Preparing the pictures for my next post, I cooked Harako-Meshi (Rice with salmon and salmon caviar) and integrated it into last night’s dinner. I know I still owe you an article on Washoku (Japan’s traditional food culture), what it is and how to put it into practice. Take this article as a first glimpse. Cooking according to Washoku guidelines means preparing ‘go shiki, go mi, go ho‘ – meals. Which describes meals that contain five colors, five flavors and have used five ways of preparation.
Coming back to our dinner last night. Here is what you see on the picture and how this complies to the Washoku guidelines:
TheDishes (starting from the lower left)
Harako-Meshi (knowing that it is actually a fall dish)
Tskudani with enoki mushrooms (soy glazed kombu and mushrooms)
Today was one of those days. An overflowing to do list and whatever I started seemed not to end precisely where I wanted. Adding to the distraction that comes with a not-so-much-sleeping-anymore-baby my oldest one joined in, as she couldn’t go to school either. Those days would normally be destined for some take out food or home delivery. Normally. If take out wouldn’t take so much time to pick up, given that I have to take the entire kids-gang with me. If delivery services would make tasty food. If I would find a delivery service that has food for every taste and age. If I would find a delivery service that serves the food either super fast or in a reliable time frame to arm me for the witching hour when my girls transform to kidzillas. But so far I haven’t found one. And on those days I cannot afford to stir a pot on the stove while consoling one, two or three girls at the same time close to tears myself. On those days I need a kitchen lifesaver. Quick and easy soul food. Comforting, healthy and satisfying.
One of my all time favorites in this situation is succulent Saikyo Yaki (Miso-marinated grilled fish), served with a steaming bowl of freshly cooked rice and a savory miso soup. As usual, I have some fish in its marinade in my fridge waiting patiently for those days to come. Now all I need is a tiny bit of preparation to bring out the smiles again with a yummy dinner on the table in about 10 minutes elapsed time. How does that sound?
So whenever you have a moment during the day wash the rice, put it in the rice cooker and keep it warm until you need it. At the same time soak some kombu (kelp) in water and make dashi (basic stock) within a couple of minutes (see recipe here), putting you in the pole position to whip up a miso soup while the fish, that you just need to take out of the marinade, is broiling. That’s it.
Certainly no remedy against the witching hour, but a way to make your life easier in the heat of the moment. Admittedly, I almost always have some salmon marinated in miso sitting in my fridge. Just to be prepared. Also because it simply tastes wonderful and keeps for about five days in the marinade. And even if I don’t have one of those days, I don’t mind a yummy and healthy dinner that only takes minutes to get on the table.
4 pieces á 100g Fish (e.g. Salmon, (Spanish) Makarel, Cod)
some saké (optional
Sarashi or cheesecloth, big enough to wrap the fish
Non-reactive vessel that holds the fish in a snug fit layer
450-500g saikyo miso (sweet, light miso)
80 ml Mirin
Zest of one yuzu, lemon or orange
Rinse the fish under cold water and pat it dry. If you want to hedge your bets rinse the fish with sake and pat it dry. Mix the ingredients for the marinade and put half of it in a non-reactive vessel. Place the sarashi or cheesecloth (in a double layer) on top of the miso in the vessel, press down slightly and add the fish (snug fit). Enclose the fish with the remaining piece of sarashi/cheesecloth, put the second half of the marinade on top of it and close the lid or cover with a sheet of plastic wrap. Let the fish marinate at room temperature for a minimum of six hours or in the fridge for up to five days. The longer the fish marinates the firmer it will get and the more intense the salty-sweet miso flavor will become.
To cook the fish scrape off the marinade on top of the sarashi/cheesecloth (save the marinade for another use in a glass jar) and remove the fish from the container. Place the fish skin side down on a piece of aluminum foil and grill it for about three or four minutes (the skin will bubble and char a bit). Turn and grill for another 2-3 minutes. If you use a broiler start with the skin side up (to protect the fish against the heat). If you have neither use a pan and sear the fish slowly (skin side down first) on medium heat, being careful not to let it scorch. Remove the fish from the heat when being slightly crusty and golden on the outside and still juicy and succulent on the inside and serve it right away or at room temperature.
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Washoku, Japan’s traditional food culture has gained increasingly worldwide interest since it has been awarded a UNESCO Intangible Cultural World Heritage two and a half years ago. The heart of Washoku is a healthy, balanced cuisine that embraces and internalizes the spirit of seasonality and seasonal events. It is a century old culinary tradition that is still in evidence throughout Japan.
