Why It Works
- Browning the garlic first ensures the garlic is cooked properly and flavors the oil that's used to cook the spinach.
- An optional thin coating of mayonnaise on the surface of the steaks encourages browning and improves flavor.
- A cornstarch slurry increases the viscosity of the sauce, making it less likely to pool in the bottom of the serving bowl.
- Using shredded nori ensures the toasted seaweed flavor is distributed throughout the bowl.
"Donburi" is a Japanese word that refers both to a class of rice dishes and the bowl in which they're served, which is both quite a bit larger and wider than the standard-issue rice bowl that would typically accompany a meal. You may already be familiar with some of the more famous donburi—gyudon, katsudon, and oyakodon—and if you are, then you know how easy to make and tasty they can be.
This beef donburi is designed with the relatively cheap thin-cut ribeye steaks you'll find at most grocery stores in America in mind. They're thicker than the thinly shaved beef typically used in Japan for a beef rice bowl, but not thick enough to lend themselves to cooking methods like the reverse sear or sous vide. It was also designed to use only one pan, aside from the vessel in which you cook your rice, whether that's a rice cooker or a pot, and it requires just a few pantry ingredients that are staples of the Japanese kitchen: sake, soy sauce, mirin, sesame oil, and rice vinegar.
The result is a well-rounded meal in a bowl in which the focus is the rice, but with a lot of textural variation and complexity of flavor, and it all comes together in about thirty minutes.
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) canola or other neutral cooking oil
- 9 medium cloves garlic, 8 halved (larger cloves can be cut into thirds) and 1 minced, divided
- One 10-ounce (280g) bunch spinach, thoroughly washed and spun dry
- Kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon (2.5ml) toasted sesame oil
- 1/2 teaspoon (2.5ml) rice vinegar
- 2 ribeye steaks, each about 1/2 inch thick (about 12 ounces; 370g) (see note)
- 1/4 teaspoon (1ml) mayonnaise (optional)
- 1/4 cup (60ml) sake
- 1/4 cup (60ml) dashi, either instant or homemade (see note)
- 1/4 cup (60ml) soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) mirin
- 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch, dissolved in 1 tablespoon (15ml) water
- 1 tablespoon (15g) unsalted butter
- To Serve:
- 6 cups cooked short-grain Japanese rice (see note)
- Kizami nori (optional; see note)
- 2 scallions (1.5 oz; 43g), thinly sliced on a bias
- Kizami beni shoga (pickled ginger strips) (optional; see note)
In a 10-inch cast iron skillet, heat oil over medium heat until just starting to shimmer. Add sliced garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until garlic is golden brown all over, about 7 minutes, taking care not to let any garlic pieces burn. Remove garlic and reserve.
Add spinach to skillet, season with salt, and cook, tossing frequently, until wilted and mostly dry, about 5 minutes. Turn off heat, add remaining minced garlic, and stir until minced garlic becomes fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add sesame oil and vinegar and toss to combine. Transfer spinach to plate and wipe out the skillet with clean kitchen towel (no need to wash).
Return skillet to medium-high heat and heat until just starting to smoke. Meanwhile, rub one surface of each steak with the mayonnaise, if using (if not, proceed with recipe). Season steaks with salt, then add to skillet (if rubbed with mayonnaise, put the steaks mayo-side down). Cook, without touching, until well-browned, about 2 minutes. Flip steaks and cook for 1 minute longer. Transfer steaks and let rest.
Meanwhile, add sake to skillet and cook, scraping up any brown bits on the bottom of the skillet, until sake no longer smells of alcohol, about 1 minute. Add dashi, soy sauce, mirin, and reserved sliced garlic. Bring liquid to boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and let simmer until slightly reduced and garlic cloves are fully cooked, about 4 minutes. Add cornstarch slurry in small increments to the skillet, pausing between each addition to let the mixture thicken a bit. When sauce has thickened slightly (you may not need all the slurry), turn off heat and add butter to pan, swirling and stirring until it is fully melted and incorporated into the sauce.
To Assemble the Bowl: Place a shy 1 1/2 cups of rice into each serving bowl. Top with kizami nori (if using). Slice steaks into 1/2-inch strips and distribute evenly in each bowl. Spoon sauce over rice and steak. Distribute cooked spinach and garlic cloves evenly in each bowl. Garnish with sliced scallions and pickled ginger (if using). Serve, passing any extra sauce alongside.
This recipe was designed to use the thin ribeye steaks often sold at grocery stores. You can substitute almost any steak cut—strip, flank, skirt—in place of the ribeye, but cooking times will vary, and you will want to slice the steak in way that makes bite-size pieces palatable (e.g. with a skirt steak, you will want to slice it against the grain, then into bite-size pieces).
The sauce is best when made with dashi, but you can use chicken stock, vegetable stock (low-sodium versions if using store-bought stocks), or even water as a substitute.
You can use any type of rice you prefer for this recipe, but short-grain Japanese rice is preferred because of the flavor and the ease with which you can pick it up with chopsticks, due to its stickiness.