.

Pure local-style comfort food. ♡ Read on to learn more about this Hawaiian Shoyu Chicken, or jump straight to the recipe & get cookin’!

Close up of shoyu chicken plated in a floral-patterened blue dish over rice with bok choy. The chicken is garnished with sliced green onions & sesame seeds. The bowl sits atop a white surface, next to a blue linen napkin & gold flatware.

What is Hawaiian Shoyu Chicken?

Something important to understand about Hawaii is it’s a melting pot of people, cultures, & traditions from all around the Pacific Rim. This is very much so reflected in Hawaii’s local food scene. So, while the idea of local Hawaiian food may seem synonymous with gorgeous fresh seafood & tropical flavors to non-locals or mainlanders, there’s really a lot more to it than that. Local Hawaii food is just as culturally rich & diverse as the local population, consisting of everything ranging to the freshest poke you’ll ever eat to the ultimate comfort foods – noodles, dumplings, fried chicken, beef stew, gravy-smothered plates of rice & eggs, & so on.

What is Shoyu Chicken, then? Shoyu chicken is an iconic local Hawaiian meal with Japanese origins. Humble chicken thighs simmer in a salty-sweet sauce made from shoyu (soy sauce), brown sugar, garlic, & ginger. The chicken becomes fall-apart tender & it soaks up the rich umami flavor of the sauce. In Hawaii, shoyu chicken is often enjoyed plate lunch-style, alongside rice & mac salad.

Key Ingredients

Like many local-style Hawaiian meals, this easy shoyu chicken recipe is made with very straight-forward ingredients. This recipe calls for just 6 ingredients, & they’re staples that you likely have on hand at any point in time.

Shoyu chicken ingredients on a white surface: brown sugar, green onions, ginger, garlic, water, shoyu, & bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs.

Full ingredients list & measurements provided in the Recipe Card, below.

You will need…

  • Chicken thighs – Specifically, bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs. This is a braised chicken dish, so you really need to use chicken thighs here given they’re less likely to dry out with a long braise.
  • Shoyu – A staple in Hawaiian kitchens, & the star ingredient in this recipe! In Hawaii, soy sauce is commonly called shoyu, the Japanese word for soy sauce. Aloha Shoyu is my go-to.
  • Brown sugar – Another key element, brown sugar adds irresistible sweetness to offsets the salty flavor of shoyu. If possible, use dark brown sugar, which adds extra rich & caramelly flavor.
  • Aromatics – Namely generous amounts of green onions, garlic, & fresh ginger, which add lots of aromatic flavor to the shoyu sauce.

How to Make Shoyu Chicken:

The thing you’ll love most about this recipe is it’s incredibly easy to make. There’s minimal prep involved, it’s a one-pot wonder, & the cook time is entirely inactive. Seriously – the easiest dinner ever!

Shoyu chicken assembled in a black dutch oven before braising. The dutch oven sits atop a white surface.

Full Recipe Directions with step-by-step photos provided in the Recipe Card, below.

Here’s what you’ll do…

  1. Mix the shoyu sauce – Whisk together the shoyu, brown sugar, green onions, garlic, & ginger, diluting it a little bit with water. Plain & simple! Meal prep tip ⇢ For even more flavorful shoyu chicken, you can soak the chicken thighs in the shoyu sauce up to 3 days ahead of time. Check the Recipe Notes for more guidance!
  2. Braise the chicken: Add the shoyu sauce to a pot with the chicken thighs, submerging them in the sauce as much as possible. Simmer over low heat for 30-35 minutes. Why? ⇢ A low & slow braise gently cooks the chicken thighs until they’re succulent & fall-apart tender.
  3. Optional: Broil for texture: Pop the chicken under the broiler for 4-5 minutes. Meanwhile, thicken the shoyu sauce by boiling for 5-10 minutes, until reduced as desired. Why? ⇢ It’s not traditional, but broiling gets the chicken skin gloriously crispy & caramelized. I picked up on this trick a few years back from Alana Kysar’s Aloha Kitchen. It’s brilliant because it adds texture to an otherwise soft dish. Plus, it caramelizes the sugars on the chicken from the shoyu sauce, adding extra richness & smokiness that’s hard to beat. I never skip this step when I make shoyu chicken now!

That’s it! Seriously simple, right? You’ll be serving the most insanely flavorful comforting local Hawaiian meal less than 1 hour later…& there will only be 1 pot to wash!

Close up of shoyu chicken plated in a floral-patterened blue dish over rice with bok choy. The chicken is garnished with sliced green onions & sesame seeds. The bowl sits atop a white surface, next to a blue linen napkin & gold flatware.

