I came up with this variation on teriyaki sauce specifically for my baked honey teriyaki salmon, but now it’s my go-to recipe any time I need teriyaki sauce! It’s simple and comes together easily, with just a handful of pantry staples that we always have on hand. And while it takes about 20 minutes, most of that time doesn’t require much attention. Plus, there’s a very good reason why this sauce takes about 20 minutes when other teriyaki sauces are done in about 5 minutes…
You see, most teriyaki sauce recipes you’ll find online use cornstarch to thicken the sauce. I have a problem with this for two reasons. First, it means the overall flavor in the sauce won’t be as strong, because it’s thickened with starch instead of just by reducing the sauce and thereby intensifying the flavor. Second, I just find sauces thickened with corn starch to have a distinctive slimy nasty texture that I can’t stand. (Side note: this is why I don’t like most cheap American-Chinese food restaurants.)
This version without corn starch takes longer, but the results are so worth it. A thick, rich sauce bursting with intense flavor with none of the weird sliminess. Plus, even though it takes longer, you can definitely cook other things while it’s simmering; you just need to stir it every couple minutes and check it a few times.
Notes on This Honey Teriyaki Sauce Recipe:
Sesame oil: sesame oil definitely adds delicious flavor, but you can make it with vegetable oil or another flavorless oil instead if you don’t have (or don’t like) sesame oil. I wouldn’t recommend using olive oil, because it has such a distinctive flavor of its own… but you do you!
Garlic: I’m one of those people who’s obsessed with garlic, but I wanted to keep this sauce pretty simple so that I have more flexibility when using it in various dishes. If you want to add garlic to your sauce, just add finely minced garlic in equal parts to the ginger. (This is 1 tablespoon for the base recipe, but scale it accordingly if you make more or less.) Add the garlic once the ginger just begins to get fragrant, after about 15 seconds, and then cook for another 10 to 15 seconds until you can distinctly smell the garlic too. From there, proceed as normal.
Honey vs. brown sugar: lots of honey teriyaki sauce recipes call for some combination of honey and brown sugar. I only use honey in mine for two reasons. First, if you use mostly brown sugar and just a bit of honey, the delicious honey flavor doesn’t come through. Second, because this version doesn’t use corn starch, honey acts as a great thickener. (Think of the viscosity of honey at room temperature and you’ll understand what I mean!) Using brown sugar instead misses out on these benefits.
If you decide to use brown sugar, substitute it for as much of the honey as you like. Make sure the final total is the same as what the recipe requests for honey. For example, if you’re making a double batch of this sauce and the recipe calls for 1 cup of honey, you could use ¼ cup of brown sugar and ¾ cup of honey, or ⅔ cup of brown sugar and ⅓ cup of honey, because they both add up to the required 1 cup total.
(Another) brown sugar option: if you don’t really want to use brown sugar either (for the reasons I mentioned) but want that extra darkness of flavor in your sauce, molasses is your friend! Try adding about as much molasses as ginger, so 1 tablespoon for the base recipe. It will darken the flavor without messing with the texture, since it already has a thick texture too.
Sauce thickness: because this sauce uses honey, it thickens dramatically as it cools to room temperature. Keep this in mind when you’re deciding when to pull it off the heat. And if worst comes to worst and it’s too thick, you can fix it! Just heat it back up and add a bit of water to bring it back to your desired consistency.
Looking for something to do with this sauce? Try my delicious baked honey teriyaki salmon with melted leeks.
Honey Teriyaki Sauce
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon grated ginger
- ½ cup soy sauce
- ½ cup honey
- ⅓ cup rice vinegar
- Heat the sesame oil on medium heat until it begins to shimmer.
- Add the grated ginger and saute until fragrant, 20 to 30 seconds, stirring constantly.
- Add the honey and cook until it melts.
- Pour the soy sauce and vinegar into the pot and turn the heat up to medium-high.
- Cook the mixture on medium-high, stirring every few minutes, until it reaches your preferred thickness.
- After about 15 minutes, you should notice the texture changing. If you want a thin sauce or glaze, you’re good to go now.
- If you continue cooking the sauce, in about 5 more minutes, you’ll see that it gets noticeably more thick and bubbly. See the picture for what the sauce should look like at this stage.
- At this point, if you dip a spoon in it and run your finger through the sauce (be careful not to burn yourself!), your finger will leave a trail that doesn’t fill in. For most uses, I’d suggest you take the sauce off the heat at this stage. (Notice the spoon is thinly coated and the finger trail doesn't fill in.)
- If you want a very thick, sticky sauce, continue cooking the mixture for about 5 more minutes. At this point, it will have much less steam and be visibly darker and thicker as it bubbles. Notice the difference between this picture and the previous one of the bubbling sauce.
- The back-of-the-spoon test at this stage will have a visibly thicker coating. Notice the thicker layer on this spoon. DO NOT cook the sauce further than this stage or it will be unusably thick.
Want to remember this honey teriyaki sauce recipe? Save it to your favorite Pinterest board!