Saturday, June 6, 2015

Fast and Easy Japanese Gyudon (Beef Rice Bowl)...

Gyudon is a variation on Japanese Donburi-- cooked beef and onion piled on top of a big bowl of rice and drenched in its delicious flavourful sauce. This ultimate one bowl meal did not come right away for the Japanese-- think sitting down to eat in a traditional Japanese restaurant or a homemade one at grandma's and the rice arrives in its own bowl, pristine and gleaming white, not mixed with any ingredients. The big change came about with busy lives. Starting sometime in the eighteenth or nineteenth century, restaurants started serving this quick, convenient one-bowl meal for the time-challenged and it became popular to make at home too. I've read there are about 50 kinds of donburi serving cooked, cured or raw ingredients on top of steamed rice-- anything really can be turned into a donburi. So fast and easy to cook, comforting and satisfying this is a great weeknight meal to prepare or when you have too much on the go! Such as this Saturday weekend filled with daytime romps and soccer in the park, followed by an early evening FIFA women's soccer game with Canada vs. China! A package of frozen pre-sliced beef, an onion and Japanese ingredients and condiments I had on hand easily turned into a fine irresistible one-bowl meal to chow down in front of the tube!

Fast and Easy Gyudon
Makes 4 to 6 servings

2 cups dashi (I made the dashi from scratch but you can easily buy all-natural dashi powder packs that dissolves in hot water)
1 medium onion, sliced
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup sake (In Ontario, unsalted cooking sake can only be bought in LCBO-- basically drinking sake)
1/3 cup mirin (or substitute with 1-2 Tbsp. sugar added to 1/2 cup white wine or sake)
1 Tbsp. sesame oil
1 lb. thinly sliced beef-- short rib or brisket yields the most flavourful results for this dish (you can buy pre-sliced rolled beef in packages in frozen section of an Asian supermarket)
3 Tbsp. sugar
steamed rice (I like to use Japanese or Korean short-grain rice for an authentic taste)
shichimi togarashi-- a slightly spicy seven ingredient table seasoning
bright red pickled ginger  (beni shoga)

TIP: Cook rice with slightly less water than usual so the resulting rice is a bit more firm to hold up against the smothering of gyudon liquid-- because you will want to soak your rice silly!

Dashi is a umami-rich stock made from kombu kelp- a type of seaweed and shaved dried bonito (dried tuna) flakes. Here is a fool-proof recipe you can make with two ingredients again and again to serve as a building block for traditional Japanese dishes and the base for an all-time favourite-- miso soup. Even if you make the dashi from scratch, the gyudon still takes only less than an hour to finish, as you can use the time to prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Fool-Proof Dashi
Makes 3 cups (double recipe to serve a crowd)

4 cups plus 2 Tbsp. water, divided
1 (6-inch) piece kombu
1 packed cup of dried bonito flakes

Let the kombu steep in the water in a medium pot for 30 minutes. Bring to a boil and remove kombu. Add the remaining 2 Tbsp. water to slightly bring down the temperature. 

Add the bonito and stir once. When the water comes to a boil again, decrease heat to low and simmer for five minutes. Remove any scum that comes to the surface to keep the flavour clean. Turn off the heat and let the bonito steep for 15 minutes. Strain the liquid through a fine sieve or cheesecloth (don't squeeze the bonito flakes)-- discard.

I had my son help me measure the bonito and stir it in. He was happy to help.

Combine the soy sauce, sake, mirin and dashi in a bowl; set aside.

When preparing the meat, I find it easier to use my fingers to unroll the frozen sliced beef (conveniently packed this way for easy removal), and tear into bite-sized pieces.

The fattier the cut, the resulting dish is tastier beef, more melt-in-your-mouth!

Heat the sesame oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the beef and cook stirring frequently for about two minutes until mostly cooked. Add the sugar, toss with beef and add the onions. Cook stirring constantly for about one minute until onion softens. Pour the sauce into the skillet and let simmer for about five minutes. (My sister-in-law likes to also add a tiny bunch of fresh ginger slivers for more ginger notes- if you do too, add it with the sauce). Use a large spoon or skimmer to skim off any scum and excess fat that appear on the surface. Scoop steamed rice in individual bowls and ladle the beef mixture and its liquid over top.

Oh the sweet and savoury aroma wafting in the kitchen and penetrating the house!

A bit of pickled ginger and a few dashes of shichimi togarashi perfects this flavourfully soaked beef donburi!

Enjoying the first FIFA women's soccer game-- Root for Canada or China?? Canada wins 1-0!

My classification as Easy Eats, this is an easy meal to shovel down and finish before you know it!

In my three consecutive years visiting Japan between 2004 and 2006, there was no shortage of happily wandering precariously through the streets in search of simple and fine eats. From casual eateries to elaborate traditional multi-course kaiseki meals, Japan is tops in my book for paradise nibbling and feasting! Until we meet again my love-- Ganbare Nippon! 


For more on home-style Japanese eats, select Japanese on labels to search further.

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