PHOTO BY LUCY HEWETT
At Yūgen, a new omakase-style restaurant in Chicago’s West Loop, chef Mari Katsumura serves a contemporary Japanese menu with subtle Midwestern touches. Here, she breaks down her crab rice, a course inspired by one of her favorite childhood afternoon snacks.
“Growing up in a Japanese family, we had a pot of rice on at all times,” Katsumura says. “After school, I would make a small bowl of hot rice and mix it with furikake [a seasoning blend that includes dried fish, sesame seeds, and seaweed], Kewpie mayonnaise, and a fried egg.” For a richer, umami-driven flavor, Katsumura uses a base of caramelized koji rice, which has been treated with a fermentation culture.
Katsumura incorporates Midwestern ingredients throughout the menu—think honeycrisp apples with the chawanmushi (egg custard) or Michigan asparagus with the miso soup. The furikake atop this dish is made with local puffed grains.
The team cures an egg yolk in tamari (a miso-based Japanese cousin to soy sauce) for 24 hours. “I was really going for that luxurious effect of breaking a yolk into your rice—an act I have done often with this dish—but with a sunny-side-up egg.”
“My mom would buy ikura [salmon roe] and have it in the house as a treat,” says Katsumura, who ranks ikura-topped rice as her favorite sushi bar bite. “For me, having the salmon roe in this dish was a natural move. It plays into the oceanic theme, while also sending diners off with several memorable, salty pops.”
As a teenager, Katsumura would top the rice with whatever protein scraps her family had in the fridge, such as salmon or whitefish. For a heightened approach, she now adds smoked butter–poached Alaskan king crab with crab oil and uni butter.