In trying to understand the food of Japan, you first need to understand Japanese rice (after a few years of study, you could then move on to the soy bean in all its forms). Donburi just means a bowl of rice. Usually it is topped with meat and vegetables that have been simmered together. Every region of Japan has its own version of donburi; sometimes it is just topped with perfectly fresh raw fish. Uni don is a great way of eating sea urchin – the rice provides the body of the meal and the sea urchin shines in all its unadulterated glory. Make the pickled beetroot at least half a day before serving, although it's best made a few days ahead (it will keep for up to a month in a sealed container in the fridge).
420 g sushi rice
1 piece dried kombu (konbu) seaweed
200 g fresh sea urchin roe
100 g salmon roe
1/2 sheet nori seaweed
thinly sliced spring onions (scallions), to garnish
80 ml Japanese soy sauce, to serve
wasabi, to serve (optional)
250 ml rice vinegar
165 g caster (superfine) sugar
300 ml water
50 g sea salt
50 ml mirin (rice wine)
1 large beetroot (beet), top removed, peeled and sliced as thinly as possible (use a mandolin if you can)
Bring the vinegar, sugar, water, salt and mirin to the boil in a medium saucepan.
Pour over the sliced beetroot, leaving a little space at the top.
Set aside to cool, then seal in a glass jar with a lid, or a plastic container and refrigerate.
Wash the rice well in cold water until the water runs clear.
Place the kombu in a saucepan with the rice and cook the rice using the absorption method.
Spoon the cooked rice into four bowls and arrange the sea urchin on top.
Spoon the salmon roe over.
Using tongs, toast the nori by waving it over a flame for about 20 seconds, until crisp. Do not burn it.
Crumble and sprinkle the nori over the rice.
Scatter the spring onion on top.
Serve the uni don with pickled beetroot on the side, with soy sauce and wasabi, if desired.