Tsukémono: Umeboshi@ home

Their taste is new to most people in the West. Mouth-puckering sour, though pleasant, their saltiness is pronounced but acceptable and make a perfect match for many dishes. At our home umeboshi are often added to onigiri. Those hand pressed rice balls that for some miracle reason taste best if they are made by the hands of one who loves you.

Yukari Onigiri with umé boshi

These days it is easy to buy ready made umeboshi at Asian and organic supermarkets, but nothing beats them being home made. Getting umé, botanically prunus mume or Japanese apricots in Germany is not easy. Until our umé tree yields fruit I am using local apricots instead.

Layered apricots with salt in a glass container
Layer soaked, unbruised apricots with salt in a non-reactive container.

How umeboshi are made

Traditionally umeboshi are being pickled – often but not always with red shiso leaves – in Japan’s rainy season and are left to ferment in their own brine for about six weeks, before they get laid out and dry in the summer sun for three days.

Add weight and patience for the brine to develop and rise and fermentation to happen

What seems easy in Japan with its hot summers is a challenge in Germany. Even more so this year, where summer took a long time coming. But finally the weather forecast predicted a couple of hot days. Perfect timing for my ‘umeboshi’, that will get their finishing touch of summer sun.

Local apricots fermented umeboshi style
‘Umeboshi’ laid out to dry in the summer sun

Want to make umeboshi at home?

This years umeboshi pickling season is over, but if you want to join me in making umeboshi next time, sign up for the newsletter and I will guide you through it step-by-step.

From the kitchen lab: Making tofu at home

Silken Tofu made with different coagulates (nigari and gdl) - not a perfect shape, but a pretty good taste. I added some wakame salad with a ponzu dressing to go with it.
Silken Tofu made with different coagulates (nigari and gdl) – not a perfect shape, but a pretty good taste. I added some wakame salad with a ponzu dressing to go with it.

I have similar experiences with tofu than with Japanese sake. Before I moved to Japan both were awful. Sake was that weired warm stuff that you got for free at the end of a meal and tofu the unpleasently grainy textured tasteless something that you only eat when you need an alternative for meat. Sometimes overpowered with spices or smoked to transform it into an unpleasantly grainy texture something with some taste – but still awful.

Soy beans in a blender
Add some water to the soaked soy beans to make your soy milk

After discovering what sake can be, I am all in for it. A wonderful ambrosia. Clear, fresh, complex and very divers. From clean and dry to fruity, sweet or luscious . The sky seems to be the limit and not every sake taste the same. Similarly you wouldn’t compare Liebrauenmilch with a wonderful German Riesling.

And my experience with tofu is similar. Since I had the really good stuff,  I don’t want to live without tofu anymore. Without Japanese tofu to be precise. All over Japan you can find tofu-ya (artisanal tofu makers) like you find artisanal bakeries in Germany.

It is easy to make soy milk using a blender
It is easy to make soy milk using a blender

Small family owned businesses that turn on their light in the middle of the night to make fresh tofu. Often in shops as big as a garage with a tiny stall in front of it. Easy to spot in the morning when they hang their cloths up for drying in the wind in front of their shops.

Japanese tofu is widely different from the one I get over here. A very delicate taste, but with a definite hint of soybeans – not invasive just the natural taste, which is so fundamental for the Japanese cuisine. Nothing that needs to hide under a layer of spices. Pure and clean.

Separating the soy milk from the lees
This is hot! When starting to separate the soy milk from the lees be sure to use a tool, because it is boiling hot. In the end I always use my hands to get the last bit out of it.

And the consistency? Whether firm, fried or silken Japanese tofu always has a pleasant mouth feel to it. The silken kind is velvety as crème bruleé, topped with grated ginger, katsuo bushi and a refreshing ponzu-sauce a refreshing snack or lunch in the heat of the summer.

I have tried every tofu that I came across. Artisanal ones sold at a farmers market as well as those commercially made in organic supermarkets. Without any success. Nothing could keep up with the tofu I tasted in Japan.

