In Japan, when people think of beef rice or marbled beef rice (Gyudon in Japanese)as it is also called, they immediately think of three major choices of where to get it: Yoshinoya, Matsushima and homecooked. Whichever place you choose to acquire your beef rice depends on your personal taste, but for working folks with long hours their choice is limited to the first two.
In the late 1970s, a bowl of beef rice was only 300 yen, and remained so right up until 2014, which was quite incredible and had everyone wondering how there was any profit to be made. Second, the speed of serving very fast, almost no need to wait, there was a fast food restaurant to create 15 seconds to sell a bowl of beef rice records, for those long-distance commuters of the moment, this is particularly attractive.
In February 2004, when the mad cow crisis swept the world, the Japanese government stopped imports of US beef, which dealt a hard blow to the price of beef rice dishes. Japanese beef was too expensive, and the traditionally low price of beef rice would be a thing of the past, so most food outlets replaced beef with pork.
A small number of shops that insisted on keeping beef rice as part of their business switched to Australian beef, though it was still at a hefty price. Finally, in September 2006, after several twists and turns, the government finally lifted the ban, and the Japanese people waited with baited breath to get their beef rice dishes back to an affordable price. Beef rice had been resurrected, and the whole country was glad to get back one of its staple and culturally important dishes.
Back in 1899 on a bridge in Tokyo, there was a busy fish market which attracted many daily customers. A man named Matsuda Rongji opened a snack bar on this main thoroughfare and began selling the first, albeit simplified, version of beef rice to the fish mongers, their customers, and travelers passing over the bridge. The dish was similar to the Chinese hot pot and later egg yolk or tofu was added, as well as other ways of flavoring the beef.
Being homesick, Matsuda named his shop “Yoshinoya” after his hometown Yoshino-machi in the Nara Prefecture. For Chinese people, the word “Yoshino” reminds them of the destruction of Deng Shichang’s Chinese warship by the Japanese guerrilla flagship Yoshino during the Sino-Japanese War. The name of the Yoshino is derived from the Yoshino River flowing through Nara Prefecture, the same prefecture as Matsuda’s hometown. However, the name reminds the Chinese of that unfortunate event.
Yoshinoya’s good luck did not last long when ten years after the Russo-Japanese War, the location was destroyed by the Japanese themselves in the Dadonggou naval battle, in which more than 300 people were killed.
So there’s a little history for you to put this dish in context, but let’s get back into the kitchen and on with the cooking!
A good beef rice dish all depends on the hero hiding behind it – well cooked rice. You might have the best piece of marbled beef, cooked perfectly, but if the rice is not cooked well, the whole dish will be subpar.
Japanese Marbled Beef Rice
Rice Component Ingredients, serves 4:
- 300 g short rice
- 480 ml water
The most worry-free way to cook rice is in a rice cooker, but unfortunately, different types of rice have different cooking requirements, and different brands of rice cookers do a different job or have different emphases, which I could write a doctoral thesis on. The least risky way is to use an ordinary pot to cook the rice, the only requirement being that it has a good thick base to ensure even heat conductivity.
I quite often use a rice cooker, however, an ordinary pot gives you better control over the various cooking parameters. Short grain rice is best for beef rice; it has a softer, waxier taste, like most varieties of Japanese rice. Thai rice and other long grain rice taste drier and have a harder texture.
Take a 20cm diameter soup pot (preferably with a glass lid so you can see what’s happening down there), and add 300 g short grain rice.
To cook delicious rice, there are two important details you need to grasp. The first is washing and the second is soaking. The purpose of washing the rice is to remove the starch from the surface of the grain and helps make the rice taste soft and waxy while still grainy and shiny. The purpose of soaking is to control the taste of the rice, the longer the soaking time, the more delicate the taste.
Add enough water to a pot to cover the rice and gently stir a few times; the water will almost immediately become cloudy. Strain the water out, and with your fingers quickly and gently stir the rice. This process is called “grinding the rice” which must be done with a certain amount of delicacy so as not to cause too much friction between the grains and thereby damaging them.
After stirring 20 times or so, rinse the rice with water again and strain. Repeat the grinding and rinsing twice more for a total agitation of 60 times. After the last grinding, rinse 2-3 times with water and then strain.
Soaking is actually not done by immersing the rice in water; rather the agitation process has caused about 40-50 ml of water to adhere to the grains, so all you need to do is let it sit. Set the wet rice in a strainer over a bowl for about 30 minutes. The water on the surface of the grains will gradually penetrate the rice, and it will change from translucent to milky white.
