Recipe: Beef bowl

SINGAPORE - It sounds strange but sometimes you have to look at a short bout of illness with a little gratitude.

I like to talk about slowing down, taking it easy and making time to do nothing but what really stops me in my tracks is coming down with some bug or other.

Recently, after a marvellous holiday in Bangkok, I woke up back home with a scratchy throat and achy joints.

I had three precious days left of my vacation and had packed quite a lot into it. Most of those plans vaporised the minute my head got woozy.

It became a convenient excuse for just stopping. I was also invested in getting better because I had a busy week ahead with work appointments I could not move and I wanted to tackle all of that with a relatively clear head.

So instead of making like a headless chicken, I slept, lazed around and even managed to use up food in my pantry and fridge, since I was not willing to venture out to get food.

Whenever I feel poorly, I like to perk myself up with a bowl of pho, or Vietnamese beef noodles. The restorative beef broth has stopped many a bug from really taking hold.

Since I was nowhere close to a pho shop and did not want to put in the hours needed to make my own pho, I improvised and made myself gyu don, what the Japanese call rice topped with beef.

I had sliced beef in the freezer, all the fixings for dashi, the kelp and bonito broth that underpins a lot of Japanese cooking and some good Japanese rice.

A half-boiled egg topped my donburi or rice bowl.

It is dead easy to make and adds a silky richness to what is a rather austere meal.

Basically, you add boiling water to a bowl or mug of eggs, cover and wait.

Timing is everything with eggs and the ones I used, which weigh 60g each, take nine minutes for the whites to be cooked but remain soft and fluffy and for the yolks to be just a little runny.

There is no need for fancy gadgets either. I placed my egg in an enamel mug, poured in the boiling water, clapped a flat plate on top of the mug and set the timer on my mobile phone.

I also made the eggs for breakfast one morning, dipping buttered toast into them.

The main dish is a breeze to make too, perfect for anyone who should not be operating heavy machinery or busy people who want to cook from scratch but do not want to fuss over the whole operation.

I could have stir-fried the beef and onions with some shoyu and mirin but decided to cook them in dashi broth instead. There is less splatter and the clean up is easy.

Japanese rice is really key to the dish and it is best to soak the uncooked grains for about an hour before cooking. Those who are unwilling to wait can perhaps use long grain rice, although the mouth feel will be different.

While I wish I could have been more productive during my vacation, or at least spent it without the aches and pains, I was glad for the mandated rest.

Sometimes, it is good to just stop.

Make it yourself: Beef bowl

Ingredients

For the rice
300g Japanese short-grain rice
400ml water

For the dashi
500ml water
1 piece kombu (kelp) measuring about 10 by 10cm
8g bonito flakes

1 medium onion
2 Tbs shoyu (Japanese soy sauce)
1 Tbs mirin (sweet rice wine)
2 eggs, each weighing 60g, at room temperature
200g thinly sliced beef  
Beni shoga (Japanese pickled ginger, optional)

Method

1. Cook the rice: Wash the rice under running water, rubbing the grains with your hands, until the water runs clear. Drain the rice, add to rice cooker pot. Pour water over. Soak the rice for 45 minutes to one hour before cooking.

2. Make the dashi: Pour water into a small saucepan. Place kombu in it. Leave to soak for 15 minutes. Heat the water until small bubbles appear at the edge. Remove pot from heat. Add the bonito flakes, scattering them over the surface of the water. Let sit for five minutes. Strain into a deep-fry pan. Discard kombu and fish flakes.

3. About 15 minutes before serving, bring some water to boil. Peel and slice the onion thinly. Bring the dashi to a boil, add shoyu and mirin and stir well. Add the onions, turn heat down to medium low and simmer five minutes.

4. Place the eggs in a ceramic bowl or enamel mug (above). Pour in enough boiling water to cover the eggs. Place a plate over the bowl or mug and set a timer for nine minutes. Once the eggs are done, scoop them out of the water into a clean bowl.

5. When the onions are done simmering, poach the sliced beef in the dashi in batches. Place the cooked beef on a plate.

6. Divide the rice between two bowls. Spoon the onions and some of the sauce over the rice. Drape the beef over the rice.

7. Crack an egg over each bowl of rice, top with beni shoga (if using) and serve immediately.

Serves two

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