Okara (lees), nigiri and the prepared wooden box to drain the tofu later on (front to back)
Okara (lees), nigiri and the prepared wooden box to drain the tofu later on (front to back)

I will be keeping eating every new brand of tofu that I come across, but my hopes are not high to find what I am looking for. Obviously the German taste is different than mine. So I started to make my own tofu.

I did not expect it to be complicated. And it actually isn’t, but there are a few things that can go wrong … and did go wrong. So at the same time I found out that making tofu yourself is not a piece of cake either.

Tofu curds just before pressing
Tofu curds just before pressing

These days I am spending a lot of time in my kitchen lab, testing various ways to make Japanese tofu, aiming to understand all the parameters to make what I want reliably. I will keep you posted on my findings, but before that here are the good news:

Final Tofu
Final Tofu

 

 

I already succeeded a couple of times. I made tofu that tasted like the one from Toshio and Kyoko Kanemoto, my favorite tofu-ya-couple in Tokio, just around the corner from Kaminoge station.

Shōjin Ryōri @ Berlin Food Art Week: A Japanese Vegan Food Art Experience

Experience Extraordinary Events. Discover the exploding taste of sustainability for all your senses…

I am proud to demonstrate SHŌJIN RYŌRI – Japan’s peaceful temple cuisine that will blow your mind during this year’s Berlin Food Art Week.

SHŌJIN RYŌRI Event Description

Discover the alluring blending of Japanese culinary concepts in one meal, which incorporates every last bit of each ingredient while appreciating and respecting the seasons, nature’s bounty and the diligence and ingenuity of the people that produce it.

For the event seasonal fruits and vegetables will be carefully transformed into nutritionally sound and aesthetically satisfying dishes that avoid waste and sustain our natural resources.

Experience Shojin Ryori –Japanese Buddhist Cuisine, paired with carefully selected Japanese sake tucked away from Berlin’s buzz in an intimate setting.

  • When Saturday, July 08,  7 pm
  • Where ExBerlin, Zionskirchplatz 16, 10119 Berlin
  • Tickets Get your tickets here

Menu:

This dining experience is Omakase-style, which is the Japanese tradition of letting the chef choose the dishes for you. It literally means “I will leave it to you” and it is a fine tradition that gives the chef creative freedom to focus on the freshest and most seasonal ingredients on the day of preparation.

Still nee to be convinced that SHŌJIN RYŌRI is for you?

  • Learn more about SHŌJIN RYŌRI here
  • Questions about the  SHŌJIN RYŌRI-event or about ‘The Taste of Japan’? Drop me a line: info@thetasteofjapan.com
  • Visit the Berlin Food Art Week-website for more information and the full program

Nuka zuké @ home: What is Nuka zuké?

“A bowl of rice with a small plate of pickles and some soup is not merely food, but cuisine…”

(Michael Ashkenazi, The Essence of Japanese Cuisine)

I remember a sunny early autumn day in Tokyo. The heat and cruel humidity of the summer was finally over when a bunch of people literally from around the world gathered in Elizabeth’s kitchen around a big dark brown earth ware pot, waiting for its secret to be unveiled. ‘Take a whiff ‘ was the invitation to carefully look and smell into the pot.

Turnips coming out of the nukadoko
Turnips coming out of the nukadoko

But no hands, because hygiene is extremely important in keeping a nuka-pickle-pot healthy. Nukadoko (pickling bed) can be passed down for generations and as such the one in front of me was easily some 150+ years old. Given that nukadoko is a living organism that requires constant monitoring and attention, it doesn’t come on a surprise that Elizabeth is very cautious.

My nuka-pots carefully packed for the long trip down south
My nuka-pots carefully packed for the long trip down south

The only one allowed to touch Elizabeth’s nuka pot besides her is her neighbor that takes care of it whenever she is out of town for a long time. Sounds irritating in the beginning, but after having to throw out nuka-pickle-pots that had gone bad three times, I find myself being as careful and restrictive. I even take my nuka-pickle pot with me on vacation or weekend-trips. Is that absolutely necessary? No. There are ways to maintain your nuka-pickle-pot even though you are not around, but as I have Elizabeth’s 150+ years in mine , I am not going to take chances.

Nuka zuke in France
Making nuka zuke in my holiday home kitchen in Southern France last year

Nuka, Nukadoko and Nuka zuké: What’s the difference?

