This week: Christopher Pellegrini visits Koganei Shuzo and a discussion of Japanese coffee culture
The Japan Eats Podcast is presented by Garrett DeOrio, Marcus Lovitt, and Christopher Pellegrini. To listen, click play on the audio player below.
In this week’s Japan Eats Podcast, Garrett DeOrio, Marcus Lovitt, and Christopher Pellegrini discuss Koganei Shuzo and Japanese coffee culture.
Here are some links to the things we discussed this week:
- Koganei Shuzou (in Japanese)
- Oliver Strand’s article in the New York Times: ‘Japan’s Pour-Over Coffee Wins Converts‘
Intro/outro: “Aguamala” by Carne Cruda
You can e-mail us at email@example.com
Christopher Pellegrini explains the difference between honkaku and kourui shochu.
You’ve seen them on the menu at nearly every alcohol-equipped establishment in Japan—mysterious cocktails that end in the word ‘hai’. And those chuhai drinks that seem to be the best bet at the convenience store in terms of easy-to-drink alcoholic content per hundred yen spent–is this shochu or vodka or what?
But what of all these new bars that cater to shochu lovers—what are they drinking? Is it the same fuel that’s powering these diverse parties, or are we talking about entirely different alcoholic permutations?
Quite simply, what we’re dealing with here is two varieties of the same drink that have different distillation processes and drinking purposes. At the risk of oversimplifying things just a bit, shochu, the alcohol distilled from a wide range of flora, can generally be divided into two main camps—kourui and honkaku.
Kourui shochu, for the most part, is what’s providing the kick in most of those restaurant cocktails and canned drinks that shine in supermarket and convenience store coolers. It’s distilled repeatedly so that it loses the majority of its flavor profile. There’s not a whole lot happening on the nose either—this stuff (sometimes compared with vodka) is ideal for cocktails and is generally the ‘chu’ half of a canned ‘chuhai’ (a drink containing shochu, soda, and a sweet or sour mixer of some sort). Chuhai, by the way, is a reduction of ‘shochu highball,’ and the most common mixers are tea (oolong), and grapefruit or lemon juice.
Kourui shochu is also added to some types of nihonshu (sake), such as honjozo, in order to tame some of the robust natural flavors that are produced during the brewing process. The maximum permissible ABV for this type of shochu is 36%. Another popular drink, umeshu, also uses kourui shochu as its base.
Honkaku shochu (aka otsurui), on the other hand, is single-distilled and full of flavor and aroma. Honkaku can be translated as ‘authentic’ or ‘genuine’, and the three most common raw ingredients are sweet potatoes (satsumaimo), barley (mugi) and rice (kome). Honkaku makes up the bulk of what those shochu bars are serving.
Honkaku shochu is typically enjoyed neat, on the rocks, or with either hot or cold water added. It is most frequently bottled at 25% ABV, but legally it can climb above forty percent.
Honkaku shochu, the pride of the prefectures of Kyushu Island, is generally associated with southern parts of the archipelago. That is not to imply that good shochu is not produced up north, but the lion’s share of well-respected brands are from the prefectures of Kagoshima, Miyazaki and Kumamoto, to name a few. Kourui, on the other hand, is distilled all over the country.
Even though it may not be the clearcut winner in terms of production (kiloliters per year), imo-jochu (potato shochu) enjoys the widest exposure in terms of the number of brands on restaurant and bar menus. Mugi, kome and kokuto (brown sugar) are a very distant second in that respect.
However, this does not necessarily mean that imo is better. Imo-jochu (the ‘sh’ in shochu is generally pronounced ‘j’ when it follows the name of the main ingredient) is notable for its pronounced steamed potato aroma and strong flavor while mugi is known for being smoother. The price of a bottle of shochu is similar to that of many whiskies available in supermarkets, so it might be good to grab a bottle of both imo and mugi to figure out which one is more your style.
If you plan to make cocktails with shochu, such as an “oolong hai” (one part shochu and two parts oolong tea on the rocks), then it is recommended that you opt for mugi-jochu. Imo-jochu can easily overpower the other ingredients in a shochu cocktail if not mixed carefully.
Perhaps the easiest way to tell the difference is that honkaku is most often found in 720 ml or larger glass bottles (although it also can be purchased in large cardboard cartons). Kourui is also packaged in large cartons but tends to be much cheaper than boxes of honkaku. And if it’s in a gigantic clear plastic jug, then that’s definitely kourui.
