This Japanese Beef and Rice Bowl that I first made two years ago in San Francisco continues to be a standby weeknight dish. It’s a very simple recipe with a delicious sauce using sake, mirin, sesame oil, and soy sauce. In this updated recipe, the sauce has been improved, with a better consistency and deeper sesame flavor. And the leftovers taste just as good, if not better!
Excuse me for a second, while I rhapsodize about fast food in Asia.
As frequent travelers know, the #1 cardinal sin when visiting a new place is eating at fast food chains (unless you are in a developing country and just need a clean public restroom.) I have had bad luck when breaking this rule. Food poisoning from a Beijing KFC, for example. I have also had good luck. On one of those painfully humid summer mornings in Shanghai, I escaped into an air-conditioned McDonald’s and discovered the joys of Sichuan-spiced chicken sandwiches.
Then there is my relationship with Yoshinoya. I can’t speak for the quality of Yoshinoya’s chains in the US (one in NYC, the rest mainly in around LA). But while living in Beijing and Shanghai, every couple of weeks I would succumb to my immense craving for their beef bowl, or gyudon. Even if it meant eating in a dingy mall basement with ambient arcade noises, alongside mega hoards of teens.
While Yoshinoya China’s beef bowl paled in comparison to anything in Japan, it was my guilty pleasure. The succulent paper-thin fatty beef and onions doused in in a soy sauce-mirin mixture, with all the flavor dripping down to coat the rice, was hard to resist. And it was less than $2.
Honestly, I really should have made this more at home and enjoyed my surroundings more. Gyudon’s incredibly easy, as long as you’re able to find fatty cuts of beef and slice it very thinly against the grain (or have the butcher do it for you). Tender cuts with a lot of marbling are ideal. The sauce is just soy sauce, mirin, and sake. Some cooks will replace the sake with water. I like to add a few teaspoons of sesame oil for a deeper flavor.
And while Yoshinoya is the most ubiquitous purveyor of gyudon, my favorite chain version actually comes from Mos Burger, which has outlets around Japan and SE Asia. Their “Yakiniku Rice Burger” is basically gyudon deconstructed and reassembled, with the rice acting as buns. It’s tiny, exactly 3 mouths of beefy bliss.
But replicating rice burgers at home is a bit harder.
Japanese Beef and Rice Bowl – Gyudon
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 large onion, thinly sliced
- 1 pound marbled beef such as skirt steak, thinly sliced against the grain
- 2 tablespoons mirin
- 2 tablespoons sake
- 1/3 cup soy sauce
- 3 teaspoons sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon white sesame seeds
- Prepare the rice as you normally would in a rice cooker or pot while you prepare the beef.
- In a large sauté pan, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Sauté the onions until soft, about 3 minutes. Push the onions to the side of the pan and add the beef to the middle. Sauté the beef for 1 to 2 minutes, until the red is mostly gone.
- Add the mirin and sake and stir for 1 or 2 minutes while the alcohol lifts up the nice brown bits from the pan. Add the soy sauce and sesame oil and let simmer until sauce is reduced by half, about 5 minutes.
- Serve hot over the rice and sprinkle sesame seeds on top.