But before I go on, let me explain a few terms here, so that you don’t get confused:

  • Nuka is the Japanese term for rice bran. In Japan, nothing goes to waste and as such, the nuka that is left after polishing rice (e.g. for table rice, sake making etc.) is used as a pickling medium.
  • Nuka mixed with water salt and aromatics becomes the pickling medium, called nukadoko.
  • The nukadoko is usually kept in a (non-reactive) container, a ‘nuka-pickle-pot’ or nuka-pot and
  • the generic term for vegetables, pickled in nukadoko is nuka zuké.

Nuka zuké ferments vegetables in a couple of hours

Nuka zuké is fairly easy and fast compared to other fermented products, but it needs to be mixed by hand to aerate the nukadoko. Yes, everyday! It only takes a few seconds, but you should be willing to commit to this before you start you own nuka-pot at home. Your reward? Cucumbers turned into crisp, savory pickles over night and tart red radishes get enchanted into exhilarant crudités in a couple of hours.

Nuka zuké: Cucumbers and turnips topped with yukari and shio zuké on the side
Nuka zuké: Cucumbers and turnips topped with yukari and shio zuké on the side

Nukodoko thrives off the bacteria that live on your hands and the vegetable’s skin. They also influence the taste as well as the aromatics that you can put in. So each nukadoko has its unique taste that will constantly change. Generally spoken an aged nukadoko will be more round and smooth than a young one, similar to wine, that’s why nukadoko can be passed down the generations.

Nuka zuké contains brown rice nutrients

Nukadoko is made from nuka – rice bran. The vitamin rich outer layers of rice – undoubtedly nutritious and healthy – would create off flavors in sake and are often unwanted for table rice. So one way to get back some of those nutrients that have been milled away is pickling vegetables in nukadoko. Nowadays it is fairly easy to source nuka either in Asian markets or online (e.g. here or here), but you could also substitute nuka with wheat bran. Wheat bran is lighter and more fluffy. When using wheat bran instead of nuka you should use a little more water and make sure that your pack down your ‘wheat bran-doko’ tightly on your vegetables to ensure contact with the bacteria.

Become a tsukémono addict

Ever since that one sunny autumn day in Tokyo when I smelled and tasted nuka zuké for the first time, I am enamored with it. But while a taste of vegetables pickled in nuka can prise the gates to Tsukémono heaven ajar, making it yourself will fling them open and convert you to the delights of preserving the Japanese way.

For those that are interested to learn how to start a nuka-pot and to handle it properly, how to influence its taste and troubleshooting-strategies to avoid it going bad, subscribe to the newsletter to get the information on the next nuka zuké-workshop delivered directly to your inbox.

Taste of Japan @ Berlin Food Art Week

I am happy to announce that The Taste of Japan will host two events at the Food Art Week that will take place in Berlin this year.

The Food Art Week, curated by Tainá Guedes, focuses on a wide range of contemporary art and dining experiences. There will be a central art exhibition alongside performances, dining experiences, workshops, screenings, and much more.

Shōjin Ryōri in Berlin

For this year’s theme “Vs. Meat”, Taste of Japan will host WaSu: An intimate dining experience showcasing Shōjin Ryōri* cuisine – Japanese Temple Food.

Shōjin Ryōri is the traditional dining style of Buddhist monks in Japan that grew in popularity with the spread of Zen Buddhism in the 13th century. It is a plant based cuisine, focused on simplicity and harmony. Shōjin Ryōri is strictly tight to the Washoku-guidelines, the underlying principles of traditional Japanese cuisine. So Appreciation and respect of the seasons, nature’s bounty and the diligence and ingenuity of the people that produce the dishes are essential part of cook’s consideration in creating a meal.

At the Food Art Week’s WaSu dining event fresh, seasonal food will be transformed into nutritionally sound and aesthetically satisfying dishes that avoid waste and sustain our natural resources.

Decoding Japanese Sake

Brewing Japanese sake is tradition, is passion, is art. Although on the rise in popularity still wildly unfamiliar. As sake sommelier and certified educator for sake I will decode Japanese sake at Food Art Week’s SAKAYA event, explain what you need to know and walk you through the sampling of curated premium sake to experience what you have heard.

