Have you ever eaten food that made you smile? It's when you take the first bite, and suddenly all your tastebuds are awaken and you feel a calming sense of euphoria which translates into a big smile spread across your face. Some foods (like chocolate, ice-cream and chilli) can trigger the brain to release more endorphins in the body, which is why we feel happy or even "high" when we eat them. One of my most memorable encounters with such "happy food" was at this restaurant called Modestos in Singapore, where I ordered the tiramisu for dessert. When it arrived on the plate, I could already tell how good it must be, looking at the moist and creamy layers of sponge and mascarpone, topped with a generous dusting of cocoa powder. The first mouthful just overwhelmed me with that warm and fuzzy feeling inside, and I just couldn't contain the urge to smile. Needless to say, it was the perfect way to end a meal, and I would always order it each time I went back.
When I first tried this dish called Hayashi Rice at Oiden Bowl Bar in Sydney last week, I was pleasantly surprised at how delicious and comforting it was, having no expectations at all what it would taste like. It's similar to Japanese curry, meaning it is also roux-based, which gives the sauce that rich and creamy consistency - perfect for dousing over white rice. Though I believe the typical hayashi rice contains beef, mushrooms and onions, the one I ate at Oiden only had beef, drowned in a thick, glossy and luscious sauce, with a side of pickled ginger. If there were mushrooms, I must have missed them. I was so excited with my new food "discovery" that I couldn't wait to make it on the weekend. By the way, hayashi rice is a popular Western-style dish in Japan and is said to be named after hashed beef.
There are heaps of recipes on the internet for hayashi rice, but I finally found the perfect one from No Recipes. The photos of it looked just like the one I had at Oiden, and it defintely tasted as good as it looked. It was the ultimate comfort food, and I couldn't help smiling each time I had a mouthful of it (thank goodness I was eating at home because I would look ridiculous if I was eating and smiling to myself in public). I had to modify the recipe slightly as I didn't have demi-glace (a rich and concentrated brown sauce often used as a base for meat stews and soups), and so I omitted that and substituted the water with beef stock to hopefully enhance the flavours. I was also hoping that the use of the brown roux in the sauce might partially make up for the absence of demi-glace.
The stew turned out awesome even without the demi-glace (nor the cippolini onions which I couldn't find). It might just be a beef stew, but it's a darn good one, and especially with that big glug of shiraz that went into it, how can it not taste good? The sauce was thick, rich, silky and luscious wth a lot of the flavours and fruity undertones from the wine coming through. The beef was tender and juicy, and so were the mushrooms. All this served over a bed of white rice is enough to make anyone happy and contented.
Hayashi Rice (ハヤシライス)
Adapted from No Recipes
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
700g (1 1/2 pound) well marbled beef chuck, sliced into thin long strips
3 onions, trimmed and thinly sliced
3 small cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon baking soda (optional)
2 cups red wine
2 cups water (I substituted with beef stock)
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (or tonkatsu sauce)
1 tablespoon concentrated demi-glace (I omitted this)
2 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sweet paprika250g (8 ounces) small button or crimini mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed and halved if large
250g (8 ounces) cippolini onions, peeled and trimmed (I omitted this)
3 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup all purpose flour
- Heat a large pot or dutch oven over medium high heat until hot, then add the oil. Generously salt and pepper the beef, then add it to the hot oil. Fry undisturbed for a few minutes or until the beef has a golden brown crust on one side, then flip the beef and fry until browned on the second side. The browned crust is were the flavor is at, so the more crust the better.
- Transfer the beef to a plate and set aside. Add some more oil if needed, then add the onions and garlic. Cover with a lid and cook over medium low heat for 10 minutes. Remove the lid, then add the baking soda if you want to speed up the caramelization process. Fry the onions, stirring frequently until it’s about 1/6 of the original volume, and is dark brown and glossy. If you add baking soda, this should take about 20 minutes, if you don’t, it will take about an hour.
- Return the beef to the pot along with the wine, water/stock, bay leaf, cloves, tomato paste, worchestershire sauce, demi-glace (if used), soy sauce, and paprika, along with the mushrooms and cippolini onions (if used). Partially cover with a lid and cook for 1-2 hours or until the beef is very tender. Add a pinch of salt to taste if necessary. While the beef is cooking, heat the butter and flour in a small saucepan over medium high heat. Stir continuously until the butter is melted, then stop stirring until the mixture starts taking on a color. Continue cooking and stirring at regular intervals until the roux has almost reached a caramel brown color. Remove from the heat immediately as it will continue to brown further in the pan.
- When the beef is tender, turn the heat down to low, add the roux a spoonful at a time and stir vigorously to keep it from clumping. The hayashi stew should start getting thick pretty quickly (you might not need all the roux). Stop when you’re happy with the thickness. Serve with hot white rice.