Why It Works
- Cooking weights help cook the chicken evenly and assist with crisping the skin.
- Browning the garlic first ensures the garlic is cooked properly and flavors the oil that's used to cook the spinach.
- A thin coating of mayonnaise on the chicken skin 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" are a class of Japanese rice dishes that can be translated as "rice bowls." You're probably familiar with some of the more famous versions of the dish—gyudon, katsudon, and oyakodon—and if you are, then you know how easy to make and tasty they can be.
Donburi are easy to vary and customize—in fact, this is a chicken variation on a beef donburi recipe, since chicken breasts and deboned chicken thighs and drumsticks can work just as well as beef here. Like the beef donburi recipe, this one uses 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 frequently used in 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 some complexity of flavor and a variety of textures, 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) sesame oil
- 1/2 teaspoon (2.5ml) rice vinegar
- 2 boneless, skin-on chicken breast halves (each about 7 ounces; 200g), tender removed; or 2 boneless, skin-on thighs (each about 5 oz; 140g) and 2 boneless, skin-on drumsticks (each about 3 ounces; 80g)
- 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, stirred into 1 tablespoon (15ml) water to make a slurry
- 1 tablespoon (15g) unsalted butter
- To Serve:
- 6 cups cooked, short-grain Japanese rice (see note)
- Kizami nori (optional; see note)
- 4 egg yolks (optional)
- 2 scallions (1 1/2 ounces; 40g), sliced thinly
- 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 1 clove 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).
If Using Chicken Breasts: Return skillet to medium-high heat and heat until just starting to smoke. Meanwhile, smear chicken skin with thin layer of mayonnaise, if using (if not, proceed with recipe). Season breasts with salt, then add to skillet, skin side down; for optimal browning, place a cooking weight on top of each breast (optional). Cook until skin is well-browned and crisp, about 5 minutes. Flip breasts, lower heat to medium-low and continue to cook until thermometer inserted into thickest part of the breast registers 150°F (65°C), about 6 minutes. Transfer breasts to plate to rest.
If Using Chicken Thighs and Drumsticks: Return skillet to medium-high heat and heat until just starting to smoke. Meanwhile, smear chicken skin with thin layer of mayonnaise, if using (if not, proceed with recipe). Season chicken with salt, then add to skillet, skin-side down; for optimal browning, place a cooking weight on top of each piece of chicken (optional). Cook until skin is well-browned and crisp, about 6 minutes. Flip chicken and continue to cook until thermometer inserted into thickest part of thighs and drumsticks registers 160°F (71°C), about 1 minute longer for the drumsticks and 3 minutes longer for the thighs. As each piece of chicken reaches its doneness, transfer to a plate to 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 chicken into 1/4-inch-wide slabs (if using breasts) or 1/4-inch-wide deboned strips (if using thighs and drumsticks) and distribute evenly in each bowl. Spoon sauce over rice and chicken. Distribute cooked spinach and garlic cloves evenly in each bowl. Top each bowl with raw egg yolk, if using, and garnish with sliced scallions and pickled ginger (if using). Serve immediately, with any excess sauce passed alongside.
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.