Interested? Stay tuned. More details are coming soon.

 


 

Tsukemono: Cucumbers pickled with Ginger and Kombu

Today’s recipe is a fast one. And easy. Another example of mottainai – in this case using left over kombu from making dashi. Full-flavored pickled cucumber with an addictive hint of sweetness, illustrating once more that Japanese cuisine per se is neither complicated nor that it needs many ingredients.

Tsukemono ingredients: Pickled cucumbers with kombu and ginger
Tsukemono ingredients: Mirin, soy sauce, rice vinegar, cucumbers cut into 0,5cm rounds, threads of kombu and ginger

The recipe calls for cucumbers that do not have a lot of core, so Lebanese cucumbers are not what you are looking for. Japanese cucumbers are perfect, of course, but even if you don’t have access to real Japanese cucumbers you should be able to find mini-cucumbers in your grocery store, that usually have a better flesh-core ratio.

Recipe for one jar Cucumber-Tsukemono

  • 500g      Cucumbers
  • 2,5 cm   Ginger (peeled)
  • 3-4 pcs. Kombu, left over from making dashi (in threads a small hand full)
  • 180 ml   Soy Sauce
  • 120 ml   Mirin (sweet sake)
  • 60 ml     Rice Vinegar

Method

How to make Tsukemono: Put cucumbers into the cooking liquid
How to make Tsukemono: Put cucumbers into the cooking liquid

Wash the cucumbers and cut them into 0,5cm rounds. Take the ginger and the kombu and cut them into fine threads. Combine soy sauce, mirin and vinegar in a pot and bring to a boil. Add the cucumbers, ginger and kombu and reboil for a minute. Take the pot off the heat source and let cool (about one hour).

How to make Tsukemono: Stain the cooking liquid if you want to repeat the process
How to make Tsukemono: Strain the cooking liquid before reheating it if you prefer the vegetables to be less crunchy

If you like your pickles to be less crunchy, repeat the process after the pickles have cooled down. In order to do so, strain the liquid and bring to a boil once more. Add the cucumbers, ginger and kombu and reboil for another minute before leaving it to cool again.

Fill pickles with the liquid into a clean glass jar and store in the refrigerator

A Japanese 15-Minute-Meal

A while ago I wrote about ‘one of these days’. Days on which nothing seems to work out or days on which time seems to fly too fast to get everything done – or worse: both. Spending time in the kitchen to prepare your family a healthy, nutritious meal is usually not on top of the list on those days. The focus is more on how to get something quickly on the table that soothes the mind of children, hungry and tired from the day, and switches their mood to ‘satisfied and happy’.

In Japan it is unusual to cook every dish on the same day

Once every week we return home really late. Hungry and tired after a long day that ends with the girl’s swimming lesson. Once at home I only have a few minutes to get dinner on the table, but thanks to the general rhythm in Japanese cuisine this is a doable task. Traditionally a Japanese meal consists of one main dish, two side dishes, a soup and rice. In Japanese referred to as ‘ichi-ju-san-sei’. One-soup-three dishes. An accompanying bowl of rice is not in question, so it is not mentioned. But it is not uncommon that the different dishes are prepared on different days.

Japanese cuisine is extremely seasonal and it is frugal, as you can read in Persimmon Peel Prominence or  The Peak of Flavor or Why Wash Rice?. Nothing goes to waste. Typically you find in a Japanese meal something that is in season as well as something that needed to be prepared, left from cooking other dishes. Skillfully organized, it is possible to get a traditional Japanese meal on the table in 10-15 Minutes. Nutritionally balanced, fresh and yummy.

Ichi-ju-san-sei

As an example I take our dinner from this week’s swimming-day. On the tray you find:

  1. String beans with a walnut-miso-sauce,
  2. pickled cucumber with kombu and ginger as well as some takuan (pickled radish)
  3. tamagoyaki (rolled omelet),
  4. miso soup with carrots, green onion tops and little wheat gluten,
  5. miso marinated salmon and
  6. rice.

