Youko Yamamoto is the chef/owner of the incoming TANMA! Ramen and Bar in Kingston and a radio DJ on her show Noodling with Youko; she recently came over and prepared her selection of Oyakodon w/Eiichi Ohtaki. She told us how this association was born out a moment of embarrassment in front of her best friend’s cool older brother Noriaki and his friend Matsumoto-san:
“In 1975, I was living in Fukuyama, Japan and getting ready to go to college in Sapporo. I visited my friend Satomi in the new apartment she shared with her big brother, Noriaki., who we looked up because he was three years older and in a popular band. That day he and his bandmate from Kyoto, Matsumoto-san 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 had never asked me to help with oyakodon because it was so simple; I didn’t remember 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 Matsumoto-san 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 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 Japanese pop-rock albums of all time—a quintessential 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 in 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 canon. Perhaps from a distance, it is easier to see the whole range of possibilities 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. Tap shiitake mushroom caps to remove dust from gills, soak them in water in room temperature and leave overnight. Make sure the mushrooms are submerged in water—use a small plate for weight. Squeeze out mushroom juice and skim it through a tea strainer. Keep it aside.
2. Wash 3 cups of long grain rice. Add 3 cups of water and 3 cups of rice to a pot with a tight-fitting lid. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low. Cover and cook for 12-15 minutes. Turn off heat, let rest for ten minutes, then uncover and stir.
3. Flambé sake in a saucepan, add all other sauce ingredients, cook, and keep on skimming the impurities. Cook it down to 2/3 of the original amount.
4. Cut off stem and slice shiitake mushrooms 1/8” wide
Slice scallion in a sharp angle to 1/8” wide
Slice onion 1/4” wide
Slice chicken breast diagonally to prepare slices 1/4” thick, 1”wide x 2” long
5. 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 of the sauce from the pan.
9. When the eggs are still slightly runny, use a spatula to quarter the cooked topping, and slide it over the rice with the sauce.