When we were younger, my sister and I often had to, as my dad described it, “fend for ourselves” while my parents were at work. Back in those days, no one trusted me with anything stove-related, so my sister used to make us simple dinners. I affectionately remember these dishes as “spoon food,” saucy curries or simple scrambled eggs and tomatoes atop a bed of rice, perfect for eating with a spoon. Rather than mac n’cheese or pizza, spoon food was our family’s comfort food.
Oyakodon is the epitome of spoon food. I first experienced oyakodon at Porter Exchange, an enclave of Japanese restaurants underneath Lesley University. It was love at first sight, or rather, first bite. The meat was tender, the eggs half-cooked and runny, and there was an undertone of sweetness in the sauce, perfectly balancing the otherwise salty dish. It quickly became one of my favorite Japanese-style comfort foods.
In Japanese, oyakodon means “mother and child.” If you think about it literally, you’re eating the mother and her child, but the more socially acceptable spin is that the dish is a harmony between the chicken and the egg, an ode to the eternal question of which came first.
I also like to think that “mother and child” refers the tradition of a mother passing her culinary secrets onto her child. Some of my favorite dishes are the simple ones, like the roast chicken my mom used to make every year for my birthday, the sausage pasta sauce that my dad whips together on a busy weeknight, or the green curry my sister used to make. In my childhood, these dishes seemed like magic to me, and my parents the wizards who could control fire. Even now, these childhood comfort foods are special.
So as I head off into my last year of college, I (and basically every other young adult) am trying to figure out what I want to do, and who I want to be. It can be pretty scary stuff, but at least after all the jobhunting, the interviews, and hopefully settling into a new place in a new city, my oyakodon and all my other spoon foods will be there to warmly encourage me to face the next chapter of my life.
Oyakodon (adapted from Just One Cookbook) – makes 4 servings
4 chicken thighs, rinsed and patted dry
4 shiitake mushrooms, stems removed
4 pieces (20 g) kombu
4 cups water
1 onion, thinly sliced
6 tbsp mirin
4 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp sugar
chopped green onion for garnish
Pour water into a medium pot, then submerge the kombu. Heat up the pot slowly on medium low heat. It will take 20-25 min to boil. Meanwhile, occasionally clean the dashi by skimming the surface.
Before the dashi starts boiling, remove the kombu, then add the mushrooms and bring the dashi to a boil. Continue skimming. Simmer mushrooms for ten minutes.
Start cooking rice. (1/2 cup = 1 bowl.)
Debone the chicken if yours has a bone (mine did), then in a big frying pan, heat a drizzle of oil to medium heat. Season with salt, then place in the pan, skin side down. Fry for three minutes on both sides, until golden and slightly undercooked. Slice the chicken diagonally, trying to keep the skin as intact as possible. Put aside.
Crack eggs into a bowl. Using chopsticks, write “Z” a couple times until the yolks are just barely broken apart. Set aside.
In a shallow frying pan, bring mirin to a boil, then add soy sauce, sugar, and 1 cup dashi and bring it to a boil. Spread the onion in the pan, then place chicken on top. Cover with a lid and keep the heat on high until it boils. Skim off the scum and fat, then lower heat to medium and cook for 10-12 minutes, until chicken is cooked through and the onion is soft, lightly stirring occasionally.
Slowly and evenly add the eggs into the pan. Do not pour it all in at once. Use chopsticks and poke around the ingredients to evenly spread the eggs. Shake the pan to unstick ingredients.
Scoop rice into four bowls. When the egg is almost completely cooked, or when they’re just starting to turn white, add the green onions, then cook for one more minute. Pour the mixture on top of the rice and spoon on some extra sauce. Serve immediately.