Gyudon (牛丼), or 'beef bowl,' is a quintessential Japanese comfort food that combines thinly sliced beef and sweet onions simmered in a savory broth, served over a bed of fluffy rice. To put its popularity into perspective, there are almost 5000 restaurants specializing in Japanese beef rice bowl in Japan, nearly double the number of McDonalds here.
By the way, I often see it miswritten as guydon or gyu don, but the correct spelling and pronunciation is gyudon.
My Gyudon recipe is based on the style popularized by Yoshinoya, with tender, flavorful beef and sweet onions cooked in a savory sweet sauce, which percolates down into the rice underneath. It comes together in minutes, making it the perfect weekday lunch.
Why This Gyudon Recipe Works?
- A cut of beef with a good amount of fat is the key to a flavorful beef bowl.
- Fattier cuts also tend to have a lot of connective tissue, so slicing the beef thinly against the grain is crucial to making it tender.
- Savory dashi broth with sweet white wine is the secret to this Yoshinoya gyudon recipe.
- Simmering the beef in extra broth keeps the beef tender and moist while providing a flavorful sauce to season the rice.
- Beef - You can't have Gyudon without beef, and I like using a relatively fatty cut. This keeps the thin slices of beef moist, and the fat contributes a smooth richness to the sauce. Yoshinoya is famously picky about their beef and only uses short-plate beef from America. Short-plate can be hard to find, so I like to use boneless short ribs for my Gyudon. It tends to have good marbling and is a little more tender as well. If you live in an area where Philly Cheesesteaks are popular, ribeye or chuck that's been sliced for cheesesteak is another good option. Regardless of what cut of beef you use, it's crucial to slice the meat thinly against the grain. This makes it possible to cook the meat for such a short time and yet still have it come out tender. If you're friendly with your local butcher, you can try asking them to cut it for you on a meat slicer, or you can lightly freeze the beef and then use a very sharp knife to slice it into sheets that are about 1/16 of an inch thick (~1.4mm).
- Onion - I've tried many different types of onions here, including Welsh onions and leeks, but I always return to plain old yellow onions. That's because they tend to hold their shape the best. Juicer varieties, such as sweet onions, tend to turn to mush when you cook them for too long, and red onions discolor, taking on an unappetizing grey appearance.
- Dashi stock - Dashi forms the base for the gyudon sauce, infusing the beef with loads of umami, along with a mildly smoky flavor from katsuobushi. You can check out my tutorial to learn how to make dashi from scratch, but you can also make it from powdered dashi granules or dashi packs, which can be found in most Asian supermarkets or online.
- White wine - White wine adds a subtle fruitiness, enhancing the sweetness of the onions while balancing the richness of the beef with acidity. It's also said to be the secret ingredient in Yoshinoya gyudon sauce. I like using a sweet wine like Riesling or Gewurztraminer because it's closer in taste to the wine that would have been available in Japan a century ago.
- Sake - Sake is rich in amino acids, so it's widely used in Japanese cuisine as a natural way to add umami to food. You can read more about selecting sake here, but it doesn't need to be expensive. Mirin would be a suitable substitute, but you can skip the sugar if you use it. If you can't find either where you live, the best substitute will be water for the liquid and a pinch of MSG for umami.
- Soy sauce - Soy sauce is the primary seasoning ingredient in gyudon sauce, adding salt and umami. If you want a gluten-free alternative, look for Tamari shoyu, which is soy sauce brewed using just soybeans and salt.
- Sugar - Sugar balances the saltiness of the soy sauce and the acidity of the wine, creating a harmonious gyudon sauce. I like using evaporated cane sugar for its flavor, but any sweetener like brown sugar or maple syrup will work.
- Cooked Rice - To make this a donburi (Japanese rice bowl), you need cooked rice to serve it on, and in Japan, we always use Japanese short-grain rice.