Cooking time in total about 1,5-2 hours, but spread over a couple of days. ‘Cooking’ time to get dinner on the table that night: 10-15 minutes. Mainly ‘that long’, because I wanted to serve the salmon still warm and not at room temperature, which is commonly done in Japan. But how is that possible?

A Japanese 15 minute meal

Not a recipe for a single dish, more a recipe for a rhythm in the kitchen that enables you to get a Japanese meal on the table in 15 minute.

Just before dinner time (right after we get home):

Miso preserved the salmon for a few days until I finished it off in a couple of minutes
Miso preserved the salmon for a few days until I finished it off in a couple of minutes
  • Take the salmon from the marinade and fry it on medium heat, put dashi in a separate pan and bring to a boil
  • While this is happening, take the string beans, miso-sauce, tamagoyaki and pickles out of the fridge and arrange on individual plates
  • Cut carrots and green onions and place them with the (store bought) wheat gluten
    Prep-time for miso soup is basically the time necessary to heat dashi
    Prep-time for miso soup is basically the time necessary to heat dashi

    in the soup bowl (my family doesn’t eat cooked carrots, so they go directly in the bowl)

  • Plate the salmon
  • Take dashi from the heat, add miso and pour into the soup bowl.
  • Fill rice bowl with freshly cooked rice. ‘Itadakimasu’ (Enjoy)!

On the days before our dinner

  1. I cooked the string beans on the day they were bought and stored them in dashi with a dash of soy sauce and a dash of mirin (sake brewed from mochigome – Japanese sweet rice)
  2. I usually rejuvenate miso that lost its aroma and make some kind of neri miso with it (see basic recipe in What can you do with ‘old’ Miso?) and as such I had a walnut-miso-sauce waiting in my fridge that I made a while ago (probably a week or so).

    The string beans were cooked and stored in dash the day they were bought
    The string beans were cooked and stored in dash the day they were bought
  3. I always make pickles when I come across good looking vegetables at a reasonable price or whenever ‘it is time’ to do something with what I have on hand (like I use left-over kombu) or make persimmon vinegar ). In this case I came across really fresh mini-cucumbers about a week ago, which I like in particular, because they are the closest to Japanese cucumbers that you can get around here. At the same time I had quite an amount of left-over kombu from making dashi. So I pickled them together with ginger, soy, mirin and vinegar.
  4. The day before our dinner I made Tamagoyaki and whenever I do this I usually make a few omelets. In theory the keep a couple of days in the fridge, but in our home the ‘magically’ disappear quickly….

    I always have pickles in my fridge that can be pulled out any given time to enhance a meal
    I always have pickles in my fridge that can be pulled out any given time to enhance a meal
  5. In my kitchen dashi for miso soup is basic layout and I always have some in the fridge. Similar I always have a jar of kombu sitting in water on my kitchen counter so I can make new dashi in a couple of minutes (see recipe). As such making miso soup (see recipe here) is a piece of cake.
  6. The salmon also went in the miso on the weekend before (here is the recipe). Whenever I get my hands on really fresh fish I get a bit more and put it in miso, because it is yummy and because with three kids, a job and a household to manage I can pretty much rely on ‘those days’ to happen. By the way: the technique of preserving fish in miso is an old one and has been invented long before there was refrigeration. So don’t be shy. Give it a try!
  7. I did not prepare the rice days before. I prepared it in the morning (read here what you need to do and why) and put it in the rice cooker who did the cooking automatically at the time set and we had freshly cooked rice when we got home.

And what are we going to have today? I am not sure yet. There are still some string beans sitting in dashi that could go well with dry roasted katsuo bushi (bonito flakes) and some soy sauce as well as a piece of silken tofu that would make a perfect match as shira aé (tofu sauce) to some of the loquats that I came across the other day and I also have an eggplant that should be used. I could simmer it in neri miso and dashi and finish it off with some roasted sesame seeds. With some rice, a soup and some of the pickles in my fridge we should be set for tonight. Prep time: probably something around 30 minutes…

Gohan飯: How to cook Japanese Rice

Truth to be told, our home is often chaotic. Our girls speed through our home and our life boosting with energy, laughter and all sorts of ideas. Naturally this is not just a recipe for love and understanding between the siblings, it also has quite a potential for conflicts… But when it comes to my question what they would like to have for dinner they shout out “rice” in perfect harmony. If they would get to choose they would always have rice, even for breakfast. No need for me to test the waters with ‘classic European kid’s dishes’ like Spaghetti with ‘red sauce’. None of our kids would touch them.