The Japanese even have a specific word for their attention to seasonality: Shun. There is no equivalent for Shun in the English language. Shun translates to an almost religious obsession to consume food at the peak of its season. Imagine you bite in a big, fat, red, succulent, sweet and juicy strawberry that fills your mouth with this irresistible distinct flavor of early summer. That is Shun.
But nature’s production does not begin and end with this peak in flavor. So the Japanese dedication to seasonality has further divisions of the season: Hashiri and Nagori. Hashiri refers to products that have just come into season or are even a little early. They are usually smaller in size, not as flavorful and rather expensive. Whereas Nagori describes the products at the end of the season, who are no longer really wonderful.
Coming back to the strawberries. Hashiri means the run for the first strawberries. You remember the fruity, juicy, succulent and sweet flavor, which you have been waiting to get for the past year. You cannot wait to bite into one, knowing that they are often not fully ripe and tarter than you would actually like, but to get a glance at the taste of what is soon to come in full flavor is worth the high price you pay.
Nagori is the opposite. Middle of June, when the strawberry season is almost over and the ones that you buy are usually over ripe, easily bruised and no longer wonderful. But you just have to buy that one last basket, one last glimpse of that juicy taste that is so typical for the first warm summer days, because you know that this is your last chance before you have to say good-bye and wait another year for them to come around as wonderful as they just were.
Given this attention to seasonality it does not come on a surprise that in a formal Kaiseki-meal the chef composes a symphonic firework for all senses, fusing the five colors, the five flavors and the five methods of preparation for products from all of the three sub-seasons.
When in doubt, add a splash of dashi. Dashi is everywhere in Japanese dishes.
It is cooking liquid, seasoning as well as base for soups and sauces. Good dashi is magical. It is subtle and delicate but has the power to enhance flavors without overpowering dishes with its own taste. Sometimes just a few drops can make all the difference in the world between a good and a gorgeous dish. Making good dashi is easy and only takes a couple of minutes.
So here is a quick guide how to make Japan’s liquid gold from only two ingredients: Katsuo bushi (bonito flakes) and Kombu (seaweed).
In Tokyo with its hard water Hidaka-Kombu is the standard, in the Kansei Region with its soft water it is Ma-Kombu. But if you have not access to different types of kombu, just use the one you can get your hands on.
Take a piece of about 10 x 10cm and let it sit for a minimum of 15 Minutes in a glass jar filled with water. I usually use about 750 ml.
DON’T wipe off any of the white powder that might be on your dry kombu. Similar to the sugar that gets to the surface of dried fruits, the natural glutamates of the kombu appear as a white powder on the surface. And the entire purpose of making dashi is to extract them. So wiping them off would diminish all your efforts.
To save some (waiting) time during the cooking process, I recommend to do this right when you decide to cook something Japanese and have it sit in your kitchen until you are ready to go. This can even be a couple of hours or over night when you put the jar in the fridge. The result that you will get in your jar is kombu-dashi. Kombu-dashi is frequently used in vegan dishes as a replacement for dashi and has a similar flavor enhancing character.
To make dashi, heat the kombu-dashi with the kombu in it on medium heat until about 85°C. If you want to be exact you can of course use a thermometer, but a close observation of your pot will do the trick as good: Remove your pot from the heat once the bubbles begin to break on the surface. This is about 85°C and the optimal temperature to extract the glutamates but not the (bitter) tannins of the kombu. Now is the time to add a good hand full
of katsuo bushi and wait for two or three Minutes before straining them through a fine mesh layered with Sarashi or a kind of fine-woven cloth that you have on hand. Use the dashi right away or let it cool to room temperature before covering it and putting it in the fridge for later use.
That’s it. It is that easy!
Despite all the simplicity there are a few things to consider:
Don’t put in more katsuo-bushi or soak them longer. Doing that would extract the fishiness instead of the smokiness.
Don’t wash the cloth that you used with soap unless you want your next dashi to taste soapy. Just rinse it right away under very warm water and hang it to dry.
Last but not least: There are recipes out there that call for the Katsuo Bushi to sink to the bottom of the pot before straining. That is not a good rule of thumb! The time for the Katsuo Bushi to sink to the bottom depends heavily on their size. Large flakes, that you will often find after just opening a new bag, will sink very slowly. Much longer than the two to three Minutes that you need. Whereas the flakes on the bottom of a bag, that are almost powder, will sink right away to the bottom, which would give them not enough time to release their wonderful flavor.
