Japanese Cooking, A Simple Art by Shizuo Tsuji is the most comprehensive guide to Japanese food and eating in the English language. In addition, MFK Fisher wrote the charming introduction, who has the power to make people fall in love with almost any book. There are no pictures and very dense text; cooking from it requires an unusual level of obsession with all things Japanese.
Last year, I got chatting to Luiz of The London Foodie about Japanese food. I extolled the virtues of Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art (which, of course, he owned), and he shared tales of a forthcoming trip to Japan. Then Luiz very warmly spoke about his Japanese cooking teacher and friend – Reiko Hashimoto – who had recently published a book Hashi: A Japanese Cookery Course.
Hashi, is quite different from Shizuo Tsuji’s book. There is still a strong introduction to ingredients, eating culture, and core techniques at the start. It is not in any way dumbed down, just a more straightforward:a recipe per page, and many many photos. Reiko breaks the book into four groups of recipes to work through: Beginners, Home Cooking, Gourmet, and finally Sushi.
After a few dishes cooked from Hashi, my repertoire is broader and I am starting to venture out alone. So far I have made the minced chicken balls in broth, deep fried mackerel salad, squid salad, and miso ice cream. All were wonderful, and only the squid salad needed a second go: after reducing the dressing quantity a little, it was perfect. The chicken ball broth is a comforting Japanese version of my more familiar Jewish food; mackerel salad a delicious introduction to the unexpected technique of first deep frying and then marinating the food; and the miso ice cream a divinely-intense and salty horlicks.
Tomorrow we are having friends over for dinner. Usually I would cook classic French, but after the last hour of flicking back and forth through Hashi, getting hungrier and hungrier, it will mostly be Japanese. Basing the meal around half a pork shoulder (Humph‘s last), and a few feet of lotus root – irresistible in the Chinese supermarket – we (Hashi and I) have come up with the following:
Deep fried mackerel salad
Minced chicken dumpling in a dashi broth
Slow-braised pork shoulder
Steamed green beans
Pan fried lotus root
White miso ice cream
Red bean jelly
I suspect Hashi will remain a close kitchen companion for quite some time.
Pickles are a core part of a Japanese meal. Sadly I don’t have a barrel of 6-month-fermented-rice-bran in my cellar to add raw vegetables into, to make a more traditional Japanese pickle; although I want one, I really do. Instead I resorted to very old swede sprouting in my vegetable drawer, plus a little salt.
This recipe is sweeter than a true Japanese pickle, but it is delicious. I’d serve it with almost anything: alongside rice and the chicken broth in the photo below, yesterday as a snack, and today – with the addition of yellow mustard seeds – a large heap was the perfect accompaniment to a poached salmon fillet.
Recipe: Pickled swede
1/2 swede, finely julienned
2tbsp fine salt
2tbsp clear vinegar (rice wine, or a flavoured vinegar if you prefer)
2tbsp caster sugar
Toss the julienned swede in salt, and leave for 20 minutes. Drain off water, and rinse thoroughly. Taste a piece, and if still too salty, leave to soak in cold water for 10 mins. Taste again. When happy that the swede is not too salty, drain, and pour over the vinegar and caster sugar. Toss. Eat straight away, or keep for a few days.
UPDATE: I couldn’t help myself, I cooked some more… All utterly delicious!