THE ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS OF KAISEKI COOKING
Sunday 26 March 1995
DAIKON Giant white radish (also known as mouli). Peeled and grated into long threads, it is almost an essential garnish for thinly sliced raw fish, along with the classic ingredients soy sauce and wasabi.
SOY SAUCE (SHOYU) The predominant seasoning in all Japanese cooking, the liquid resulting from fermenting soy beans and roasted wheat. Kikkoman is the big Japanese name - and big it really is, since the company now exports to 94 countries. A consistent product, fermented for six months by traditional methods, aided more than somewhat by super-modern technology.
WASABI A kind of green horseradish usually available as a paste in tubes or in powder form like mustard. A small blob, no bigger than a thumbnail, is served to tear-jerking effect with raw fish.
SAKE A rice wine. Recipe books often give it as an alternative to dry sherry, but sake's flavour is milder.
MIRIN A sweet yellow rice wine used only in cooking.
RICE VINEGAR Gentle and sweet, more like balsamic vinegar.
BAMBOO SHOOTS A crunchy addition to any Japanese or Chinese dish. Available in tins.
LOTUS ROOT A crunchy, visually appealing vegetable used in many dishes. It is the root of a type of water lily. Sliced into rounds it gives the appearance of the chamber of a six-shooter (it actually has seven, not six holes).
TEA Green tea is drunk at any time, especially with a meal, and is like nothing we know in the UK. It is made from green, unfermented leaves, and infused with hot, not boiling, water. It is not left to steep. The finest grade, a powder, is used in the tea ceremony.
PICKLES Every meal ends with rice, eaten plain, with an assortment of pickled vegetables. We're not talking of mustard pickles or astringent English pickled onions but a wide range of virtually instant, home-made pickles with infinite flavours and textures.
BONITO FLAKES Dried bonito (a kind of tuna) which is infused to make stock. Some Japanese families buy it by the small block, as wein the West might buy parmesan cheese, and grate it as needed. It is also bought loose in packets.
KOMBU This is a dried seaweed (we know it as kelp) which is cooked with bonito and soy sauce to make stock, giving it a smoky, bitter note. Other seaweeds are very popular in Japan, especially the expensive nori (known as "laver" in Wales) which is processed, dried, and then pressed into squares as thin as black tissue paper. It is used to wrap some types of sushi rice roll, and is also an essential flavouring in many Japanese savoury biscuits.
DASHI Many Japanese foods, including the everyday dish of miso soup, depend on a stock called dashi. It is made with three of the ingredients mentioned above - soy sauce, kombu (a dried seaweed), and dried bonito flakes. Full-strength dashi is called primary stock, and is strained and used for soup. When the dregs are boiled up again, it is called secondary stock and is used as a cooking medium for meat, fish or vegetables.
For use in soups
2 pints/1.2 litres water
6in length of dried kombu
12oz/15g dried bonito flakes
Heat the water with the kombu seaweed in it, removing before the water boils (kombu releases bitter flavours the longer it is cooked). Skim. Bring the water to the boil and then add the bonito flakes. Remove from heat immediately. When the bonito flakes have settled at the bottom of the pan, strain. Reserve the kombu and bonito flakes to be boiled up again for secondary stock.
MISO A salty, yeasty paste made from fermented soy beans, varying in colour and strength according to age. Miso soup is made by dissolving a blob in hot dashi stock (see above), adding garnishes to taste, prawns, thinly shaved pieces of pork, some chopped spring onions, some grated ginger and so on.
2 pints dashi stock (above)
4oz red miso paste
1 spring onion, sliced into thin rounds
1in piece of daikon radish, cut into matchstick pieces, blanched in boiling water, mopped dry
6oz tofu, cut into dice
12 teaspoon wasabi or mustard made into paste
Heat up the dashi stock. Rub the miso paste into it through a sieve. When it comes to simmering point, serve the miso soup with garnishes.
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