P.S: As nothing is going to waste in the Japanese kitchen, making dashi is no exception. Save the kombu and use it for quick pickles or tsukdani (simmered in soy sauce with herbs or vegetables) and make tasty furikake from the left over katsuo bushi to sprinkle on rice or to mix in onigiri (
Last week was Nanakusa no Sekku, the festival of the seven herbs in Japan, that marks the end of Oshugatsu, the Japanese New Year. On this day – typically in the morning Japanese – people eat Nanakusa Gayu. This is a variation of rice porridge called okayu that is typically served to sick people, because it is soft and rather bland. With my youngest daughter being less than a year old and an addict to Japanese food, I found myself making okayu quite often in the past months and I must admit that it ranks rather low in my Japanese culinary repertoire.
Nevertheless Nanakusa Gayu is traditionally eaten on the seventh day of the new year as a simple soup made with rice and water (proportion 1:3), or a light dashi broth and seven different kinds of herbs (each having a unique health promoting property) that are quickly blanched and then finely chopped to be added at the end. The soup is meant to let the “overworked” stomach and digestive system rest and bring longevity and health in the coming year.
The traditional seven herbs that are added to the dish are:
– seri — Water Dropwort
– nazuna — Shepherd’s Purse
– gogyō — Cudweed
– hakobera — Chickweed
– hotokenoza — Nipplewort
– suzuna — Turnip
– suzushiro — Daikon
In Japan it is easy to source those herbs both fresh and freeze dried in conveniently packaged containers.
So instead of preparing my family food, which only my youngest daughter would appreciate, I gave it a little twist this year. I combined Nanakusa no Sekku with Sho-Chiku-Bai (pine, bamboo and plum). This threesome – “Three Friends of Winter” is one of the most popular decorative motifs (e.g. the motive on New Year’s chopsticks), representing promise and good fortune.
So I cooked the Japanese rice risotto style: Deglazing the pan with saké and adding the broth little by little while continuously stirring to bring out the creaminess. As a broth I used the liquid from braising bamboo shoots like you would when making Takénoko Gohan. And which were tossed under the rice just before serving. I added pine nuts to the herbs making a raw pesto-like paste to go on top of the rice and added a sprinkle of dried umé boshi powder on top of the dish (hard to see in the picture) to add a splash of color and palate teaser.
This variation of Nanakusa no Sekku was a successful experiment. Even my youngest daughter liked the rice. As she is still waiting for her first tooth to come out, there was not much more for her to try. Here is the recipe that I noted while I was cooking:
For the broth :
– 1.100 ml Dashi
– 100 ml Mirin
– 100 ml light colored soy sauce
– 450g cooked Bamboo
– 2 Turnip
– 2 Mini-Daikon
Put dashi, mirin and soy sauce in a pot on medium heat. Add the thinly cut vegetables, cover with an otoshi buta (or alternatively with a round parchment paper) and allow for low simmering for about five minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. Remove the vegetables from the soup and save for their later use.
For the Pesto*:
– 2 packages of Nanakusa no Sekku-herbs
– 70 g freshly roasted pine nuts
– 100 ml broth
– 15 ml light colored soy sauce
– 1 pinch of salt (optional)
Mix the pine nuts and half of the broth in a blender. Add the rest of the broth bit by bit – depending on your preferred consistency. Proceed similar with the light colored soy sauce, adjusting the degree of saltiness to your liking. Light colored soy sauce is saltier than normal soy sauce, but does not stain the food. So if you substitute regular soy sauce for the light colored soy sauce, beware that it will affect the fresh, green color.
For the rice:
– 275 g Japanese rice
– 100 ml Saké
– 750 ml broth
– 1 El light sesame oil
– 1 Prise Umé boshi powder
Heat the oil in the pot and add the rice, stirring it for one or two minutes until coated with the oil. Deglaze the pot with the saké and add the broth little by little. For a creamy consistency you need to stir constantly, massaging the broth into the rice until it has reached your favorite doneness (mine was al dente).
Before serving mix the cooked vegetables** in the rice and arrange it nicely on a plate. Top with the pesto and sprinkle some umé boshi powder over the dish .
We enjoyed our Sho-Chiku-Bai Nanakusa no Sekku with a glass of chilled Junmai Kimoto Saké from the Daishichi brewery, which I will be introducing in more detail in a separate post.
* The amount of pesto that I got was good for six people, whereas the rice was for two adults, two little girls and a baby only. Next time I will cut the recipe in half.