Hawaiian-Style Shoyu Chicken FAQs:

  • What is shoyu? In Hawaii, soy sauce is commonly called shoyu, the Japanese word for soy sauce. It’s a staple ingredient in Hawaiian kitchens, & it’s the star ingredient in shoyu chicken. Aloha Shoyu is my go-to.
  • How to make shoyu chicken in a slow cooker or crockpot? – This recipe is incredibly slow cooker-friendly! Full slow cooker directions are included in the Recipe Notes, below.
  • How to make Instant Pot shoyu chicken? – This recipe is also incredibly Instant Pot-friendly. In fact, it’s my go-to method for busy weeknights or warm nights when I don’t want to heat up my kitchen by having a pot on the stove. Full Instant Pot directions are also in the Recipe Notes, below.
  • How to serve Hawaiian shoyu chicken like a local? – Easy! Whip up a pot of rice & a batch of mac salad, & serve them alongside the shoyu chicken. Be sure to spoon plenty of the shoyu braising liquid over the chicken & rice, & finish with sliced scallion. YUM.
Side angle of shoyu chicken plated in a floral-patterened blue dish over rice with bok choy. The chicken is garnished with sliced green onions & sesame seeds. The bowl sits atop a white surface. In the foreground are 2 gold forks & some sliced green onions. In the background, a blue linen napkin & a second bowl of shoyu chicken.

I can’t wait for you to try this easy Shoyu Chicken recipe! It’s pure island-style comfort food & I know you’ll love it as much as we do. If you do give it a try, be sure to let me know!: Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo & tag @playswellwithbutter on Instagram. I LOVE hearing about & seeing your PWWB creations!

Want to try more Hawaiian recipes? Start with my Best-Ever Kalua Pig (seriously the best!), my Grandpa Clarence’s Hawaiian Beef Stew, or my mom’s Homemade Teriyaki Marinade. Happy cooking! ♡

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Shoyu chicken plated in a floral-patterened blue dish over rice with bok choy. The chicken is garnished with sliced green onions & sesame seeds. The bowl sits atop a white surface, next to a blue linen napkin, gold flatware, a small bowl of sliced green onion, & a second bowl of shoyu chicken.

Hawaiian Shoyu Chicken

  • Author: Jess Larson
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 45 minutes
  • Total Time: 55 minutes
  • Yield: serves 46 1x
  • Category: Main Dish, Chicken Recipe
  • Method: Stovetop, Braised
  • Cuisine: Hawaiian

Description

Hawaiian Shoyu Chicken is pure local-style comfort food! Chicken thighs slowly simmer in a garlicky, gingery shoyu sauce until fall-apart tender. Savory-sweet goodness, best served with a scoop of rice & mac salad. Baked, slow cooker & Instant Pot instructions provided in the Recipe Notes.


Ingredients

Scale
  • 6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 23 pounds)
  • 1 cup water
  • 2/3 cup shoyu
  • 2/3 cup dark brown sugar
  • 4 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
  • 3-inch piece ginger, finely chopped or grated
  • optional: cornstarch slurry
  • for serving, as desired: rice, sautéed cabbage or bok choy, etc.Shoyu chicken ingredients on a white surface: brown sugar, green onions, ginger, garlic, water, shoyu, & bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs.

Instructions

  1. Mix the shoyu braising liquid: Add the water, shoyu, brown sugar, green onions, garlic, & ginger to a bowl. Whisk to combine. Set aside or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Shoyu chicken braising liquid in a small mixing bowl with a whisk. The bowl sits atop a white surface.
  2. Braise the shoyu chicken: Pour the braising liquid into a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven with a lid. Nestle the chicken thighs in the pot, submerging them in the shoyu braising liquid as much as possible. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to low. Cover & simmer for 30-35 minutes, until the chicken is fall-apart tender & cooked through. Shoyu chicken assembled in a black dutch oven before braising. The dutch oven sits atop a white surface.
  3. Optional: Broil for texture: Preheat your oven’s broiler to its highest setting, ensuring an oven rack is positioned about 6 inches below the broiler. Transfer the chicken thighs to a small baking sheet. Place under the broiler for 4-5 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through, until the chicken skin is crispy & caramelized. As the chicken broils, you can also thicken the braising liquid. Increase the heat under the pot to high. Boil 5-10 minutes, until reduced as desired. Broiled shoyu chicken thighs on a small Nordicware baking sheet, atop a white surface.
  4. Serve the shoyu chicken immediately alongside rice & mac salad. Spoon the thickened shoyu sauce over the chicken & garnish with thinly sliced green onion as desired. Enjoy! Shoyu chicken in a black dutch oven atop a white surface. The chicken is garnished with sliced green onions & sesame seeds. The dutch oven is surrounded by a blue linen napkin & serving spoons, & 2 small bowls, one filled with rice & the second with sliced green onions.

