Like most things in life, the rules of cooking aren’t set in stone, and there are always exceptions. I’ve never been a big fan of certainties, and so for this Soboro Don (そぼろ丼) I’m going to tell you do break the rules and do something unthinkable for a classically trained chef.
In most cases, common wisdom dictates that we brown ground meat first. This high heat method of cooking, caramelizes the juices coming out of the meat, increasing the depth of flavor thanks to the Maillard reaction. The problem with this cooking method when making soboro is that the high temperature sets the proteins in the meat too quickly and you end up with lumps of meat, instead of uniform crumbs.
My solution is to use a lot of liquid in the chicken marinade, which helps to break up the meat before applying heat. Then I cook the ground chicken slowly while chopping at the chunks with a spatula. This gives you plenty of time to break up the lumps, giving you beautifully uniform crumbs of chicken.
“But what about the flavor?” you ask?
Patience, young grasshopper… We still brown the meat, but we do it after the meat is cooked. Once the liquid the meat has been simmering in evaporates, we’re able to fry the chicken in the fat it releases, thus caramelizing the sauce around each morsel of chicken.
For the egg, we also need to break a rule. I’ve said before that when making scrambled eggs, you shouldn’t stir them too vigorously to allow the formation of large fluffy curds. In this case, we don’t want large curds, and so you need to use chopsticks or a whisk to scramble the heck out of the eggs as they cook.
With five ingredients and taking less than ten minutes to prepare, this Japanese chicken rice bowl may not seem like much, but one bite and I promise you’ll be hooked for life! Savory and sweet with a hint of ginger, the even grains of chicken taste like granules of concentrated chicken teriyaki. One one side of the bowl, you have intensely flavorful chicken with a firm crumbly texture, and on the other side, mild creamy curds of tender egg, which provides a marvelous juxtaposition of flavors, textures and colors.
But perhaps the best part of this dish is that it’s just as good at room temperature, which is probably why soboro is one of the most popular items to put over rice in a bento lunch box.
- Add the sake, soy sauce sugar and grated ginger to a frying pan and whisk to combine. Add the chicken and use a spatula to break up the chicken and mix with the marinade. The chicken should have the consistency of loose oatmeal. Let this marinate while you prepare the eggs.
- For the eggs: Beat the eggs, salt and sugar together until it is a uniform color.
- For the chicken: Put the chicken on the stove over low heat and slowly cook while breaking up any chunks that form with a spatula. As the chicken cooks, a lot of liquid will come out and at one point it will look almost soupy. This is fine.
- Once the chicken is cooked through turn up the heat to high and boil off all the liquid. Once the liquid has evaporated, the chicken should start frying in its own fat. If your chicken was very lean you may need to add a teaspoon of oil. Let the chicken fry until the chicken browns and the sauce has caramelized.
- When the chicken is done, pour the eggs into a non-stick pan and then turn the stove on to medium low. Once the eggs starts to set in the middle, use a whisk or chopsticks to vigorously scramble the eggs to make small grains of egg about the size of the chicken.
- To assemble: Cover half the rice with the egg and the other half with the chicken. Garnish with scallions and serve with your favorite hot sauce.