I was an odd college kid when it came to food. My dorm room fridge wasn’t stocked with cheap beer and cold pizza. Rather I had boursin cheese and fancy sausages and juice. More than once, I’d cobble together a dinner in the dining hall from large button mushrooms from the salad bar, microwaved with a little butter until tender. Add some rice and some sort of green vegetable, hopefully not overcooked beyond recognition, and I was good. I’d skip the burgers, the mashed potatoes and the ranch dressing. I’ve never really liked sweetened breakfast cereal and would often give away my pass for steak night. You’d think this would make me a “healthy eater” but not so fast. I ate more than my share of pizza, tacos and French fries. I was just a little discerning sometimes. On weekends, when the school cafeterias were closed and we’d be forced to eat off campus, I didn’t order in the typical burgers or sub sandwiches with my suitemates. Rather, I liked to go a slightly out of the way casual Japanese teriyaki house. A bowl of rice, stir fried vegetables and teriyaki chicken was my idea of a great lunch. For whatever reason, I often flew solo on these adventures.
There were a few of these types of joints around Tempe. One, whose name escapes me at the moment, was good for gyoza and yakisoba. The other, and by far my favorite, was a place called Teriyaki of Japan that looked like a little white birdhouse. If you’ve ever had “Japanese” food at a mall food court, you know what I’m talking about though this was of a much better quality as I recall. Teriyaki of various kinds – chicken, beef, salmon – breaded pork cutlets, miso soup, things on rice. I don’t remember sushi on the menu as this was the late 80’s and it wasn’t quite a thing yet though I’m sure if this place were still around today, they would indeed have sushi. My favorite dish was something called the “Pete’s Special.” I had no idea who Pete was but he inspired a mean teriyaki bowl: sticky white rice topped with stir-fried vegetables and a grilled chicken breast drizzled with a thick teriyaki sauce. I adored it.
I’ve been feeling a bit nostalgic lately. Teriyaki of Japan is long gone and I miss seeing the birdhouse when I drive down Apache Road these days. But what I really miss is Pete’s Special. I really had a hankering for one this weekend and I think Pete, whoever he is, would approve of my version. Though it isn’t a difficult dish, I was a little surprised by the amount of dirty dishes it created. Good lord. At Teriyaki, the chicken was grilled which makes sense as they had a grill fired up and ready to go at all times as well as a stir fry station with woks. At home, this gets a little trickier. The rice needs to cook – in a cooker or on the stove. The chicken needs to grill – on an outdoor grill or on a screeching hot stovetop grill. The marinade needs to reduce on the stove. The vegetables need to stir fry. Whew. If you want to simplify things, you could cook everything as a more traditional one dish stir-fry but it won’t be a Pete’s Special.
One note on the sauce: make it. It’s easy, the ingredients are easily found in the Asian ailse of any grocery store, it comes together quickly and beats the bottled stuff by a mile. Make it.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: SWEET MEMORIES. Teriyaki sauce is delicious, no denying that. There’s also something zen-like in prepping vegetables for a stir-fry. It’s systematic and methodical; everything the same size for even cooking. It’s all very relaxing and orderly, lined up neatly in little bowls. This one brought back a lot of fond memories for me; I ate a lot of teriyaki bowls during college. A lot. It makes a really nice lunch or a weeknight dinner too if you prep everything ahead.
Seven years ago: Chino Farms Strawberries
Six years ago: Rosemary Foccacia
Five years ago: Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies
Four years ago: Pear Frangipane Tarts
Three years ago: Pickled Garlic
Two years ago: Guinness Crème Anglaise
Last year: Parmesan Pea Dip
PETE’S SPECIAL – TERIYAKI CHICKEN & VEGETABLE RICE BOWL
A Pete’s Special most definitely used chicken breasts but if you prefer thighs, feel free to use them. The vegetables were also most definitely al dente and I say that kindly but I liked it that way.
for the chicken:
1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts (or thighs if you prefer) ( 1 chicken breast = 9 oz)
1-2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
for the teriyaki marinade/sauce:
¼ cup mirin
5 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons light brown sugar
1 ½ teaspoons fresh grated ginger
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon sambal (garic chile sauce) or sriracha
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon water
for the vegetables:
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/8” slices on the bias
¼ small head of red cabbage, cut in 1” pieces
¼ large sweet onion, sliced ¼” thick
2 stalks celery, cut into 1/8” slices on the bias
¼ pound white button mushrooms, quartered
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
½ cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 scallions, sliced thin
2 teaspoons sesame seeds
rice for serving – white or brown; small or medium or long grain (I prefer medium grain white rice for this one)
- Prepare the chicken: Between two pieces of plastic wrap, lightly pound the thicker part of the chicken breasts so the entire piece is of an even thickness.
- For the marinade/sauce: in a Ziploc bag, combine the mirin, soy, brown sugar, ginger, sesame oil and sambal (reserve the cornstarch and water for later on).
- Add the chicken, seal the bags and let marinate in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours.
- While the chicken marinates, prep all the vegetables.
- Cook the chicken: Heat a grill or stovetop grill pan over high. (Alternatively, preheat the broiler.)
- Remove the chicken from the marinate (reserve the marinade for the sauce) and pat dry with paper towels.
- Brush the chicken lightly with the oil and sear on both sides. If using an outdoor grill, move the chicken to the cooler side of the grill to cook through. If using a stovetop grill, sear on both sides then reduce to medium and allow to cook through or alternatively, transfer the whole pan to a 350°F oven to cook through, about 4-5 minutes.
- When the chicken is fully cooked, transfer to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm.
- For the sauce: in a small bowl combine the water and cornstarch until smooth.
- Pour the reserved marinade to a small saucepan and whisk in the cornstarch mixture until smooth.
- Bring to a boil and reduce to low. Cook until thickened, about 3-4 minutes. Set aside.
- For the vegetables: heat a wok or heavy saucepan (cast iron is great) over high heat until screaming hot. Add the oil and swirl to coat.
- Add the onion and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes.
- add all the remaining vegetables and stir-fry until crisp-tender.
- Add the chicken broth and a Tablespoon or two of the teriyaki sauce and toss to coat.
- To serve: brush the chicken with the teriyaki sauce cut the into strips.
- Fill a bowl with rice, top with the vegetables and drizzle with the teriyaki sauce.
- Top with the chicken, another drizzle of the sauce and garnish with chopped scallions and sesame seeds.
- Serve warm.