By Bianca Sanchez
Happy New Year!
In this issue of Nomnom Tabemono, I would like to talk about common Japanese ingredients in cooking and introduce recipes using those ingredients.
Moving to a country with a completely different cuisine to one’s own is as thrilling as it is daunting. Putting cultural and linguistic differences aside, living in a new country allows the opportunity to experience ingredients that perhaps do not exist in one’s home country or the opportunity to enjoy foods readily available at home but prepared in a completely different fashion. Because of this we venture to local restaurants and readily participate in our schools’ and offices’ work parties to enjoy this wonderful food, but actually making Japanese food at home is a different challenge in itself.
Most ingredients used in Japanese cuisine are not commonly used in Western homes so we may be hesitant to use these ingredients in our homes here in Japan. So, let’s go over some basic condiments used in the majority of Japanese cooking which give it its distinctive and flavorful taste.
A good way to remember these condiments is to memorize SA-SHI-SHU-SE-SO. This mnemonic uses the first syllables of satou and sake (sugar and cooking wine), shio (salt), su (vinegar), seiyu (different reading for soy sauce), and so (Miso). In this article, I will go over every one of them besides salt. This mnemonic not only helps memorize condiments commonly used in Japanese cuisine, but the order in which they should be put when cooking. Note: depending on what you are cooking up, you many not need to incorporate every one of them.
Cooking Wine (料理酒 ryouri-shu) and Mirin (みりん)
Both of these are rice wines, but cooking wine is drier and mirin is much sweeter. This is why mirin is often referred to as sweet rice wine. Both are used to get rid of fishy or gamey smells which is why these should be added before adding any other condiments. While both bring out flavors of the dish, they do so in different ways. Because of its sugar content, mirin gives dishes a nice sheen and sweetness. Cooking wine, on the other hand, gives dishes a nice fragrance and brings out the flavors of meats. I especially like adding these condiments when sautéing or making stir-frys.
Sugar (砂糖 satou)
Sugar usually comes after the wines to bring out sweetness in the dishes, but the sugar used in Japanese cooking is not granulated white sugar. If it’s not a dessert, many will use 上白糖(caster sugar jouhakutou) or 三温糖(brown sugar san-ontou). The brown sugar variety, in particular, is said to be much richer and brings out the natural sweetness of foods.
Vinegar (酢 su)
Vinegar is used in Japanese cooking for many reasons, but out of all the condiments I have listed here, it is probably the least used. However, it is used in Japanese cooking to help get rid of fishy smells, soften tough meats, remove bitterness from vegetables, and reduce scum produced from fish and potatoes.
Soy Sauce (醤油 shouyu)
As many of you know, soy sauce is the end product of the fermentation of soy beans, wheat, and salt. Soy sauce is favored as a common condiment for its ability to bring out the umami of the dishes it’s used in. While there are many kinds of soy sauce in Japan, the kind of soy sauce primarily used in cooking in Eastern Japan is koikuchi soy sauce. Just as its name indicates, this variety has a thick taste and is great for stews.
Miso, just like soy sauce, is a fermented concoction used to flavor dishes and is not only used for miso soup. Many recipes call from one to two tablespoons of miso paste, so many households purchase boxes of miso like the one pictured below. Many centuries ago, miso was not just a condiment, but also a main staple of the Japanese diet.
Now that we’ve gone over common condiments, here are two recipes that call for some or all of them.
I love this recipe because it only has two main ingredients: chicken and leeks. Great for anyone starting out with Japanese cooking.
Ingredients (2 servings)
o 300g of chicken thigh (although breast works just fine as well)
o 1 leek
o Small amount of grated ginger (for chicken marinade)
o 1 tbsp of cooking wine (for chicken marinade)
o 2 tbsp of cooking wine
o 2 tbsp of mirin
o 1 tsp of sugar
o 1 tbsp of soy sauce
1. Cut chicken into bite sized pieces.
2. Marinate with grated ginger and cooking wine and let it sit for a few minutes. Marinating it with cooking wine will get rid any bad smells and ginger will give it a nice fragrance.
3. While the chicken marinates, cut the leek into small bite sized pieces and separate the white and green parts.
4. Place the white leek parts into a heated and oiled pan and cook.
5. When the leek starts to brown, place the chicken, mix, and cook.
6. When the chicken starts to change colors, place the green leek parts.
7. Add the rest of the condiments in the order they were written.
8. Lower the heat and simmer for a few minutes.
Note: I prefer to cook this dish slowly as I believe it tastes better if you let it simmer on very low heat for a good ten minutes.
Ingredients (2 servings)
o 100-150g of noodles per person of your choice such as ramen, soba, or udon (I used burdock udon noodles from Tsugaru!)
o 120g of pork back rib cut into bite sized pieces
o 1 cucumber (cut in diagonal slices)
o 1/2 onion (cut in thin slices)
o 1/2 carrot (cut in long slices)
o 3-5 cloves of garlic (diced). I recommend using black garlic if you don’t want a strong garlic smell in your house or in your mouth.
o 1 bag of bean sprouts
o Salt and pepper to taste
o Soup base:
- 300 ml of water
- 2 tbsp each of mirin, sugar, and miso
- 1 tsp of Chinese bean chili paste
o 2-3 tsp of potato starch mixed with 2 tbsp of water
o 1 tsp of grated garlic
1. Sautee the pork and vegetables (excluding the bean sprouts) with salt and pepper.
2. When the pork begins to change color, add the bean sprouts and mix.
3. Sautee only for a little bit so that the bean sprouts don’t lose their crunchiness.
4. Place sautéed veggies and pork on a separate plate and let sit.
5. Using the same pan without rinsing it, add all of the ingredients for the soup base.
6. Heat on high heat until it comes to a boil.
7. Add the potato starch/water mix and heat for one minute or until the soup gets thicker.
8. Add the grated ginger and turn off the heat.
9. Add the sautéed pork and veggies, mix, and let it come to a boil.
10. Place already boiled noodles in two bowls and evenly pour the soup into each bowl.
Note: I don’t really have one besides saying this is really good.
Thanks for reading all the way to the end! If you have any recipes using Japanese condiments, please let me know. Until next time!
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