At the Shiseido Parlour Restaurant in Tokyo's Ginza district, an oval silver bowl measuring about 30 centimeters in diameter was brought to the table.
When the staff opened the lid, steam rose from the "chicken rice," or fried rice with chicken.
Novelist Shotaro Ikenami once wrote about the restaurant in his essay titled "Mukashi no Aji" (Taste of bygone days). He says he visited the place after hearing someone explain that the chicken rice is served in a silver container. Along with the recipe, the unique service has not changed since the restaurant was established.
The restaurant has a long history that dates back more than a century to 1902 when Shiseido pharmacy began making and selling ice cream and soda in a corner of the store. The pharmacy imported 20 types of syrup, glasses and even drinking straws from the United States.
The delicacy became popular among the geisha of Shinbashi who gathered at a training hall nearby, and the place became a hot spot in Ginza in no time.
In 1928, the store was turned into a restaurant. Chicken rice that was known as "chikkin raisu" back then was just as popular as that old favorite "kari raisu" (curry rice).
Naohisa Inoue, the 50-year-old current grand chef of the restaurant, tasted Shiseido’s chicken rice for the first time when he was attending a vocational school for cooks.
"Each grain comes apart, yet as a whole, the dish is moist and rich," he thought. "I wondered how this is done."
Inoue recalls that he was intrigued.
Usually, chicken rice is prepared by stir-frying the ingredients, mixing with rice and flavoring with ketchup. At the Shiseido restaurant, however, chicken, onions and mushrooms are simmered in tomato paste and ketchup beforehand and left overnight. As a final touch, the mixture is stir-fried with rice.
"It will turn out fluffy, not sticky," says Inoue.
Being particular about the chicken it uses, the restaurant chooses Daisen chicken produced in Tottori Prefecture.
"Omuraisu," where chicken rice is wrapped inside an omelet, is also popular. The dish entered the menu when regular customers said they wanted to enjoy chicken rice and an omelet at the same time.
150 grams chicken thigh
100 grams each of onion, mushroom, tomato ketchup
15 grams tomato paste
40 grams unsalted butter
20 grams Parmesan cheese
320 grams cooked rice
Bit of salt and pepper
Dice chicken into 2- to 3-cm pieces. Remove tendon. To make mixture, place pot over low-medium heat. When 20 grams of butter has melted, add chicken and stir-fry until whitish. Add finely chopped onion and thinly sliced mushroom and cook further. Sprinkle with salt and pepper when onion becomes transparent.
Increase to medium heat, add ketchup and tomato paste in this order. Simmer for about 15 minutes, adjusting the heat so the content does not burn. Pour in flat container to cool somewhat.
To make chicken rice, melt remaining butter in frying pan over medium heat. Add mixture and warm. Add warm rice, salt and pepper and stir-fry.
Turn off heat, add cheese and mix.
(Shiseido’s recipe has been altered for home cooking.)
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From The Asahi Shimbun's Watashi no Ryori column