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Grilled Ponzu Chicken Sandwiches with Chef Drew

Written by Drew Brown, Director of Food Service at the J

I like to cook breakfast or lunch for my staff about 1 – 2 times a month. It gives them the opportunity to have someone serve them for a change, and it allows me to personally express my gratitude for their hard work and commitment to our customers. This dish is one of their favorites – I think because it has a lot of interesting contrasting flavors and textures. This is basically a fancier version of a grilled chicken teriyaki sandwich.

It is hard to find Kosher Ponzu sauce. I love cooking with it because it packs a lot of complex flavors when used as a marinade, glaze, or the base for a cooking sauce. Instead of getting frustrated about the availability, I decided to make my own version.

Classic Ponzu sauce refers to a soy-based sauce that is flavored with citrus or fruit juices. The traditional Ponzu sauces available in Japan have the following components: fruit juices (usually citrus-based), seaweed (Nori), Dried Fish Flakes, Mirin, and Rice Vinegar. My version can be cooked a day or two ahead of time and used as either a marinade or a glaze (or both).

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Grilled Ponzu Chicken Sandwiches Recipe


Ponzu Sauce:
2 cups soy sauce (low sodium is a good option if you prefer it)
2 whole oranges, cut in half
1 cup of fresh lemon juice
6 sheets of nori
6 liquid ounces of fresh orange juice
2 cups brown sugar
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoons ground black pepper
4 – 5 whole dried chili peppers (I use Arbol Chiles, but most varieties will work)
A slurry made of ½ cup of corn starch mixed with ½ cup of cold water

Chicken Sandwich:
4 – 6 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 pineapple, peeled and cored, sliced into ¾ to 1-inch rings.
1 ponzu sauce recipe (see above)
1 large red onion, sliced in 1/4-inch rings.
4 – 6 brioche or challah burger-sized buns
1 red bell pepper


  1. In a medium-sized saucepan, combine all the ingredients except the slurry. Squeeze the orange juice out of the orange halves (into the pan) and then put the peels and what is left back into the pan as well. Heat this over high heat until it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes.
  2. Carefully strain out all the solid ingredients using a mesh strainer or colander. Put the hot liquid back into the saucepan and onto the stovetop.
  3. Make the slurry: Mix the cornstarch into the water vigorously using a fork making sure that it gets incorporated completely into the water. Add this to the hot ponzu and increase the heat for a minute or two, stirring until it thickens into the consistency of a nice glaze. Remove from the heat. Take half of the sauce and put it in a smaller mixing bowl then straight into the fridge or freezer for a few minutes to cool it rapidly, the other half can stay at room temperature. Note: This step can be done up to a week or so ahead of time.
  4. While your sauce is cooling, trim your chicken breasts of any excess fat. Some people prefer to remove the tenderloins (if they are still attached – which is common when using Glatt chicken).
  5. Place the trimmed chicken into the cooled sauce and let this marinate for at least 20 minutes. If you have made the sauce a day or two before cooking, you can marinate the chicken for up to 24 hours.
  6. Start the grill. You will be grilling on a medium-high setting on a gas grill, high setting on an electric grill. If using charcoal or open fire, you will need to cook most of the ingredients over indirect heat (not directly over the charcoal).
  7. Now is a good time to peel, core and slice the pineapple and peel and slice the onion. Also, wash and remove the sticker from the red pepper.
  8. Grill the red pepper whole by placing right over the hottest part of the grill. Turning it a little about every two minutes. The entire skin (all the way around the pepper) should get charred and black. Remove the pepper from the heat and then run it under cold water while gently peeling off the burnt skin. You should find a lovely deep red colored roasted pepper under all the charred skin. Seed the pepper and slice it into thin strips. Set it aside.
  9. Grill the onion slices. I spray mine with a little non-stick pan spray (like Pam) before I grill them but you really don’t have to. Grill them just enough to put grill marks on both sides. Remove them from the heat and set them aside.
  10. Grill the pineapple slices. I try to grill them on the hottest part of the grill. Grill them for about 3 minutes on each side. Brush them with the room temperature glaze. Set them aside.
  11. Take your marinated chicken breasts and spray them with the non-stick pan spray and cook them on the grill. I turn the heat down to about medium or so for this process so they get cooked all the way through without burning on the outside. Cook them until they are cooked all the way through (using a probe-style thermometer in the thickest part of the breast – 165 degrees F – and the juices should run completely clear). Brush the chicken with the extra glaze that was not used in the marinade.
  12. Toast your buns on top of the grill for 20 – 30 seconds. Remove from the heat.
  13. Assemble as follows: Bottom bun, chicken, roasted red peppers, grilled onions, grilled pineapple, top bun.

Additional Notes/Commentary:
You can substitute roasting your own peppers with canned roasted peppers if you want, I just prefer to do it myself. You can also substitute the fresh pineapple for canned pineapple rings. I don’t recommend this because there is a serious difference in quality, but I would do it if I had all the other ingredients and fresh pineapples were not available.

You can easily make this recipe into an entrée instead of a sandwich-just skip the buns and serve it on a family-style platter.

You should have a little extra glaze left at the end, and that’s great. I like to use this same method for making hamburgers on occasion, it also makes a great stir fry sauce.

I like to serve this with grilled vegetables, and you can even use the leftover glaze on them once they come off the grill. You will also have leftover grilled pineapple slices. Your family will fight over them…sorry not sorry. We play rock, paper, scissors to see who gets them.

The man behind the meals: Drew Brown is the Director of Food Service at the J. He is a graduate of Cincinnati State, The University of Cincinnati, and received his Master’s degree from The College of Mount Saint Joseph. He is the Chef-Owner of Spice Spice Baby Cincinnati, and his recipes have won multiple awards in cooking competitions around the Tri-State. Drew is the Founder of Avon Miami Charities, a charity that prepares and distributes more than 10,000 meals a year to local homeless shelters.

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