After soaking, pour the rice into the pan and then pour enough water so that the total weight of water and rice reaches 780 grams (300 grams of water + 480 grams of water). Filtered water gives the best results and slightly enhances the flavor of the rice.
Put the pot on the stove to boil which should take about 4-5 minutes. Once bubbles begin to appear on the bottom of the pot, turn the stove down to low (the lower, the better) to continue simmering for 18 minutes and then turn off. Let the rice stand in the covered pot for another 8 minutes.
When you finally open the lid, turn the rice several times with a wooden or silicone shovel, scraping along the inner wall of the pot. The purpose of this is to release the water vapor, so the rice doesn’t become too soft and collapses, which weakens the taste. When the hot rice comes in contact with cold air, it quickly shrinks so that the surface of the rice is fuller and more flexible. At this point, we can say that rice is done.
To make authentic Japanese-style beef rice, you need a good Japanese stock. If you particularly like the beef rice found in fast food restaurants, you can buy prepared stock, Dashi powder, that you can add to water. It saves time and expense for the fast food outlets to do it this way.
However, this stock is mainly flavored with monosodium glutamate instead of the traditional way of flavoring stock. If you use a good homemade stock, full of mellow flavor, your results will be very unlike the imitation stock used by fast food stores. Today, I will teach you how to make a stock for beef rice the traditional way, so you will get maximum flavour and authenticity.
Stock Component Ingredients (makes 1 liter):
- 10 g dried kelp. There are many varieties of kelp, the easiest way to choose is to buy kelp used to produce Dashi stock.
- 1 liter water
- 10 g bonito flakes. Bonito flakes are dried, fermented and smoked fish flakes used to make fish stock.
Take an 18 cm diameter soup pot, add 1 liter of water, and cut the kelp into 5-6 cm long sections straight into the pot.
Soak the kelp in the cold water for 30 minutes and then heat it on the stove for 15 minutes until the water in the pot begins to bubble at the bottom, but is not quite boiling. Do not boil the water or it will make the garlic flavor too strong, and will dominate the other flavors.
Remove the kelp.
These are the bonito flakes.
Put the bonito flakes into the pot, and bring to the boil. Turn off the hotplate, cover with the lid and put it aside for 10 minutes so that the flavor of the bonito flakes infuses into the kelp water.
Strain the stock into a dish.
There is still quite a bit of liquid left in the bonito flakes so squeeze this through the sieve with the back of a spoon to get the most out of them.
Now that you have the rice and stock base you have the key ingredients to making authentic Japanese beef rice.
Beef Component Ingredients (serves 2):
- 125 g onion
- 250 ml of the fish stock you have just made
- 40 ml mirin, a sweet Japanese cooking wine with up to 40-50% sugar, but lower alcohol content than sake.
- 30 ml Japanese sake
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 250 g fatty beef hot pot slices, thawed 12 hours in advance in the refrigerator
- 2 portions of cooked rice
- 2 hot spring eggs
- 25 g green onion
- 1 teaspoon sesame seeds
Cut the onions vertically.
Take a 24cm diameter heavy based non-stick pan and add the stock.
Next, add the mirin, sake and soy sauce.
Add the sugar, and then taste test the liquid. It will taste quite fishy but don’t worry; it will develop nicely as it cooks. Bring the liquid to the boil.
Add the sliced onion and boil for 3 minutes.
Add the thawed beef slices. Note that the beef must be thawed in advance if you add frozen fat directly into the pot, the inner and outer layers of fat will cook differently.
Continue to simmer for 10 minutes, gently turning the pieces of beef, so they heat evenly. After about 10 minutes the liquid will have reduced and concentrated, and be full of flavor. You should not need any extra salt, but if it’s not salty enough for your taste, you can add a little more at this point.
Take two large serving bowls and put some rice into each. Spoon some of the beef and onion mixture on top of the rice, and top with a hot spring egg in the middle. Garnish with some toasted sesame seeds and sliced green onions.
Finally, pour on some of the sauce so that it soaks into the rice.
- Making beef rice is not complicated, but there is the need to devote care to the two main components (rice and stock), to get a really authentic result.
- When cooking the beef, always keep the mixture boiling on high. This causes the liquid close to the inner wall of the pot to caramelize increasing the flavor.