[RECIPE] Chef Sheldon’s Shoyu sugar steak

Eat Real Hawaii cookbook by Sheldon Simeon. Photo by Kevin J. Miyazaki

Reprinted with permission from Cook Real Hawai’i by Sheldon Simeon and Garrett Snyder, copyright © 2021. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

Serves 6 to 8

I like to think of shoyu and sugar as the mother sauce of local cuisine. Mixed together in sweet and salty balance, “shoyu sugar” forms the foundation for a number of dishes, from Chicken Hekka to Okinawa Pig’s Feet. The combination makes sense on a cultural level as much as on a culinary one: Sugarcane was the economic lifeblood of Hawai‘i for generations, while shoyu is the one seasoning we use in Hawai‘i more than any other.

The idea for this recipe came about when I faced a very specific conundrum. I love the simplicity of grilling a thick steak on my backyard grill. But if I wanted to season it with shoyu sugar, I’d have to marinate it, which would change the texture of the meat. Brushing the steak with shoyu sugar while on the grill didn’t work great either, since the liquid drips off without imparting much flavor.

The solution I came up with was a take on Japanese tare, a basting sauce thickened with brown rice that’s been toasted and pulverized. The rice powder adds a pleasant nuttiness, but more important, it helps the shoyu sugar cling to the steak, so you end up with a gorgeous caramelized crust.

With this method, any steak at least 3⁄4 inch thick will work, including the usual rib eye, New York strip, T-bone, top sirloin, flank steak, etc. My favorite cut to use, however, is boneless chuck roast (aka “the poor man’s rib eye”), a piece of meat that comes from the shoulder and is most often used for braising or roasting, thus making it a more frugal option (my dad would always pick it up on sale at Foodland). It’s not as tender as a filet mignon, but if you prefer a beefier- tasting steak, its robust flavor and satisfying chew make it an appealing option.

Use any leftover slices of steak to make Chop Steak the next day, or try steak sandwiches topped with Kim Chee Dip and watercress.


  • 3 pounds boneless chuck roast or steaks of choice, cut about 1 inch thick
  • Garlic salt
  • 1⁄2 cup raw brown rice or barley (see Note)
  • 1 cup mirin
  • 1⁄2 cup sake
  • 1 cup shoyu (soy sauce)
  • 1⁄2 cup loosely packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 6 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled
  • 6 scallions, cut into thirds and crushed
  • 2-inch piece fresh ginger, sliced and crushed
  • Oil, for the grill
  • Freshly ground black pepper


  1. Sprinkle the steaks generously with garlic salt. Place on a plate and let stand for 40 minutes at room temperature.
  2. Place the rice in a spice grinder and pulse until finely ground.
  3. In a dry saucepan, toast the rice powder over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until caramel-colored and fragrant, about 5 minutes.
  4. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the mirin and sake, and bring to a boil, stirring to loosen any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Once boiling, add the shoyu, brown sugar, vinegar, garlic, scallions, and ginger and simmer very gently until the mixture is thickened and slightly reduced, about 15 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove the aromatics (or pour the mixture through a sieve into a bowl, discarding the solids).
  5. Prepare a grill for high indirect heat (for a charcoal grill, push the coals to one side; for a gas grill, leave one or two burners off). Using tongs, oil the grates of the grill with an oiled rag or paper towels. Sprinkle the steaks generously with pepper and place on the grates on the indirect heat side. Cover the grill and cook until a thermometer inserted into the thickest portion registers 105°F, 20 to 25 minutes, flipping the steaks and checking the internal temperature every 5 minutes or so.
  6. Move the steaks over direct heat, brush liberally with the sauce, and grill, flipping every 30 seconds to 1 minute, brushing each time with more sauce, until a nice charred glaze has developed and the internal temperature registers 125°F (for medium-rare) or to desired degree of doneness.
  7. Transfer the steaks to a cutting board and let rest at least 10 minutes. Carve into thick slices and serve immediately with the remaining sauce.

NOTE: if you don’t have a spice grinder to grind the grain, substitute 1⁄3 cup Cream of Wheat or Cream of Rice hot cereal.

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