Sunday, October 26, 2008

Japanese, please

Before I become completely removed from all things Asian in the CIA kitchen I want to touch a little bit on my favorite country in the region, Japan. I cannot even explain my excitement the two days we learned and prepared food for Japan. I believe it was I who made Chef take away a Korean day to be sure we had two in Japan since we had to miss a day for a field trip. Everyone agreed in unison. I also chose the topic "Japanese Manners and Customs" for my report/presentation in this class so I was able to learn a whole lot these past couple weeks.
A few small facts from my presentation:
- when entering a household you must remove your shoes and wear "slippers" provided by the
host/hostess. furthermore, if going to the restroom you must slip into "restroom slippers" to
ensure cleanliness
- during a meal "toilet talk," burping, and blowing of noses is not appreciated. burping and
slurping are only accepted in noodle houses. it is also expected you finish every last grain of
rice on your plate and that you put your table setting back the way you found it.
- if you're going to Japan and you want to spot a geisha (as you should) you're most likely to
see them in the district of Kyoto.
On to the culinary goodness. Japan is all about showcasing the freshness and splendor of the actual taste in a food. I think they have a good balance of healthy and fried foods along with a definite knack for making things delicious. My group prepared Inari sushi, which I have never previously paid any attention to before this class. We learned that the brown casing on the sushi is actually fried tofu from a can (pictured above). It is traditional to stuff the Inari with only sushi rice but we decided to also add in sauteed carrots, mushrooms, onions and pickled ginger to make it a little more interesting. They were good but after one I had had enough. The tofu itself is sweet and reminds me a little of baklava with its wet texture and honey flavor. I also learned that sushi rice isn't just short grained, steamed rice but actually a very serious preparation and takes years to master in Japan. Once steamed the rice is "fluffed" with Japanese rice vinegar, sugar and salt (8 c. short grain rice, 8 c. water, 3/4 c. vinegar, 6 T. sugar, 2 T. salt)
My favorite thing I prepared was the Miso Soup. I never knew how easy it was and at the end of the day I was mighty proud of how good it tasted.

Miso Soup
2 gallons Ishiban Dashi ***
1 oz. wakame seaweed (this stuff is so looks like dried black tea and then it becomes a beautiful basket of green when soaked in water)
2 c. Miso (paste)
32 oz. bean curd, sm. dice (firm tofu)
4 scallions, thinly sliced on bias

1. soak and drain wakame. trim tough parts and chop remaining
2. temper miso into hot dashi
3. bring to a low simmer, do NOT boil
4. add tofu, wakame and scallions and serve!
NOTE- after time the wakame turns brown so wait till the last minute to add it

***Ichiban Dashi is the "Japanese chicken broth" used as a base for most soups. the recipe...
- 3 gal. cold water
- 3 each Kombu (sea kelp), 3-in. square
- 8 oz. dried Bonito flakes

1. wipe sand from kombu, being careful not to wipe away any dried salt
2. add kombu to cold water, turn flame to medium, heat to simmer and remove kombu.
3. add bonito flakes and turn off heat allowing to steep 5 minutes. skim and strain.

Bonito flakes are dried fish flakes coming mainly from skipjack tuna that are dried, fermented and smoked. There is a special machine called Katsuobushi kezuriki that flakes the pieces off the hard fish.
I also made an Udon Noodle Pot (pictured above) and used Ichiban Dashi, once again, as my base and simply added the rest of the ingredients and brought up to a simmer. The noodles I had to cook beforehand and I also blanched the carrots to make sure they were cooked through along with sauteing the chicken pieces. The rest of the ingredients were thrown in at the end and cooked together just before serving. These included shrimp, Napa Cabbage, spinach and shiitake mushrooms. So simple, delicious and oh so nutritious.
Japan is the first country in Asia I want to visit and I will be sure to do it in the spring during cherry blossom season so I can attend a Hanami (cherry blossom festival). They are the unofficial national flower of Japan and one of my favorites of all time.

1 comment:

Lindsay said...

Ness- I love the Japan info. In elementary school and high school I gave speeches on Japanese tea ceremonies. They were basically my go-to topic, and I understand your appreciation of the culture. I too dream of cherry blossoms and geishas, especially this one geisha I met a couple of years ago on Halloween. She was so mysterious.