Japanese Cuisine to Make Your Own with Cam Carr

Each month we celebrate Fernie’s amazing food scene by challenging a local pro to create a five-ingredient recipe with delicious–and revealing–results.

Cam Carr’s Gyudon

  • Soy sauce
  • Mirin
  • Onion
  • Beef
  • Rice

Though Yamagoya is renowned for innovative Japanese cuisine, owner/chef Cam Carr met our challenge with a dish redolent of tradition and simplicity. “Less is more!” he said, when asked to sum up gyudon, a seasoned mixture of beef and onion served over rice. “I used to have it when I was living in Japan back in the late 80s. It became my go-to. It’s quick, it’s hot, it’s nutritious. It’s Japanese comfort food!” It also has surprising depth of flavour, blending sweetness (the mirin), saltiness (the soy sauce) and, well, beefiness, Carr described as umami, the mouth-watering fifth taste the Japanese so famously introduced, consequently waking up the rest of the world’s taste buds.

To make gyudon, start by making the rice. “[At Yamagoya] we use a rice called hikari. It’s a premium short-grained new crop rice.” For us, Carr suggests Kokuho Rose rice, available in the Asian foods section of most grocery stores. “Wash the rice until the water runs clear to take the starch off of it.” But be gentle. “If you crush the rice, it gets powdery and you get a mash rather than grains of rice.”

Next, make the sauce: one part mirin, one part soy sauce, three parts water. Store the mixture in a resealable bottle because you’ll need to shake it before each use. The ingredients separate quickly.

Slice the onion. Don’t cut thin pieces or they’ll “start to wilt during cooking,” said Carr. “You want the result to be al dente.” On the other hand, slice the beef against the grain as thinly as you can. “We always pride ourselves in North America in having big, fat juicy steaks. The Japanese are all about thin and tender [meat slices] so you can chew with your tongue and it dissolves in your mouth.” You can use any type of beef; Carr used Alberta Triple A Black Angus striploin.

Once you’re prepped, things will move fast. As Carr cooked, he explained, “I add just a wee bit of the sauce in the frying pan on high. I’ll quickly sauté the onions. And then I’ll throw in the beef.” The slender pieces of meat take very little time to cook. Once halfway done, reduce the heat. “Add more sauce just to reach the top edges of the onion. Cover the pan and simmer on low to reduce [the sauce] a bit.”

And that’s it. From the first squirt of sauce hitting the pan to steaming mixture being spooned onto the hot rice, the whole process took about five minutes.

As much as gyudon is a venerable part of Japanese culture, Carr encouraged me to think of it as a starting point. Gyu means beef. Don basically means bowl or style of recipe. “You can do any type of don you want” including tofu, chicken orsalmon don. And you can finish the dish with limitless toppings, from hot sauce to eggs (lightly beaten and added to the pan just before the meat is done). “Black sesame seeds would be a nice little kicker or minced garlic,” he said. “It’s like making a stew. Everyone’s got their own.”