When I was a college student living in New York in the late 1980s, two deficiencies in my life –- cash and food knowledge -– often came together along St Mark’s Place. This was the St. Mark’s Place of incense, thumb rings and bad pizza by the slice, and a few random inexpensive eateries, including one Japanese place, which I believe was called Sushi Boy.
(There might have been a French restaurant, too. I went there later, after I got a job. Does this make you feel nostalgic and historically-obsessed about the street? Here is a nice read.)
While some of my friends would hit the sushi specials at I-think-Sushi-Boy, I, a girl from Kalamazoo who had grown up on rump roast and canned corn, was not ready for that. But I soon became addicted to oyako don, a simple bowl of rice, chicken and eggs that set me back all of $4.99. I ate it with friends as they sucked down their half-price hamachi, and regaled me with tales of conquests at the Aztec Lounge. I ate it alone while thumbing a copy of Spy magazine. I am pretty sure I once paid for a bowl of it completely in tip quarters.
As the years went by and my palate expanded, oyako don ceased to be my go-to item on the Japanese menu, though I am pretty sure I had a good bowl of it at Robata-Ya, one of my favorite spots in Los Angeles, on a sort-of chilly night (read: 60 degrees) last year.
So, when trying to figure out what to do with my weekly delivery of boneless chicken breasts, I was tickled to land on Francesca’s Oyako Don. You will note that Francescasuggests that you make this with thighs, which is a bit more work than chopping up boneless breasts, but no doubt yields a bit more poultry flavor push.
You know sometimes I cheat here by providing a weeknight recipe that takes over an hour, but this isn’t one of those weeks. You just chop those onions and chicken pieces up, get your sauce ready and get it going.
I confess I worried that onion cooked in broth, rather than oil, would end up somehow too close to its raw form, but this was not the case. I did not have Mirin at the ready, but substituted with sherry and it actually worked just fine. (If you’re going to make this and have time to plan ahead, however, get the Mirin.) Also, I like the way you make this in batches, all custom-style, and yet it cooks so quickly that no one really has to wait long for you to sit down with them.
My husband felt it was a little on the bland side, and to that end, the dish would benefit from some sliced scallions, as other oyako don recipes sometimes call for. But the sweet kick of the sauce mixed with the hearty simplicity of chicken and eggs transported me right back to the East Village, to memories of laughter with friends no longer with me, and the meals that I shared with them before heading off to the Holiday Bar, at a time in life when we were too young to realize just how good we had it.
By day, Jennifer Steinhauer, aka Jenny, covers Congress for The New York Times. By night, she is an obsessive cook.
A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).