Japan Eats

Asazuke

This wonderfully fresh pickled ‘salad’ makes an excellent winter side-dish. I like to serve this together with any kind of nabe (Japanese hotpot) or beside salmon or mackerel, the yuzu-flavored pickles helping to balance the oiliness of the fish. It also makes excellent otsumami (Japanese tapas) served alongside beer, shochu or sake.

This particular recipe calls for Chinese cabbage, but you can also use a mixture of Chinese cabbage and the regular variety.

Flavored with yuzu, a citrus fruit found in China, Korea and Japan.

Flavored with yuzu, a citrus fruit found in China, Korea and Japan.

Ingredients (serves 8 as a side dish)

  • 300g Chinese cabbage (3-4 leaves)
  • 80-100g cucumber
  • 150-200g kabu turnip (with stem and leaves still attached)
  • 1/2 a yuzu, sliced into strips
  • One 10cm by 10cm piece of kombu (kelp)
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of kobu-cha (kelp tea)
  • 1 dried red pepper

Method

First cut the Chinese cabbage into large pieces. The leaves should be roughly 3-4 cm in size, while the hard white stem section should be sliced into pieces 5-7cm in width, following the grain.

Next, slice the cucumber into pieces 2-3mm thick.

Cut the stem from the top of the turnip, leaving about 1cm. Boil the stems in a pan of water for about 10 seconds, then place them into a dish of cold water. Quickly wash them and squeeze any moisture out. Cut the stems into sections 3-4cm in length.

Now, wash the turnip, using a toothpick to clean the remaining stem section. Peel the turnip, being careful to leave the remaining stem in place. Finally, slice the turnip into 1mm thick pieces, again following the grain.

Prepare the kombu by cutting it into 2-3mm pieces using a pair of kitchen scissors.

Finally, slice the red pepper into two halves and discard the seeds inside.

Seal all the ingredients in a double plastic bag, making sure there’s still some air trapped inside. Now shake the bag, so that all is mixed well.

Squeeze the plastic bag so as to let all the air out. Refrigerate for 3-4 hours (or even overnight) before serving.

A note about serving asazuke

It is important that when you serve the dish, you drain any excess water by using both hands and squeezing the vegetables.  Asazuke should not be served swimming in liquid.

Tuna cutlet

This year-round dish is delicious accompanied by tartar sauce and a salad of fresh lettuce and sliced onion.  It’s worth pointing out that when buying the tuna, there’s no need to select the most expensive as it is going to be cooked before being eaten.

Serve with salad and tartar sauce

Serve with salad and tartar sauce

Ingredients

Cutlets

  • 150 to 200g sashimi tuna (ie raw).
  • 1 egg
  • 1 to 2 cups of breadcrumbs

Tartar sauce

  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 2 tea spoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/6 of an onion
  • 6 to 8 pickled shallots
  • 1 boiled egg
  • 1 to 2 pinches of chopped parsley

Method

Prepare the tartar sauce first.  Mince the boiled egg, the pickled shallots and the onion. Blanch the onion for 3 minutes. Put all the ingredients into a bowl and mix them together.

Next, sprinkle a pinch of salt and pepper on the block of tuna. Prepare three dishes with flour, the beaten egg and one in which to shake off excess flour.

Dip the tuna in the beaten egg, and place the cutlet onto the bed of breadcrumbs. Cover the other side of the tuna with breadcrumbs, pressing down gently with your hands. Shake off any excess breadcrumbs.

Preheat the oil (170 degrees centigrade) and let the tuna slide gently into the oil. When the surface of the tuna turns brown, turn the cutlet around so that it cooks evenly.

As the tuna would normally be eaten raw, it can be cooked quickly on a medium heat.

Once both sides are evenly brown, take the tuna from the oil and drain it on a tray.

Finally, cut the tuna into bite size strips and pour a dash of the tartar sauce over it. Serve together with a salad of fresh lettuce and sliced onion.

Skewerless yakitori

Yakitori (grilled chicken) is of course one of the most popular Japanese dishes, both within Japan and overseas. Here in Tokyo, grilled chicken is most often cooked on skewers in front of an audience of appreciative patrons, often salarymen on their way home from work. Customers usually have the option of having their chicken with salt, or with tare sauce. For this recipe we’re going to be making tare.

We’re also going to be using a kind of Japanese griddle called a yakiami. They are relatively easy to find in Japan – try any supermarket or online at kakaku.com. Readers overseas might be able to pick one up here. Those unable to get their hands on one can use any kind of barbecue.