Gohan means rice and meal

The taste of freshly cooked rice is truly delicious and I can think of no Japanese person who would disagree with that. But rice is not just a side dish. ‘Gohan’, the Japanese word for rice also means meal and as such it represents the significance of rice in Japan where it is always put onto the ‘place of honor’ (the lower left) in the traditional meal setting.

IMG_1410
Ichi-ju-san-sei: A traditional Japanese meal consisting of one (ichi) soup (ju), three (san) dishes (sei) and rice

Onigiri instead of sandwich

Serving my girl’s preference for rice, they usually find Onigiri, also referred to as Omusubi, in their lunchbox. Onigiri are small pressed rice ‘balls’, typically in the shape of a triangle with different seasonings and fillings. Small, affordable and convenient to take with you as an instant, delicious way to satisfy your hunger.

Yukari Onigiri with umé boshi
Onigiri with umé boshi (pickled plum)

In Japan Onigiri are practically sold on each corner, whether in a convenience store or dedicated stalls. Like their Japanese peers, my girls were started on Onigiri as a baby, which probably explains their food preference. Outside of Japan there isn’t the luxury of getting an Onigiri on the way, but given that it is healthy, delicious and convenient, it is worthwhile making them yourself. But before we start with how to make Onigiri we have to start with how to cook proper rice.

Cooking Japanese Rice

Generally speaking you can cook rice on a stove or with a rice cooker. I know that I could go into more detail about the type of pots and the type of heat sources, but that would take me too far.

Using a rice cooker with a warmer feature has the advantage of cooking rice independent from when you need it. Wonderful fur busy people or late riser that don’t want to miss out on freshly cooked rice in the morning e.g. to make Onigiri. Not speaking of being a regular life saver for me in getting a meal on the table in less than 10 minutes (see recipe here).

Using a rice cooker is pretty straight forward, but for those who prefer a step-by-step guide for its use I recommend an article that Daniela from NipponInsider wrote on it (in German only). In that article she also took a closer look at the different technical features of today’s rice cookers, so if you consider buying one and can understand German, hop over and have a look.

As convenient as rice cookers are, rice can be cooked equally to perfection on a stove, which I will introduce to you in detail below.

Things worth knowing when cooking Japanese Rice

Independent from your method of preparation, when it comes to Japanese rice there are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Wash the rice thoroughly
    The objective is to remove any dirt, but even more the ‘nuka’ (rice bran) that would cause the rice to become mushy.

    Washing Rice
    Japanese rice needs to be washed thoroughly before cooking. The starchy water is called togi jiru and has many culinary and non-culinary uses

    In order to do so wash the rice in a bowl with cold water, gently rubbing the grains against your palms or the side of the bowl. Change the water and wash again. Repeat until the water runs clear. Drain the rice in strainer.
    The cloudy water that you get not just has a name (‘togi jiru’), it also has various culinary and non-culinary uses. Check them out here, before you throw it out.

  2. Regulate humidity of the grains
    Rice expands when absorbing water, but not uniformity.

    Dried Rice
    Let the rice sit for a while after washing to help regulate moisture content and avoid cracking

    Some parts of the grains absorb water faster than others and as such fast changes in humidity and temperature lead to cracked rice grains, which then would get mushy in the cooking process. To avoid cracks you should

    Soaking Rice
    Soaking rice additional 10-15 minutes before cooking also prevents cracking

    a) let the rice sit in the strainer for about 30 Minutes after washing and afterwards
    b) let the rice sit for another 10-15 Minutes in the water of the rice cooker or the pot before turning on the heat.

Recipe for 2 cups cooked Japanese Rice

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (200ml)  Japanese rice
  • 220 ml             Water

Method

An important matter upfront: Even though you might be tempted, do not lift the lid until the full cooking process is completed (I jut did it to get you the pictures)!!!

