Japan Eats

Japan Booze Blind: Vodka

Is there any real difference between so-called premium vodkas and the cheap stuff? Albrecht Stahmer and Junko Wada join Christopher Pellegrini to test three different brands.

Guests Junko Wada and Albrecht Stahmer sit down with host Christopher Pellegrini to blind-taste three kinds of vodka: Suntory (Japan), Skyy (U.S.) and Okuhida (Japan). Once again, the show was recorded at Kokubunji’s The Lighthouse.

Thanks once again to Duncan Sculpher and The Lighthouse team for inviting us to film there.

Recipe: Sweet potato kimpira

Satsuma imo, or sweet potato, is used in Japanese cuisine for both sweet and savory dishes.

Kimpira is a Japanese cooking style in which vegetables are sautéd, then simmered on a low heat. Kimpira is most commonly associated with gobo (burdock roots) or other root vegetables such as lotus roots, carrots, and sometimes daikon (Japanese radish).

The basic approach is to cut the vegetables into thin rectangular strips, and sauté them in the sugar and soy sauce. The saltiness of the soy sauce will bring out the natural sweetness of the potatoes, so there’s no need for much added sugar. For colour, sprinkle black sesame seeds over the sweet potato as a garnish.

This dish is hashi-yasume, which literally means “rest for the chopsticks”.

Sweet potato kimpira

Sweet potato kimpira

Ingredients (serves 3 – 4)

  • 200 – 250 g sweet potatoes
  • 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
  • 1/2 table spoon of sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of sake
  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoon of soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of mirin
  • 1 teaspoon of sesame oil
  • 2 – 3 pinches of black sesame seeds

Method

Wash the sweet potatoes. Slice them diagonally into pieces 3 mm thick, then again lengthwise into strips 4 – 5 cm long and 3 mm x 3 mm wide.

Soak the strips in a bowl of cold water and rinse them, changing the water in the bowl 3 – 4 times to remove some of the starch.

Place a frying pan with 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil on a high heat. Add the sweet potatoes to the pan after removing some of the the moisture with a paper towel. Sauté for 3 minutes, stirring every so often.

Turn the heat down to medium, add sugar, sake , soy sauce and mirin then continue sautéing the ingredients until the sauce is almost gone. Add the sesame oil at the end, turn off the heat then mix well.

Place the slices of sweet potato on a plate, sprinkle the black sesame seeds, then serve.

Recipe: Hayashi rice

Hayashi rice, or hashed beef in demi-glace sauce, is classic yoshoku. But what is the origin of the recipe?

Based on European dishes introduced by visitors to Japan during the late Edo and early Meiji eras, yoshoku is Japanese-style western food. At that time authentic ingredients were hard to come by. As a result, Japanese chefs replaced certain ingredients or rethought the recipes, resulting in dishes know today as Japanese curry, hayashi rice, pork cutlets, omrice, Hamberg steak, etc.

As Japanese comfort food goes, hayashi rice is up there with indigenous dishes such as niku jaga. Typically, recipes call for strips of beef and sliced onion cooked in a thick sauce of red wine and demi-glace. Here, I’ve added shimeji mushrooms for added flavor.

The recipe’s exact origins are unclear. Some say that hashed beef was introduced by visitors to Japan, and the name evolved first into haishi, and then into hayashi. An alternative history has Yuteki Hayashi, founder of the Maruzen chain of bookstores, inventing the dish. According to this version, the dish is named after him.

No matter where the recipe originates, it is today a staple of Japanese home cooking.

Hayashi rice

Hayashi rice

Ingredients (serves 8 – 10)

  • 500 g of onion
  • 300 g of thinly sliced beef
  • 180 g of shimeji mushrooms
  • 2 pinches of salt
  • 2 pinches of black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
  • 50 ml of red wine
  • 580 g of demi-glace sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoons of sugar
  • 1 tablespoon tonkatsu sauce

Method

First, cut the beef into bite size pieces and season with 2 pinches of salt and black pepper. Slice the onion (with the grain) into pieces 1.5 cm wide and remove the roots of the shimeji. Tear the mushrooms into small pieces.

Warm 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a frying pan on medium-high and sauté the beef until browned. Next, move the beef to a casserole dish and pour in 50 ml red wine.

Add the demi-glace sauce and 1 and 1/2 cups of cold water to the casserole dish. Warm on a medium heat. Once it has come to the boil, stew for 20 minutes on a low heat with the lid on.

While you’re waiting for the beef, prepare the onion and the mushrooms. Add 1 table spoon of vegetable oil to the frying pan, warm on high heat, then sauté the onion. When the onions start to soften, add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt and pepper.

Add the sautéd onions and mushrooms to the casserole and stew it for another 20 minutes.

Mix the 2 tablespoons of tomato paste, tablespoon of soy sauce, tablespoon of sugar and tablespoon of tonkatsu sauce in a small bowl, then pour the mixture into the casserole dish.

Stew for another 10 minutes. Check the taste and adjust the flavor with the salt and pepper.

Serve with rice and pickles.