How to Make Gyudon
To prepare the gyudon sauce, add the dashi stock, sweet white wine, sake, soy sauce, evaporated cane sugar, and sliced onions to a pan and heat the mixture to a boil. Lower the heat to a gentle simmer and let the onions cook until they're translucent. This will take about three minutes.
Next, stir in th beef and cook it with the onions and sauce until tender. Because the beef is sliced very thinly, the fat will dissolve, and any tough connective tissues will break down into gelatin, rendering the beef super tender.
When the beef is tender, serve up your cooked rice in a few large bowls and then use a ladle to serve the beef with its rich sauce over the rice. Garnish your gyudon with your favorite toppings and serve.
Serve it Beef Bowl With
While purists tend to prefer their Gyudon unadorned, I like adding toppings such as beni-shoga (red pickled ginger), green onions, shichimi togarashi, and toasted sesame seeds, which contribute layers of texture and taste. In Japan, beef bowls are often topped with a raw egg yolk, but I would not recommend this unless your certain your eggs are safe to eat raw. A safer option is to use Onsen Tamago or "hot spring egg". This is the Japanese name for a sous vide egg. It's cooked in its shell at 145.5 degrees F for about 45 minutes, which renders the egg white soft and custardy while thickening up the yolk and giving it a rich, buttery texture.
As for sides, I recommend making some Japanese pickles such as Asazuke or my Beer and Wasabi Cucumbers. Serve it with a steaming bowl of miso soup, and you've got yourself a meal from a gyudon shop in Japan.
Gyudon literally means "beef rice bowl," and it's a type of donburi made with thinly shaved beef and onions simmered in savory-sweet dashi broth. Because the beef is sliced paper-thin, it releases its flavor into the broth and becomes tender quickly. The combination of beef and broth gets poured over a bowl of hot rice and topped with various condiments.
Gyudon descends from a dish called Gyunabe, a beef hot pot dish popularized in Tokyo following the Meiji Restoration. As train networks expanded around Japan in the later half of the 19th century, serving gyunabe over rice became a popular on-the-go meal and in 1899, Eikichi Matsuda opened his first Yoshinoya location at the Nihonbashi fish market (the precursor to Tsukiji). Yoshinoya and their beef bowl went on to become one of the most popular fast food chains in Japan.
Yoshinoya's lead as the largest beef bowl chain carried on for over a century until 2004 when the BSE scare (and the ensuing ban on US beef in Japan) caused them to replace their iconic beef bowl with a pork bowl. For context, this would be akin to McDonald's halting sales of hamburgers in the US and replacing them with chicken burgers.
As stocks of cheap US beef disappeared, Yoshinoya's competitors Matsuya and Sukiya responded by sourcing beef from other countries, but Yoshinoya stubbornly refused to compromise on quality and price, sticking with pork until the ban was lifted over two years later. While some consumers simply switched brands, some loyal Yoshinoya fan's went to the lengths of visiting the chain's foreign locations to enjoy their beloved Gyudon. Today, Yoshinoya is the second largest beef bowl chain in Japan behind Sukiya.
Gyudon is a 2-syllable name and the correct pronunciation is (read the italicized parts):
gyu like bug you
don like donut
Other Japanese Beef Bowls
For beef bowl
- sesame seeds (optional)
- 1 scallion (chopped, optional)
- benishōga (pickled red ginger, optional)
- Add 1 cup dashi stock, 2 tablespoons sweet white wine, 2 tablespoons sake, 2 ½ tablespoons soy sauce, 2 teaspoons evaporated cane sugar, and 100 grams onion to a pan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
- Turn down the heat to maintain a simmer and cook the onions until they're mostly translucent (about 3 minutes)
- Add 250 grams beef, and turn down the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook, stirring regularly, until the meat is tender (about 10 minutes). Adjust salt.
- Serve the beef over 400 grams cooked short-grain rice divided between 2-3 bowls. Be sure to drizzle the remaining gyudon sauce over the beef and rice. Garnish your Japanese beef bowl with sesame seeds, 1 scallion, and benishōga to taste.