A few weeks ago, Dotch (our favorite Japanese cooking show) featured a contest between two dishes that contained crispy browned rice. One of the dishes was dolsot bibimbap, a Korean dish made in an extremely hot stone bowl, and the other was something similar to gomoku gohan, a Japanese dish where rice, vegetables, and meat are cooked in flavorful stock, and then left in the pan long enough so that the rice along the sides and bottom browns. Both dishes looked tasty, and we've wanted to make them since seeing the episode; since we didn't have any stone bowls, we decided to make the gomoku gohan.
Our favorite (and only) Japanese cookbook (Yamaoka 1984) had a recipe for non-crispy gomoku gohan, including a note suggesting that with only a small modification you could make the crispy version. We made the crispy version for the first time yesterday; the rice soaked up the savory flavors added to the pot and was delicious. It was relatively quick and easy to make (excluding the 1-hour wait on the rice), so don't let the length of this post fool you: you can probably do all the active preparation and tending in less than 20 minutes if you work quickly. Since we enjoyed this dish so much, it's this week's end-of-the-week recipe blogging post.
2 1/2 cups short-grain rice
5-inch piece burdock root (gobo)
1 medium carrot (~7-inch piece)
1/3 cup frozen chopped green beans (or 5-6 fresh)
3 1/4 cups water (1/4 to 1/2 cup less if your rice is very fresh)
1 packet (0.35 oz) instant dashi powder (or use 3 1/4 cups homemade dashi instead of the water)
3 tablespoons sake
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 ounces chicken (we used a boneless, skinless chicken thigh)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 ounces steamed fish cake, thinly sliced
1) In a large bowl, wash the rice and drain it, repeating until the water that drains off is almost clear.
2) Let the rice sit in the bowl, covered with a moist kitchen towel, for one hour. [note: we do not know how essential this step is, but it is apparently traditional for Japanese rice cooking; you might be able to skip it in a pinch.] You can start preparing the other ingredients before the hour is up.
3) If you are making dashi from scratch, prepare it now.
4) Wash and scrub the burdock well, but don't remove the skin. Slice the burdock into thin slivers, being sure to get a little piece of the skin on each sliver; you can use a technique similar to sharpening a pencil with a knife. Place the burdock slivers into a bowl of water if you're not going to use them immediately, as they will oxidize (brown) when exposed to air.
5) Peel the carrots and cut them into thin 1-inch-long pieces (I cut each inch-long piece into quarters, essentially making short carrot sticks).
6) If using frozen green beans, defrost them (using the microwave or hot water).
7) Mince the chicken; this is easier if the chicken is somewhat frozen.
8) Add the rice, vegetables, water, dashi powder, soy sauce, sake, sugar, and salt (the chicken, oil, and fish cake will be all that's left) to either a rice cooker or a pot you will use to cook the rice on the stove.
9) Heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan over high heat; once the oil is hot, add the minced chicken and cook until the chicken has lost its raw color.
10) Add the cooked chicken to the rice cooker or pot on the stove, stir to mix (the carrots and burdock will probably float), and cook the rice. If you have a rice cooker, all this entails is turning the cooker on; for stove-cooking instructions, see below.
11) As soon as the rice has cooked (the rice cooker clicks off), quickly drop the sliced fish cake on top of the rice, put the lid back on, and let the rice cooker stay on (on the "stay warm" setting) for another 10 minutes to let the rice brown (the longer you leave the cooker on, the more the rice will brown).
12) Gently mix the rice and serve it hot, being sure to include some of the crispy rice from the bottom in each serving.
This dish is extremely flexible - mushrooms are a very common addition (e.g., this recipe), and the cookbook suggests adding clams, beef, pork, or fish in addition to (or replacing) the chicken. Radagast's SO felt the dish might be better with a greater volume of vegetables.
Most of the ingredients in this recipe should be available at a local Asian market (especially a Japanese one). Steamed fish cakes look like little half-cylinders packaged in plastic; the outside may be plain white or dyed a bright pink, and they'll be in the refrigerated section. Burdock root will be in the produce section; it is a very long, brown-skinned root that is usually at least two to three feet long and about an inch in diameter. Dashi soup stock powder will be sold in little boxes, probably in an aisle near bags of dried fish flakes (which are used to make dashi). When buying dashi soup stock powder, compare the brands and purchase the one that includes the most bonito (it should be the first ingredient).
Both dashi and burdock give this dish a traditional Japanese flavor, so should be added if possible. However, if you're sitting at home desperately wanting to make this dish and don't have either dashi or burdock, you could probably substitute just about any fish stock (or even chicken stock) for the dashi, and canned bamboo shoots, turnip, radish, or extra carrots for the burdock. It won't taste quite the same, but it'd be better than sitting at home hungry.
[Update 1/1/2006: I just posted a second, vegetable-heavy, version of this recipe here.]
Cooking rice on the stove:
We own a 10-cup rice cooker and have not cooked rice on the stove since we got it (which was more than 5 years ago). If you make a lot of rice dishes, invest in a rice cooker; it's well worth it (we use ours nearly weekly). However, if you don't own a rice cooker, here are the cooking instructions Yamaoka (1984) provides for cooking this dish on the stove:
1) After you've mixed all the ingredients into the rice (in step 10, above) and bring to a boil over high heat.
2) "Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for 12 or 13 minutes." Do not stir or remove the pot lid during this time.
3) Quickly add the steamed fish cake and replace the pot lid, as described above.
4) "Turn [the] heat to high for 5 seconds, then turn off and remove the pot from the heat."
5) Let the rice stand, covered, for 10 to 15 minutes. I imagine that leaving the rice on low heat would contribute to browning, but we haven't tried it.
Yamaoka, Masako. 1984. A First Book of Japanese Cooking: Family-style food for the home. Kodansha International, Tokyo.