Sunday, March 05, 2006

Japanese taste

The one food blog which I read with unfailing regularity is Makiko Itoh's I Was Just Really Very Hungry. What I find appealing, besides the excellent writing and thoughtful approach to food, is her perspective which is that of a person who has strong nostalgic ties to Japan but has lived most of her life outside of it. Her profile (born in Tokyo, grew up in the U.K., educated in the U.S, currently living in Europe) is certainly one I can relate to. Her "Japanese basics" opened up my eyes to washoku (literally, Japanese cooking) in ways that hours spent browsing through cookbook sections on trips back to Tokyo, never did.

What I learned is simply this, that the essence of "Japanese taste" can be deconctructed into five elements: soysauce, sake, mirin (fortified and sweetend rice wine), rice vinegar and dashi (a quick stock of dried konbu seaweed and shaved bonito flakes). Whatever the local produce of the place you happen to live, with any combination of these five elements you can give anything a wafu, or Japanese style, flavor.

Until now I never cooked much Japanese food at home (except as occasion food for guests) clinging to the belief that washoku was all about ingredients particular to the Japanese locale and seasons, that anything partaken outside of the eight islands would somehow not taste right. This myth dispelled forever, here are two ways I prepare Californian chickens (both recipes adapted from Just Hungry and equally scrumptious):

Crispy kara-age chicken

Marinate 4 boneless chicken thighs cut into bite-sized peices in 3 tablespoons of soysauce, 1 tablespoon of sake, thumb-sized piece of ginger, grated. Heat peanut oil, toss chicken pieces in cornstarch, deep fry until golden. Serve with lemon wedges.

Shiny teriyaki chicken

Lightly salt 4 boneless chicken thighs and sear both sides in oil. Add to the pan 4 tablespoons of soy sauce, one tablespoon of sake, one tablespoon of sugar, thumb-sized piece of ginger, grated. Cook chicken, turning several times, until the sauce is caramelized.


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