08/07/2013 09:36 am ET Updated Oct 07, 2013

Cooking Off the Cuff: A Japanese Rice Bowl With a Beefy Bonus

This is actually about making a wonderful pot of rice, but bear with me while I describe how I got there -- via a good route to using leftover steak.

Not long ago I stopped by the butcher - Dickson's in Manhattan's Chelsea Market - with no particular dinner in mind. I was quickly seduced by a beautifully marbled dry-aged beef rib rack from a New York State farmer who grows most of the grass/hay and grain that his cattle eat -- no CAFOs here -- and I got them to cut me a steak from it.

At least one of its constituent muscles was so heavily marbled, in fact, that it reminded me of high-class Japanese beef (truth to tell, I wondered about the creature's metabolism). It ate that way too: Very tender, and rich enough that even four of us didn't need to finish the shared two-inch-thick steak.

So there were leftovers. Jackie and I could have eaten them at room temperature with a salad or in a sandwich, but that wouldn't have been enough for three (a friend was joining us). That tenuous association with wagyu beef made me think of preparing a simple Japanese-type sauce, reducing it till it was thick then adding the sliced meat and quickly taking it off the heat, so it wouldn't cook any further but would warm sufficiently. To do this, I grated some ginger and garlic, briefly cooked them with a teaspoon of neutral oil, then added a mixture of 2 tablespoons each of soy sauce, sake and dashi (which we'll get to in a moment), plus 1/4 teaspoon of sugar and a few drops of sesame oil, then proceeded as planned.

Now we get to the rice, which was actually the bulk and central element of dinner. The last time Jackie and I were in Japan it was the height of matsutake mushroom season, and one meal (at Shunbou in the Grand Hyatt, Tokyo) ended with rice cooked with sliced matsutakes on top. These steamed as the rice cooked and were folded in after the rice pot had been presented for our admiration. Very savory in a subtle way, and a lovely, simple way to round out an elaborate menu.

And simple to make, too, once you have the technique of cooking Japanese-type rice under your belt. Someone who goes by the name of Maki explains this in detail on the Just Hungry blog. It sounds like a terrific bore, but it just amounts to washing and soaking the rice before cooking it -- the outcome is excellent, especially if you start with excellent rice (and why wouldn't you?).

To make my hen-of-the-woods (not matsutake!) mushroom rice -- once I had rinsed, rubbed, rinsed and dried two cups of rice -- I substituted a light mushroom dashi for the soaking/cooking water. This I made (in advance, so it would cool and so I could use it in the sauce for the steak) by hydrating dried kombu seaweed in cold water for five minutes, then adding the sliced base of the mushroom and bringing this slowly to the boil, turning off the heat, removing the kombu and adding a handful of bonito flakes, waiting a bit, then straining through a paper-towel-lined sieve.

When the rice was ready to put on the fire, I tore the hen-of-the-woods into bite-size "florets" and set it on top of the rice. When the rice had cooked and rested (using "Maki's" technique) and was ready to serve, I stirred in the mushrooms, which were perfectly steam-cooked and which had further perfumed the rice.

With the mushrooms and the umami flavors in the dashi stock, the rice was notably savory -- though very light for want of fat -- and would have been a satisfying, if monochromatic, meal on its own. But additional color (and welcome fat) was added by the glazed beef, which, because its toss in the intense sauce was a brief one, did not taste like re-heated leftovers: it retained the caramelized flavor of its seared exterior and all the virtue of its rare interior.

The beef would have been terrific with plain old rice, of course. And the mushroom rice would have been terrific with plain old nothing but some Japanese pickles. But the combination was a delightful one, and both of its elements are good to know about.

A Japanese Rice Bowl With A Beefy Bonus