Gyudon! It’s what’s for dinner. (Recipe)

If you are new to Al Dente, let me give you a condensed history. This whole thing started at some point in 2011 as a creative space. I’ve been getting paid to write since I was 15 (They actually paid me to do something I enjoyed. So weird.) and I’ve always loved cooking.

I also get bored easily; not in an uncontrollable ADHD sort of way, but I don’t do well when I stagnate. I adjuncted at a local college for about seven years before my first kid was born, which gave me a creative outlet from the day-to-day of my job. It was rewarding for a while, but became an added burden after the oldest came along. Rather than coming home and helping my wife, I trucked to campus and went through the motions for three hours. It was no longer worth my time or the money.

Blogging came about because I started to stagnate. I wasn’t teaching, which gave me some bit of expressive outlet, and needed something. So, I got to marry the two aforementioned things I enjoyed: writing and cooking. This carried on for five years until this began to feel like a burden. I felt like the blog was running me, not the opposite. Right around that time, a former editor of mine offered me the chance to become a restaurant reviewer for Syracuse.com and The Post Standard. So, the blog went on the shelf.

Until this week. What I think Al Dente did well (at least what people tell me they enjoyed) was the recipes. The site had 3-4 posts a week of what we were eating here at my house. My hope is that a positive of the Coronavirus sequestrations will be a rediscovery of dinnertime as an activity, not an action. We’ll talk about the sanctity of dinnertime in a later post, but with all of us home, we have a chance to take a few extra minutes in prepping a meal. It doesn’t have to be made in 30 minutes or less. We can take an hour to get dinner on the table and maybe even bring our collective cooking skill up one or two notches.

Or, maybe we will just eat a lot of pizza.

At left, the Sutter Home of sake. At right, mirin, a sweetened sake. Plus, a hunk of ginger.

I recognized that I’ve said nothing yet about what I made for dinner. Get used to it. I’m incapable of making a point quickly. Dinner tonight was gyudon, a Japanese fast food favorite made by quickly poaching beef in a broth of soy sauce, mirin, onion and sake. You should be able to find everything on store shelves. Beef might be tough right now, but you can do this with any cut that isn’t too tough. Chuck might not be the right call here, but sirloin would be okay.

WHAT WORKED: Tossing the steak in the freezer for about an hour. Slightly frozen meat is much easier to slice.

WHAT DIDN’T: My 3-quart sauce pan was a little too big. It spread out the liquid too much. I would go to a 1 1/2 or 2 quart next time.

EASE OF PREPARATION: Easy to medium. The only real trick is hoping your store has dashi and mirin.

SERVE WITH: A heaping bowl of rice. Short-grain sushi rice is best. I used basmati, but anything will work.

Gyudon
  • 1 lb. boneless beef steak (I used ribeye. Ideally you want something 3/4 to 1 inch thick.)
  • 1 1/2 tsp. instant dashi (this one might be tough, but look in your grocery's Asian section, at an Asian grocery or online)
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup sake (should be available at your liquor store)
  • 1/4 mirin
  • 2 tbsp. granulated sugar
  • medium onion, peeled, halved and sliced thin
  • a 1- or 2-inch long knob of fresh ginger, grated

Trim the excess fat from your steak and discard. Place the steak in the freezer for about one hour.

Slice the steak against the grain in the thinnest possible slices you can manage. Set aside.

In a small or medium sauce pan, bring 1 1/2 cups of water to boil over high heat.

Whisk in the dashi until completely dissolved.

Add the soy sauce, sake, mirin and sugar to the water and maintain the boil over high heat. Cook for 8-10 minutes until it begins to reduce.

Add the onions and cook 5 minutes until softened, stirring occasionally to coat.

Add the beef strips and cook 3-5 minutes, until all traces of pink have disappeared.

Add the ginger and stir.

Pour the beef mixture through a fine mesh strainer, and separate the juice from the remainder of the dish. (I separated the beef from the onions due to my wife's tastes and served them separately). Add a little liquid back to keep it warm and moist.

Serve with rice.

Adapted from recipes published at The New York Times, Serious Eats, and Just One Cookbook

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Dashi comes in packets or small jars. It’s a mix of dried bonito flakes and seaweed.

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