However you choose to drink it, shochu sales are steadily taking charge in the Japanese alcohol industry. As beer and nihonshu sales continue to taper off or even decline, shochu demand has increased enough that distillers have not been able to raise supplies to the point where they would consider serious flirtations with international markets. These days, whether you’re drinking kourui or honkaku shochu, you’re guaranteed to be in good company.
Kupa Hokianga prepares a delicious Valentines dish
I recently took the opportunity to clean out my kitchen pantry. The TV was on in the background, tuned to a Discovery Channel show about waste reduction and simple low-budget eco ideas. The discarded pantry items were on the table waiting to be disposed of, but after listening to the TV program, I began to feel a little guilty. Surely I could do something with this food.
I want to share just one of the recipes I made that day: a B-class gourmet chicken breast glazed in rosemary, marmalade, and chilli-infused honey; a perfect Valentine’s meal for two.
You will love it. It’s a simple, inexpensive recipe using basic ingredients you may find in the fridge at home, takes only minutes to prepare, and looks and tastes fantastic.
Chicken is an inexpensive meat in Japan. I generally find it’s great value and, when prepared well, versatile, moist, and tasty. In my pantry, I found a jar of honey that had crystallized, cranberry sauce from Thanksgiving, and several almost empty jars of jam and marmalade.
Here’s my really simple recipe for Tangy Pantry Chicken
The good thing is that any ingredient can be substituted with whatever your have. The objective is to get a sweet glaze syrup.
Chilli and honey balance really well and I actually use them in yogurt desserts; rosemary and honey also pair perfectly with chicken, but sage or thyme would also do.
I used three chicken breasts, but any chicken cut will be fine.
Check your cupboards for:
- 3 – 4 tablespoons of honey
- 3 tablespoons of marmalade (or any sweet fruit jam or cranberry sauce)
- 1 dry or fresh chilli
- 1 lemon or any citrus fruit
- Fresh rosemary or a woody herb
- 1 tablespoon of brown sugar (if you have it)
- Seasoning and olive oil or vegetable oil
(Quantities may vary depending on the viscosity of your ingredients.)
Preparing the chicken:
- After removing the retail wrapping, it’s best to reduce the moisture from the meat. I usually do this by placing the cuts, lightly salted, on a draining rack and leave them in the fridge for 2 – 3 hours, but if you’re in a hurry, just dab them with a paper towel.
- Place the chicken in a large bowl, sprinkle it with salt and pepper and drizzle on a little oil. Grab the fresh rosemary and massage the chicken using your hands. Allow it to rest while you prepare the oven and glaze.
Next preheat your oven and roasting dish to 190°C (about 375°F). A heavy-based pan works best.
- In a small pot on a low heat, spoon in the honey, fine chop the chilli and infuse the honey with it. (You could also use any citrus zest.) Heat and stir for 2 – 3 minutes.
- Next, spoon in the marmalade or jam and continue to heat the mixture for one or two minutes. Remove the mixture from the heat before it begins to boil or caramelize. You just want a free-flowing combined mixture.
Warning: Do not be tempted to put your fingers into the honey mixture. It will burn you.
- Drain any blood or moisture that the chicken has released from the bowl, then pour about 70% of the hot glaze mixture over your chicken. Using a spoon or tongs, toss your chicken so the glaze covers all the surfaces. Allow it to sit for a few minutes.
- When the oven is hot, drop in your glazed chicken – skin side up – and set a timer for ten minutes. After ten minutes, use a spoon or a pastry brush to coat or baste the chicken with the pan juices. Repeat every five minutes until the meat juices run clear.
- Finally, reheat the remaining honey glaze in the small pot and stir in a table spoon of brown sugar (or soy sauce), reducing it so it becomes a thick syrup. Take the roasting dish from the oven and remove any watery pan juices so only the cooked chicken is left. Coat the chicken with the honey and brown sugar glaze and roast it for 2 – 3 minutes or until the surface caramelizes.
- Remove the chicken from the oven, cover it, and rest it on a pre-warmed plate for five minutes. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and a little zest, then serve it hot, drizzled with pan jus, or wrap it and have it cold in a fresh mint and pineapple salad the next day.
A jam and honey glaze can be made up in advance and kept for weeks in your fridge. Enjoy it on sliced grilled ham, pork chops, or grilled sausages, even on char-grilled slices of fruit such as nashi, apples, pineapples, or peaches – the possibilities are endless.