Wikipedia defines Comfort Food as “food prepared traditionally, that may have a nostalgic or sentimental appeal, or simply provide an easy-to-eat, easy-to-digest meal rich in calories, nutrients or both”.
While I wouldn’t argue with any of the above I might add that, Comfort Food for me is often a dish that will comfort my soul following a rough time, can be a dish that reminds me of someone I care deeply about and most certainly, comfort food will warm the body on a cold day or the heart on a rainy one.
Getting back to the definition, Wikepedia goes on to say comfort foods can be “foods that have a nostalgic element either to an individual or specific culture” and this is where I get to my point. Oyako Donburi is a very well known comfort food in Japan and especially popular in Hawaii. It is a dish of chicken and eggs simmered in a warm broth and served in a bowl over rice.
In Japanese “Oyako” loosely translates to “parent and child” and “Donburi” is usually “bowl” or “rice bowl”. You may also see this dish called “Oyakodon” which is simply an abbreviation of the same. Vaguely similar in ingredients to the Vietnamese soup, Pho Ga, which has definitely become a comfort food for my wife and I, Oyako Donburi may well become our next new favorite.
Which brings me to today…it’s been raining steady here for two days straight and yesterday was a lazy, rainy Sunday. It was the perfect day for making a big batch of homemade chicken stock and when the rain continued all day today, a comfort food meal seemed to be just what the doctor ordered. After a little research and some stovetop experimentation, Oyako Donburi was just the right prescription for a cozy night at home!
Notes: This recipe is not entirely authentic and is something of a fusion recipe as I use a Chinese method of “velveting” the chicken in step 1. Although you can skip this step and simply simmer the chicken pieces in the broth with the onions, I highly recommend taking the extra few minutes. The difference in flavor and texture is well worth the added effort.
Once the chicken is “velveted”, I prepare Step 3 one portion at a time for continuity…this step comes together fairly quickly. Feel free to experiment with ingredients; a Google search of Oyako Donburi recipes will give you many ideas from adding miso or cilantro to using bonito flakes (dried fish) for a variety of flavors.
Begin by preparing enough brown rice for two 1 to 1-1/2 cup portions, then go to step 1 while the rice is cooking. The rice should be steaming hot when added to the bowls as it serves to finish cooking the eggs.
Step 1 – “Velvet” the chicken:
2 Tbsp – Dry sake
2 Tbsp – Warm water
2 Tbsp – Corn starch
1 – White of 1 large egg
1 – Good pinch of kosher salt
1 Large or 2 small – Chicken breast halves, split lengthwise then sliced crosswise into thin slices
1 Tsp – Sesame oil
Combine the first 5 ingredients and whisk only until well combined. Stir in the chicken pieces and marinate this mixture for at least ½ hour, refrigerated.
Fill a small wok (or a med sauce pan) at least half full with water and bring to a gentle boil. Add 1 tablespoon of sesame oil then carefully add ½ of the chicken, strained of excess marinade, and cook gently separating the chicken slices to prevent clumping.
When the chicken is solid white and cooked through (about 1-1/2 to two minutes) the chicken will begin to float. At that point, remove the chicken to a strainer to drain. Repeat until all of the chicken is cooked setting the strainer over a bowl to drain. Discard the water and if making ahead, refrigerate the chicken until ready to use. Note: I used a Chinese Spider Strainer for this cooking process and a traditional 8″ mesh strainer to drain the chicken.
Step 2 – Simmer and “bowl” the following 1 portion at a time
1/2 Cup – Fresh chicken broth
1 Portion – Chicken, prepared in step one
1 quarter – Large yellow onion, sliced in ¼” slices, divided
3 Med – Shitake mushroom caps, sliced in ¼” slices, divided
2 – Green Onions, sliced thin on a sharp angle (bias)
1/4 Cup – Fresh arugula (or spinach)
2 Tbsp – Dry sake
2 Tbsp – Tamari sauce
2 Tsp – Agave nectar
½ Tsp – Sesame Oil
Nori (Dried seaweed) for garnish
In a small wok or pan (I used a non-stick egg skillet) bring the broth to a gentle boil over medium high heat. Stir in the sake, tamari, agave nectar and sesame oil, then add the onion and mushroom slices. Simmer until the onions are just becoming translucent (about 5 minutes) then add the chicken from step 1 along with the arugula.
Simmer one minute more stirring to ensure even heating. (Note: If you are skipping step one, add the chicken one minute after the onions and mushrooms and simmer until cooked through, then add the arugula for one minute more.)
Crack the eggs into a bowl and beat just enough to break the yolks and slightly mix the eggs. Stir in half the sliced green onions then gently pour the eggs evenly over the top of the simmering broth. Cook 30 seconds, then using chop sticks, stir once just enough to distribute the eggs evenly, cover and cook 30 seconds more while you spoon the rice into a bowl for serving.
(If necessary microwave the rice for 30 seconds to make sure it’s hot then) Gently slide the cooked mixture out of the pan and into the bowl over 1 to ½ cups steaming hot rice. Cover the bowl with a saucer and serve as the eggs finish cooking in the hot bowl. Garnish with the remainder of the sliced green onions and crumbled or sliced dried nori.