Place the washed and soaked rice with the water in a heavy (2-3l)-pot and Cooking Ricea closed lid on the stove and bring it to a boil on high heat. You can easily hear the water boiling and usually the lid starts to move as well.

Reduce the heat to medium and let the rice absorb the water completely. This takes about 5 minutes and even though you might think that this is hard to notice without peaking into the pot, rely on your ears. You will hear a fizzling sound that indicates the full absorbance. Steaming RiceNow put your rice again on high heat, but only for a moment (about 30 seconds), before you take it off the stove and have it self-steam for another 10 to 15 minutes. Do not omit the self-steaming. It is important for the texture.

Fluff your rice with a shamoji (Japanese Rice paddle), serve and enjoy! And as we are all set now to start with how to make Onigiri, subscribe to our newsletter to make sure not to miss a recipe.

Oyakodon 親子丼: Chicken and Egg on Rice

It has been quite a while since I packed all my belongings in a dark blue Golf and left to move into my first apartment – some 630 km away from home. Until then it was always my mom, who had decorated the house for Easter and encouraged us to help paint the eggs that she prepared. Now I am a mom myself, but having lived in non-Christian countries for the past decade I have not blown an egg for my kids so far. Until my oldest came home from school last week. Excited that she is supposed to bring a box of blown eggs.

With so many eggs and some chicken we still had in the fridge we decided to make Oyako-Donburi (rice bowl with chicken and egg – in short: Oyakodon) for dinner. An easy, fast and satisfying meal.

Iain Ingredients for Oyakudon (without sake and mirin)
Main Ingredients for Oyakodon (without Sake and Mirin)

Donburi is a popular dish in Japan. Actually Donburi means bowl, but it refers to a bowl of rice with a topping on it. The most popular donburis at our home are Gyudon (beef), Maguro (tuna) and Oyakodon. Means ‘mother and child’-rice bowl and is made from braised chicken, eggs and onions.

Recipe for 2 big Bowls

Ingredients

  • 3 cups (á 200ml) Japanese rice
  • 200g      Chicken breast (in bite-size pieces)
  • 1              Onion (sliced or cut into narrow wedges)
  • 4                 Eggs
  • 100ml     Dashi
  • 30 ml     Soy Sauce
  • 15 ml      Mirin
  • 15 ml      Sake
  • 1 Tbsp.   Sugar
  • 2 Tbsp.   Roughly chopped Mitsuba (Japanese Parsley) or finely cut chives
  • A dash   Shichimi (Japanese chilli powder) – optional

Method

Wash the rice thoroughly and cook it in a rice cooker or on the stove. When the rice is done cooking, take a big spoon or a Shamoji (a rice paddle made from wood or plastic) and quickly loosen up the rice. Close the lid and let it steam while you prepare the topping.

Oyakodon: Simmering Chicken and Onions
Oyakodon: Simmering Chicken and Onions

Whisk the eggs without incorporating too much air to save the silky texture. Pour soy sauce, dashi, sake and sugar in a pan and bring to a simmer. Add the onions and the chicken and cook until the chicken is almost cooked through (approx. 3 min., depending on the size).

Oyakodon: Adding the Eggs
Oyakodon: Adding the Eggs

Reduce the heat and add the eggs in circular motions covering the entire pan. Cook the eggs without stirring to your desired doneness. Shake the pan now and then to avoid the chicken to stick to the pan.

To serve put half on the rice in one bowl, arrange the chicken-egg-mixture on top and garnish with some Mitsuba,  chives and Shichimi if you like.

It didn’t come on a surprise that my other two daughters came home with a similar request. So by now I have mastered to blow out eggs in a short amount of time and we were left with a lot of egg-mixture. But we didn’t always make Oyakodon with it. A pretty popular dish among children is Tamagoyaki, the rolled omelet. Another staple food at our home. Stay tuned for the recipe and some tips and tricks on how to get the roling part right.

 

Cherry Blossoms in Rice: Sakura Gohan

Breathtaking beautiful, but only for a short moment. Cherry-blossoms are known for its short but brilliant blooming season, a natural process that not only symbolizes the start of spring but also metaphorically describes transience of human life. Two weeks until the delicate pink and white petals return to earth like snowflakes in the wind.

