Japan Eats

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.

What we’re drinking: Satsuma Shiranami (shochu)

Shochu, as you know, is a distilled beverage. That works well for me because it means that I don’t have to refrigerate the bottle after opening, so it can sit happily on the shelf with the whiskeys, gins, and vodkas of the world.

The only problem is when you like to drink it slightly chilled, but not on the rocks. Shochu is often consumed oyu-wari (warm water added), mizu-wari (cool water added), or on the rocks, but all three of those methods will dilute what the artists who made the shochu want you to taste. Therefore drinking it neat or slightly chilled, especially when it’s a decent honkaku (the real deal) shochu, is my preferred plan of attack.

And Satsuma Shiranami, a very affordable potato (imo) shochu from Kagoshima Prefecture, is just such a drink.

The first glass of the evening was sampled ‘neat’, and the nose was earthy but subtle. I immediately noticed a good deal of length on the palate, like a wine that lingers after you’ve swallowed it, and the prickly dryness was in good balance with the aroma.

The next glass was slightly chilled (I refrigerated 50 ml in a small bottle for about 20 minutes), and while the bouquet was still mostly there, my first impression on the palate was that it was smoother or almost softer than before.

Finally, I gave it a whirl on the rocks since this is how many people encounter shochu at the bar. The nose was almost nonexistent this time around while the shochu itself became even fuller-bodied. The prickly, earthy notes were muted and the drink felt rounder. If I were to borrow a word from wine-snob lingo, I might go so far as to say that Satsuma Shiranami becomes voluptuous on the rocks. It retains some of its length at lower temperatures, but it’s not nearly as bold when ice is involved–some people may think that that’s a good thing.

At all three temperatures, Satsuma Shiranami is a very enjoyable drink. I prefer it neat as the flavors present themselves in a very matter-of-fact way without being brash or cloying. I also really like how the alcohol notes help temper the earthiness. That said, this shochu rounds out nicely when the temperature drops.

At less than 1,000 yen per 900 ml bottle, this potato shochu provides excellent value for the coin. Fortunately, it’s ubiquitous and is standard fare at many supermarkets.

For the true shochu nerds out there, the potatoes used in its production are, of course, satsumaimo (sweet potato), and white kouji mold was employed for turning starch into sugar. Satsuma Shiranami is 25% ABV.