I love Japanese food but the stuff worth paying for is usually quite pricey – so occasionally, I make it at home. My sushi has had limited success (to be fair, most sushi chefs train for decades) whilst my ramen gets better every time. I can’t get enough of the umami-rich noodles in savoury broth topped with Asian veg, thin nori seaweed and grilled meat. And although I usually get recipes from the internet, I adapted the ramen from Japanese Soul Cooking by Tadashi Ono & Harris Salat, which I highly recommend.
Japanese Soul Cooking is an aesthetically pleasing cookbook, printed on good quality paper that feels meaningful to fingers tired from chopping. Easy on the eye, each page is well spaced out with plentiful attractive pictures of the final dish to guide those less familiar with Japanese cooking. Divided into 13 different types of cuisine such as ramen, tempura, gyoza etc and then by variants on each dish, it’s easy to navigate too, with accurate instructions delivered through a clear and engaging narrative. There’s even chapters dedicated to ‘master recipes,’ elements that are found in many dishes, and an index of less common Japanese ingredients and customs, which is both interesting and helpful.
So with ramen under my belt – in more ways than one – I was after a new Japanese delight. I was thrilled when I stumbled upon donburi, a sort of fluffy omelette mixed with soft onions and marinated meat on top of rice. I love the subtle balance of flavours in Japanese dishes; a hint of sweetness from mirin, a snifter of sourness from rice wine vinegar, a touch of saltiness from soy sauce. It all makes for a moreish combination and in this case was the basis of the marinade in donburi. Often served as fast food in Japan, the meal’s description as a ‘great for busy people’ only made it all the more attractive to me.
The recipe called for making your own dashi, a type of stock resulting from boiling strips of dried kombu seaweed and a large quantity of bonito fish flakes. I found that whilst it was low effort to make, it was surprisingly time consuming and yielded far more than we needed. I should have read ahead and seen that the meal for busy people required advance prep! Since dashi can be easily substituted for chicken or fish stock, I recommend you do so in the recipe below instead.
In any case, the end result was a very satisfying, comforting meal. The chicken and onions soak up the sauce and the lightly mixed egg gives the dish texture. Feel free to experiment with donburi variants – from experience, I recommend thinly sliced beef. I suspect it would also be good with aubergine and sweet potato or mushrooms and tofu for a veggie alternative. There are separate recipes for these things in Japanese Soul Cooking, but why not start with my recipe below and see how you get on. I’d love to hear your feedback.
- Two chicken breasts
- One large white onion
- 100ml sake
- 100ml soy sauce
- 100ml mirin
- 100ml rice wine vinegar
- 100ml dashi or other stock
- 4 eggs
- 1 cup sushi or white rice
- 3 spring onions
- 1 sheet nori seaweed
- Pickled shredded ginger
- Chop onions in half top to bottom and then in thin strips lengthwise; chop chicken in to chunks.
- Place the chicken and onions into a saucepan with all the liquid ingredients. Bring to the boil and then leave to simmer until the chicken is cooked and the onions are soft, stirring occasionally. Enjoy the perfectly balanced sweet-sour-salty aroma.
- Cook your rice at the same time. If you’re going properly Japanese, use sushi rice. Rinse it beforehand in cold water. When it’s cooked, allow it to cool slightly then stir in four tablespoons rice wine vinegar, a pinch of salt and a tablespoon of sugar. (I think the dish would work just fine with white basmati or even brown rice for the health conscious.)
- Crack four eggs into a bowl and whisk no more than ten times! Whilst this instruction seems pretty funny and bizarrely specific, the point is to gently combine the yolk and white but not to scramble the eggs. (We actually only gave it five whisks.)
- Finely chop three spring onions and cut the nori into thin strips with scissors whilst heating up a skillet.
- Pour the contents of the saucepan into the hot skillet. (A frying pan is acceptable but it's easier to remove the end product from a skillet.) Bring everything to the boil again then let it simmer for about 5 minutes to reduce the sauce.
- Pour three quarters of the mixed eggs over skillet's contents. When the egg is just about cooked, pour over the remainder and sprinkle two of the spring onions on top. Do not stir the egg! Allow everything to simmer until the egg is cooked but still runny.
- When the rice is cooked, spoon it into two bowls. Slice the donburi in half and place each piece on top of a bowl of rice. Top with the rest of the spring onion, sliced nori and pickled ginger. Add chilli flakes, salt and pepper or soy sauce to taste.