Editor’s note: The theme of Gohan Lab is to help people make simple, tasty “gohan” (meals).

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Ground meat can be transformed into many savory dishes according to cooking methods, from sauteeing to simmering.

When shaped into a patty and grilled, it makes a filling side dish. When stuffed in vegetables, it goes great with drinks.

In three installments starting this week, we'll introduce the basics of ground meat dishes.

First up is “tori soboro,” seasoned, sauteed ground chicken that's perfect with rice. A “pebbly yet moist” finish is what we should be aiming for. The key is to sautee the meat at the right temperature.

Frequently turn off the stove while carefully loosening the meat. If the temperature is raised too quickly, the ground meat will stick together and become hard to loosen. To retain the moisture, don't cook the liquid in the frying pan down completely. A slight amount should remain when you turn off the heat.

If kept in the fridge, the sauteed ground chicken will last a few days. Its strong taste works well in boxed lunches. Just the right sweetness can be achieved by adding 2 Tbsp sugar to 200 grams ground meat. When cooking the meat as a topping for fried rice or salad, reduce the sugar to 1 and 1/2 Tbsp.

Rich chicken thighs vs. lighter chicken breasts

Chicken thighs taste rich since they are muscly with a measure of fat. Chicken breasts are rich in protein, contain little fat and are lighter.

According to the Japan Chicken Association, the aroma of chicken thighs becomes stronger when they're grilled, and that of chicken breasts tends to become acute when they are boiled or steamed.

The average person eats 13.8 kg of chicken a year. The figure has soared from 1.1 kg in fiscal 1960 and overtook pork in fiscal 2012 to become the most-consumed meat.

Chicken protein is easy to digest and absorb and is rich in vitamins and minerals. We also know that it assists recovery from exhaustion and has antioxidant properties.

High-protein, low-fat chicken breasts are becoming particularly popular. Restaurant information website Gurunavi named chicken breasts “the dish of the year” in 2017.

BASIC COOKING METHOD

(Supervised by Akiko Watanabe in the cooking aspect and Midori Kasai in the cookery science aspect)

* Ingredients and cooking utensils (Amount easy to make) 200 grams ground chicken thigh, 5 grams finely chopped ginger, 1 tsp oil, 2 Tbsp soy sauce, 1 Tbsp sweet mirin sake, 1 and 1/2 to 2 Tbsp sugar, 1/2 cup water

1. Have all ingredients ready (PHOTO A). A small frying pan with diameter of around 20 cm works well. Pour oil in pan and heat. Turn off heat when oil starts to feel thin and smooth. Add ground meat and ginger, turn on heat to low, sautee while pressing down with spatula and loosening mass in cutting motion (PHOTO B).

2. When half of the ground meat has turned whitish, turn off heat. Loosen while residual heat cooks the meat. Repeat the process of turning off heat and loosening until ground meat becomes pebbly.

3. Add seasonings and water (PHOTO C), mix and reduce over low heat. Turn off heat when slight amount of liquid remains. Let meat absorb flavor.

4. Once cooled, pack meat with liquid in airtight container. Place in fridge and eat within a few days. Sauteed meat can also be used in a rolled fried egg or as topping for chilled tofu.

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Akiko Watanabe is a cooking expert specializing in Japanese cuisine.

Midori Kasai is a professor at Ochanomizu University and chairwoman of the Japan Society of Cookery Science.

ARRANGED VERSION

<Salad with sauteed ground chicken>

Give the salad an ethnic feel by adding coriander and lemon. For two people, we need 30 to 40 grams sauteed ground chicken, 3 leaves of red leaf lettuce (“sani retasu”), 1/4 bell pepper, 6 coriander stalks with leaves. Tear lettuce into bite-size pieces, finely slice bell pepper, cut coriander into length of 4 cm. Mix 1 Tbsp lemon juice, 1 tsp sugar, 1/6 tsp salt and 1 Tbsp oil to make dressing. Serve vegetables on dish, pour dressing and top with sauteed ground chicken.

COOKERY SCIENCE

The protein in chicken begins to set at 50 degrees and will set firmly at higher temperatures. So, when sauteeing ground meat, coarse grains will form in a short time when mixed in a large motion over high heat. If it is heated slowly over low heat, and mixed and loosened in fine movement, the grains will become finer. This matters especially at the onset of cooking.

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From The Asahi Shimbun’s Gohan Lab column