** I used way too much bamboo for the dish. The bamboo flavored the broth nicely, but was too much to mix with the rice that I cooked. I assume that 150 g bamboo would probably have been more than enough.
Some Jubakos have dividers – either flexible ones or fixed but many come without giving the most plating options. Jubakos are carefully filled, pleasing the eye as much as the food the palate. Not surprisingly those pieces of artistic arranged osechi are carefully planned upfront. Color combinations are in taken into account as much as consistency and shapes. Good practice is to do the design on paper before the filling. Here is the plan my daughter came up with yesterday for arranging osechi in her own Jubako for the next New Years Day:
In her box she wants to include
– top: Tamagoyaki (rolled omelet)
– second from the top: Kuromamé (sweet, black soy beans)
– third from the top: Cucumbers – bottom: Onigiri (hand pressed rice) with yukari (dried red shiso leaves)
– top: Tori Niku Dango (chicken meatballs)
– second from the top: Tazukuri (candied sardines)
– 3rd and 4th compartment: Some decoration
– second from the bottom: Tataki gobo (pounded Burdock)
– bottom: Cherry tomatoes and
– next to the tomatoes: Edamamé (green soy beans).
Interestingly she has the Washoku color concept already internalized adding all five colors in her box:
– yellow with the tamagoyaki (rolled omelet),
– red with the tomatoes and the yukari – green with the edamamé and the cucumber
– white with the rice and
– black with the kuromamé .
If you are not yet familiar with Washoku, stay tuned or subscribe to the newsletter. I will be writing about it in more detail shortly.
The turn oft the year is one of the most important holidays for families in Japan – like Christmas in Europe people go home and celebrate the turn of the years with their families. It is the time to reflect on the past year and for a fresh start into the new one. Debts are paid off and arguments are settled before the old year ends. The house gets a good clean and osechi ryori dishes are prepared before the year ends.
Osechi ryori (often shortened to ‘osechi’) is a subset of Japanese cuisine. An assortment of traditional dishes – each of which has a symbolic character – are served on Oshogatsu (New Year’s). As historically New Year’s day was not the time for cooking, osechi are made ahead of time, kept and eaten at room temperature. The dishes are therefore typically prepared based on ancient methods of preserving food, like curing with salt or vinegar and simmering in sweetened soy. Some of the traditional dishes are:
Tataki Gobo (pounded Burdock with sesame):
Gobo, or Burdock is a long root vegetable that symbolizes a long and stable life. When splitting the ends of gobo, like you do in this dish, it is believed that the good fortune is multiplied.
Tazukuri (candied sardines):
With the large number of tiny fish Tazukuri symbolizes a bountiful harvest as they were once used as fertilizer. Combining tiny dried sardines with a sweet coating might seem extraordinary, but they are utterly delicious.
Kohaku Namasu (red and white salad):
Typically made from daikon and carrot, this is a recurring color combination in osechi dishes, as red and white stands for happiness and celebration in Japan.
Kurikinton (creamy sweet potatoes with chestnuts):
This is a sweet, bright yellow (golden) dish that is included in the jubako to symbolize wealth and financial success.
Kurumamé (Sweet Black Soy Beans):
Those black soy beans are simmered in thick syrup – and sometimes patiently served as a couple on tiny skewers. It’s thought to have medicinal values and is a symbol of good health.
Kazunoko (herring roe):
The roe is being cured in a light soy sauce and dashi and symbolize fertility because of the many tiny eggs.
Kohaku Kamaboko (Red and white Celebration Fish Sausage):
Rarely homemade but store-bought, Kohaku kamaboko, like Kohaku Namasu it is a traditional dish representing happiness and celebration.
Daté Maki Tamago (Omlet with Fish):
The golden dish symbolizes a wish for sunny days ahead. For some people it symbolizes knowledge because the rolled shape looks like a scroll. Like Kohaku Kamaboko it is nowadays rarely made at home, as a special omelet pan is necessary that is made of copper and not the everyday Teflon omelet pans.
On New Year’s day the osechi dishes are then carefully arranged in a two to three layered lacquer box, called jubako. Today ready made osechi boxes can be ordered ahead of time at ordinary supermarkets, depachikas (basement food area in Japanese department stores that carry a wide range of Japanese and international delicatessen) or restaurants. The number of zeros in the catalogue are not a mistake – prices for osechi boxes are usually a couple hundred Euros and can go up to several thousand – depending obviously on the number of persons and the prestige of the chef or producer.