Youko Yamamoto, chef/owner of the former Gomen Kudasai and the incoming Gomen Ramen in Kingston, and DJ on ‘Noodling with Youko’, recently came over and prepared her selection of Oyakodon w/Eiichi Ohtaki. She told us the story of how this association was born out a moment of embarrassment in front of her best friend’s cool older brother Noriaki and his friend Jin’Nai:
“In 1975, I was living in Fukuyama, Japan and just getting ready to leave to go to college in Sapporo. I visited my good friend Satomi in the new apartment she shared with her big brother, Noriaki. We looked up to him because he was three years older and in a popular band. He was just leaving to study Buddhism in Kyoto. That day he also had a friend over, a band mate from Kyoto, Jin’nai. Jinnai and Noriaki asked us to make oyakodon. We were confident since we had spent our upbringings next to our moms in the kitchen so we went out to buy the ingredients for the oyakodon from memory and came back and cooked it. It was awful. Noriaki said ‘Girls, you really have to learn. Why don’t you call your mom.’ We were so embarrassed. It turned out my mother never asked me to help with oyakodon because it was so simple, so I didn’t know how to do it! What we served them was basically a dry omelet because we forgot to add dashi!
When I got to Saporro for college I bought a giant cookbook and flipped right to oyakodon. During that time in Saporro I was playing piano and keyboards in a lot of different bands myself and I would always cook for all of the boys in the bands. Oyakodon was one of the common dishes and it was the first time I made it with real Dashi. During this time I began experimenting with cooking eating and tasting and I developed a lot of cooking skill.
The members of my band liked hard rock. We would play covers of Deep Purple and Jeff Beck, but I enjoyed listening to Japanese pop like Eiichi Ohtaki and Happy End—the music that Noriaki and Jin’Nai used to play and listen to. So when I would be off cooking oyakodon for the band Eiichi Ohtaki was often playing.”
Eiichi Ohtaki got his start in the early seventies with the popular group Happy End but he went on to produce solo work from the mid seventies into the mid eighties. His most famous album, A Long Vacation (1981), is listed everywhere as one of the most important Japense pop-rock albums of all time—a quintissential summer album. It is worth a listen for the interesting way he combines super cheesy cruise ship lounge synthesizers, soft hazy vocals and pop melodies. Youko’s experience is better represented though by the album Niagara Moon. It came out in 1976 and is what she was listening to at the time.
Niagara Moon showcases how Ohtaki gathers influences from every corner of the American popular music cannon. Perhaps from a distance it is easier to see the whole range of possiblities and imagine different combinations. He somehow combines the funky rhodes-sounding piano, twangy country rock slide, barbershop quartet vocals, Lousiana horns, and urban 60’s key banging, garbage pail rock. Give this a listen as you make the recipe below for oyakodon. As it says on the album cover it is “good at COOL time!”
COOKING with YOUKO
the original recipe “OYAKO-DON”
INGREDIENTS for 4 servings
4 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 stalk of long scallion or Mitsuba 3C Japanese rice 2 boneless chicken breast 1 onion 4 eggs
sake 2/3 C
water 2/3 C shiitake juice 1 1/2 C mirin 3 oz
soy sauce 10 oz sugar* 2/3 Tablespoon
sea salt 2/3 Teaspoon
*not white sugar, organic evaporated cane juice highly recommended
1. Pre-preparation (previous night):
Tap shiitake mushroom caps to remove dusts from gills, soak them in water in room temperature and leave it over night (a few hours minimum). Make sure the mushrooms are all cover by water and put a small plate for weight.
Before starting preparation, squeeze out mushroom juice (shiitake dash) and skim it through a tea strainer. Keep it aside.
Wash and cook 3 cups of Japanese rice with 3 cups of water. Turn the rice with a rice server when cooked. Keep it covered.
3. Seasoning Sauce Preparation:
Flambé sake in a sauce pan, add all other sauce ingredients, cook and keep on skimming the impurities. Cook it down to 2/3 of the original amount.
4. Chopping Ingredients:
Cut off stem and slice shiitake mushrooms thin as 1/8” wide
Slice scallion in a sharp angle to 1/8” wide
Slice onion in 1/4” wide
Slice chicken breast diagonally to prepare slices about 1/4” thick, 1”wide x 2” long
5. Cooking Instructions:
Sauté sliced onion with medium heat in a large pan•• until yellow, add chicken and cook both sides to 1/2 way done
6. Place shiitake mushroom slices on top, pour about 2/3 of the seasoning sauce (enough to cover all the ingredients) and cook until chicken is 2/3 done.
7. Turn the heat to medium high, pour beaten eggs evenly, scatter scallion (or Mitsuba) slices and cover the pan.
8. Serve rice in an ample size donburi bowl and flatten the top. Add some seasoning sauce for flavor.
9. When the eggs are almost done (Japanese way is to keep it runny a little bit), use a spatula to quarter the cooked topping, and slide it over the rice with the sauce.
•• If you have a 5” to 6” skillet and matching cover, you will be able to prepare one serving at a time. Meshiagare! (Bon Appétit)