Chicken Katsudon

Thirteen years ago, I went to Japan for a month-long visit. For most of that time, I was with my friend Michelle, who is a childhood friend from Canada who was teaching there. Together we traveled by train from Saga in the southwest along the coast to Tokyo over the course of three weeks, stopping many times along the way. One of our stops was to visit a young woman named Ayako Koyama and her family. Ayako had stayed with me back in high school as part of an exchange program; she’d also come to visit me as an adult about a year before. On this trip, I had the opportunity to meet her family and to get to know the home and the region where she had grown up.


Ayako, Mrs. Koyama, Mr. Koyama, Ayako’s grandfather, Ayako’s grandmother, and Michelle. Ayako’s brother must have been at work that night.

One evening, Ayako’s mother brought Michelle and I into her kitchen to teach us how to make katsu for dinner. I honestly can’t remember if it was chicken (torikatsu) or pork (tonkatsu) that we breaded and deep-fried, but I do remember the process! I was rummaging through my old photos yesterday and realized that I actually had a photo of us all eating the dinner we’d made (above). It was a lot of fun, although it’s always awkward to cook in someone else’s kitchen — even when there isn’t a language barrier! It remains one of my fondest memories of visiting with Ayako and her family. My one regret is that I wasn’t really into cooking at the time, so I didn’t take the opportunity to learn more from a Japanese home cook firsthand. Such a valuable resource wasted! I guess I’ll just have to go back to Japan someday and learn more.

These memories resurfaced recently when I saw a show on the Food Network that had a segment on some restaurant that makes a chicken katsu burger. I really had developed a liking for it in Japan (you can see one of the commercial meals that I had that included it in my Noodle Soup entry). It’s a real comfort food. Suddenly, I was craving chicken katsudon again. Although I’d made the meat part before and could pretty much remember how to do it without help, I had to Google for how to make the eggs correctly, since they’re not simply scrambled eggs. I used the Chicken Katsudon recipe from Just One Cookbook, and in an attempt to make it a little bit healthier I made Baked Katsudon instead of fried. I was pretty happy with how it turned out, although I know where I made some mistakes. I was running out of time at the end (I had to get the kids fed and out the door to Guiding), so I skipped cooking the chicken in the egg mixture and instead just put it on top, which made it a little bit dry. I think I cooked the egg a bit too long; when I had it in Japan it was just a little bit runny, more like a sauce than a scrambled egg. I also didn’t have any parsley, which would really have made it pop a bit more visually. Also, although I did manage to make up some miso soup, I ran out of time to make a salad, and a meal like this really needs some kind of veggie, even if it’s just a quick pickle. But given that it’s been thirteen years since I’ve attempted this dish, I don’t think it turned out too badly. It did get positive reviews from the family just how it was, so I am encouraged enough to try it again.

New Year’s Noodles

Over the weekend I tried my hand at Toshikoshi Soba, which according to the Internet means “year-crossing noodle“, or “end the old year and enter the new year soba noodles“. Basically, it’s a dish that is traditionally eaten on New Year’s Eve while waiting to ring in the new year. I didn’t actually find out about this dish until after the holiday, which turned out all right in the end because I wasn’t well enough to cook anything that night. At any rate, it’s not something that can only be eaten that day of the year. The recipe that I made was Tempura Toshikoshi Soba from Tasty Japan (also available on YouTube). If you’re like me and don’t read enough Japanese to get through a recipe, you can find the English translation in the second comment on their Facebook video. Or you can run it through Google Translate, which yields very undependable results, like directing you to “make tempura clothes”.

I added a bit more shrimp and soft-boiled eggs to each bowl that the recipe calls for, just because my family is absolutely smitten with tempura. I also used narutomaki (fish cake with the swirl in the middle) instead of kamaboko (the fish cake with the pink edge used in the Tasty Japan video), not only because I like the look of it, but also because it was literally the only kind of fish cake that was left at T&T. The fridge that usually holds it was completely empty except for two stray packages of narutomaki, so I went with that.

I was really proud of myself when this dish turned out so well, mostly because it was the first time that I’d made tempura. Actually, it was the first time I’ve ever deep-fried anything! Apparently I still have to master the art of cutting tempura-coated soft-boiled eggs in half without destroying them, but they still tasted just fine. It really wasn’t as difficult to prepare toshikoshi soba as I’d feared, even though I think I dirtied every large pot in my kitchen by the end of cooking. My whole family devoured their soup. I loved the flavour of it all together. I am definitely making this again soon — and I won’t be waiting for next New Year’s Eve. Although I may serve it then too.