Last year I wrote about the Japanese custom to serve cherry blossom tea at weddings. Every time I remember that custom I am filled with the grace of Japanese politeness, which you can glean here.

A different and very common culinary use for salted cherry blossoms is sakura gohan (rice mixed with salted cherry blossoms). Wonderful to take with you for a Hanami picnic, but equally wonderful to be served at home for dinner. For tonight I decided to double the cherry blossom experience and shape our sakura gohan into a cherry blossom itself.

Cherry Blossoms Kirschblüten Reis

 

The cherry blossom mold equals one portion of rice which is about ½ a Japanese cup (100ml) of uncooked rice. Due to the salt the rice keeps well at room temperature, so you can easily make the sakura gohan cherry blossoms ahead of time and keep it covered at room temperature until the rest of the food is ready to eat.

Rice with cherry blossoms: Ingredients (Japanese rice, salted cherry blossoms, rice mold)
Rice with cherry blossoms: Ingredients (Japanese rice, salted cherry blossoms, rice mold)
  • ½  200ml-cup             Japanese rice
  • 120 ml                          Water
  • 1 Tbsp.                         Chopped, salted cherry blossoms
  • 1                                    salted cherry blossom for decoration (optional)

Method for making cherry blossom rice

Wash the rice well, cook it in a rice cooker or on the stove and leave it to steam with the lid closed for another 15 to 20 minutes after it is done cooking.

Making of cherry blossom rice 1: Sprinkle chopped cherry blossoms onto the cooked, hot rice
Sprinkle chopped cherry blossoms onto the cooked, hot rice

Shake off some of the salt from the cherry blossoms and chop them finely. Keep the salt for another use (remember mottainai – nothing goes to waste in the Japanese kitchen). The salt from the cherry blossoms has a wonderful scent and tastes delicious as a finishing salt on grilled fish.

Making of cherry blossom rice 2: Forming a ball of rice
Forming a ball of rice

After the rice is done steaming you should fluff it up and sprinkle the chopped cherry blossoms on top. Now you carefully work the cherry blossoms in the rice, ideally using a shamoji (a plastic or wooden spoon for rice). Make sure to use cutting and folding motions to avoid the rice to become mush. That’s it. Serve your sakura gohan directly in rice bowls or shape them to your liking into onigiris, logs or cherry blossoms.

Making of cherry blossom rice 3: Put the rice in the wet (!) rice mold
Put the rice in the wet (!) rice mold

Introducing onigiri in more detail has long been on the editorial schedule for this blog. So if you are interested to read about the different kinds of onigiri, how to make them and some of the fillings, I invite you to subscribe to the newsletter.

In order to make sakura gohan in the shape of a cherry blossom you need to have a cherry blossom mold.

Making of cherry blossom rice 4: Make sure to gently press the rice in the corners
Make sure to gently press the rice in the corners

Make sure that both – your hands as well as the mold are wet, otherwise the rice will stick to both and shaping it neatly will not be possible. Gently form a ball with the rice in your hands and drop it into the mold. Use your fingertips to help the rice into the corners, put on the lid and apply gentle pressure.

Making of cherry blossom rice 5: Gently press down the rice
Gently press down the rice

Lift the lid and double check that the rice fills the entire mold. Decorate the top with a single cherry blossom if you like and give the rice a final, gentle press with the lid. To release the rice from the mold hold the lid down with your thumbs while your fingers lift the mold up. Now wiggle off the lid to make sure not to ruin the shape and serve your sakura gohan-cherry blossom.

See the pictures below for more details on the process:

Making of cherry blossom rice 6: Add one cherry blossom for decoration (optional) and give the rice a final press
Add one cherry blossom for decoration (optional) and give the rice a final press
Making of cherry blossom rice 7: Lift the lid body of the mold with your fingers while pressing down the lid with your thumbs
Lift the lid body of the mold with your fingers while pressing down the lid with your thumbs
Making of cherry blossom rice 8. Take off the body of the rice mold
Take off the body of the rice mold
Making of cherry blossom rice 9: Gently wiggle the lid of the rice mold off the rice
Gently wiggle the lid of the rice mold off the rice
Making of cherry blossom rice 10: Now its time for plating
Now its time for plating