Equipment


Notes

  • Shoyu: In Hawaii, soy sauce is most commonly called shoyu, the Japanese word for soy sauce. It’s a staple ingredient in Hawaiian kitchens. Aloha Shoyu is my go-to. Feel free to swap it out with tamari for a gluten-free dish.
  • Storage & reheating: Shoyu chicken stores incredibly well – it’s the type of recipe that gets even more flavorful as it sits! Transfer cooled shoyu chicken to an airtight container & store in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. Easily reheat on the stovetop or in the microwave until warmed through.
  • 10-Minute Meal Prep: You can eliminate all of the active work involved in this shoyu chicken recipe by prepping the shoyu braising liquid in advance. To meal prep, complete the following tasks, & at dinnertime, all you have to do is get the shoyu chicken on the stove – easy!
    • Mix the shoyu braising liquid according to Step 1 of Recipe Directions. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. (10 minutes active prep)
    • Optional: Marinate the chicken thighs: For even more flavorful shoyu chicken, you can let the chicken thighs soak in the shoyu sauce. Pour your prepped shoyu braising liquid over the chicken thighs & store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. At dinnertime, simply transfer to a pot & cook as directed in Steps 2-4 of Recipe Directions. Easy! (10 minutes active prep)
  • Alternate Cooking Methods:
    • OVEN-BRAISED SHOYU CHICKEN: Prep the recipe according to Steps 1-2, above. Rather than cooking on the stovetop, transfer the covered pot to a 350 degree F oven. Braise in the oven for 45 minutes – 1 hour, until the chicken is fall-apart tender. Complete the recipe according to Steps 3-4, above, & serve.
    • SLOW COOKER SHOYU CHICKEN: Prep the recipe according to Steps 1-2, above, assembling the shoyu chicken in your slow cooker. Slow cook on high for 3-4 hours or on low for 5-6 hours until the chicken is fall-apart tender. Finish as directed in Steps 3-4. If your slow cooker has a searing/browning feature, you can use it to thicken the braising liquid in the slow cooker as described in Step 3.
    • INSTANT POT SHOYU CHICKEN: Prep the recipe according to Steps 1-2, above, assembling the shoyu chicken in your Instant Pot. Cover & seal the Instant Pot. Cook the shoyu chicken on manual high pressure for 15 minutes. Carefully quick release by flicking the valve to its “venting” position. Switch the Instant Pot to its “Sauté” setting, & finish the shoyu chicken as directed in Steps 3-4.

Keywords: shoyu chicken, hawaiian recipes, easy, comfort food recipes, dairy-free, instant pot, slow cooker, crockpot

Recipe & Food Styling by Jess Larson, Plays Well With Butter | Photography by Rachel Cook, Half Acre House.

Shoyu chicken plated in a floral-patterened blue dish over rice with bok choy. The chicken is garnished with sliced green onions & sesame seeds. The bowl sits atop a white surface, next to a blue linen napkin, gold flatware, a small bowl of sliced green onion, & a second bowl of shoyu chicken.

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Hi there, I'm Jess!

If there’s 1 thing to know about me, it’s this: I am head-over-heels in love with food. I’m on a mission to make weeknight cooking flavorful, fast, & fun for other foodies, & PWWB is where I share foolproof recipes that deliver major flavor with minimal effort. Other true loves: pretty shoes, puppies, Grey’s Anatomy, & my cozy kitchen in Minneapolis, MN.

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Comments

  1. 5.4.21
    Kristina said:

    Another amazing yet easy dish for the perfect weeknight dinner. Marinating the chicken for two days was a must for me! The chicken was flavorful down to the bone. Impressive! I can’t wait to add this to my regular meals.

    • 5.4.21

      Awesome, thanks for letting us know about your marinade time! I’m glad it gave the chicken flavor throughout. Glad you enjoyed, Kristina! xx

  2. 4.23.21
    Stacey said:

    I loved this chicken! I mixed the marinade in the morning in a large glass bowl, added the chicken and cooked it following the stovetop directions for dinner. I served it with brown rice, hawaiian mac salad and your slaw! It’s delicious! I will make this again.

    • 5.3.21

      So, so glad you loved this chicken, Stacey! Your side dishes all sound like the absolute PERFECT accompaniments!

  3. 4.17.21
    Nathalie said:

    Hi! Excited to try this, how would you recomment cooking the bok choy I see in inr of the pictures? Should I just add it in the pot with the chicken?

    Thank you!

    • 4.20.21

      Hey Nathalie! I’m excited you’re going to try this shoyu chicken! For the bok choy, really simple – just slice the baby bok choy in half lengthwise (as pictured), then saute cut side down in a smidge of oil. Takes about 3-5 minutes, depending how tender or crisp you like them. You can add ginger or garlic or drizzle with sesame oil if you’d like more flavor. Report back & let me know how you like it!! xx