Skewerless yakitori

Skewerless yakitori

Ingredients (for 2 people)

  • 300g chicken (momo)
  • 3 shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 negi
  • 10 shishito
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1 red paprika

Tare sauce

  • 1/2 cup mirin (or just a little more-the re should be slightly more mirin than soy)
  • 1/2 cup soy

Method

Cut the chicken and peppers into bite-sized pieces. Cut the negi into 3 to 4 cm lengths and the shiitake into halves. Use a toothpick and stab the shishito 2 or 3 times.

Next, wipe the yakiami down with a paper towel and a little oil to prevent the chicken from sticking to it. Place the yakiami onto the gas table and allow it to heat. Once it has begun to heat up, place the chicken on the tray. Allow this to cook before adding the negi and then other ingredients. The key thing is that you want each item on the grill to be finished cooking at the same time.

To prepare the sauce, pour the mirin into a frying pan and warm it. After talking the alcohol out, pour in the soy and cook until the mixture becomes starchy.

When everything on the grill is cooked, dip them into the tare sauce, covering them completely. Use chopsticks, not fingers! Place the ingredients on a dish and serve with kona sanscho (similar to Szechuan pepper).

All very easy. A few final tips:

Be careful not to overcook the vegetables. Other vegetables that will go well with the sauce include zucchini, okura and eringi mushrooms.

Nabe party!

As winter approaches, Mieko Higano shares her recipe for kimchi nabe.

Kimchi nabe is just the thing for winter. Not only does this spicy hotpot taste great, many believe it can help ward-off colds and other ailments. In Japan, its common for friends to gather and cook some kind of nabe together.

And best thing about this dish is that its not about exact amounts of particular ingredients – just throw what you like in the nabe and enjoy!

Nira (chives) and Enoki mushrooms in the nabe.

Nira (chives) and Enoki mushrooms in the nabe.

‘Luxury’ version (serves 4 people)

  • Japanese ‘nabe’ (hotpot) with a diameter of roughly 25cm and depth of 8cm
  • 5 cups of water
  • 300g kimchi
  • 200g sliced pork (butabara style is best)
  • 350g of tofu
  • 3 to 5 shiitake mushrooms
  • 180g enoki mushrooms
  • 1 negi (Japanese onion)
  • 1/2 package of nira (Chinese chives)
  • 5 tablespoons of miso
  • 2 tablespoons of kochujan
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons of Red pepper powder
  • 1 clove of grated garlic

Method
Before you begin cooking, slice the kimchi, pork and tofu into  into bite-sized pieces.  Be careful chopping the kimchi as you’ll have juice left over on the cutting board.  Be sure to add this liquid to the nabe, not just throw it away.

Next, divide the shiitake mushrooms into halves. Cut away the root section of the enoki mushrooms, and slice these too in half (if desired – I prefer not to). The negi should be cut diagonally into slices 1cm thick, and the nira into 10cm long sections (or whatever length fits into your hotpot).

Now put 1 to 2 tablespoons of sesame oil into the hotpot and cook the sliced pork together with about half the kimchi.  Once the meat begins to change color, add 5 cups of water, the rest of the kimchi and all the spices. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes (1 to 2 minutes after it has begun to boil).

Now add the tofu, shiitake, negi, enoki and cook for a few more minutes, until the tofu becomes hot.

Finally, put the nira into the nabe, boil for 1 minute and turn the heat off with the lid still on the hotpot. The idea is to cook the nira with the steam coming off the rest of the mixture.

‘Simple’ version (serves 2 people)

  • Japanese ‘nabe’ (hotpot) with a diameter of roughly 18cm and depth of 6cm
  • 2 or 2 1/2 cups of water
  • 150g kimchi
  • 1/2 tofu
  • 100g enoki mushrooms
  • 1/4 to 1/2 a package of nira
  • 2 tablespoons of miso
  • 1 tablespoon of kochujan
  • 1 tablespoon red pepper powder
  • 1/2 to 1 clove of garlic

Method

Follow the instructions as per the “Luxury” version, minus the directions for cooking the pork. Be sure to add the tofu, shiitake and nira last.

A few extra tips

  • I always use my monther’s homemade miso, but the usual miso you buy at the Japanese supermarket is also fine to use.
  • As just about every Korean cookbook will tell you, try to use old kimchi. It should taste almost sour.
  • Udon noodles can be added to the ‘luxury’ version, space permitting.