Not your average pub grub: Bill Granger recreates the salty snacks of Tokyo's izakaya bars
I spend a lot of time in Tokyo and I have to say that my favourite dinners there have been in casual places, especially izakayas.
These are bars that serve the most irresistible little snacky plates with perfectly chilled Japanese draught beer or sake. It's like going to the naughtiest tapas bar, where you get to order little salty bites to share – so very different to the refined Japanese restaurants we are used to in the West. Or think of an izakaya as a pub, a place to let your hair down with a drink after work, while enjoying honest, earthy food. For me it's what food is all about – eating as a way of relaxing with friends.
Don't tell anyone this, but a lot of Japanese food is actually quite easy to cook. The techniques aren't complicated and it has a simple flavour base, without a hugely wide larder. I like to compare it to Italian food. Where in Italy every other recipe seems to involve olive oil, garlic and lemon, with Japanese food it's all soy, mirin and ginger. It's all very honest and simple and about the quality of the main ingredients. I could happily eat it every day.
If you can't find any of these ingredients locally, I'd suggest creating a Japanese store-cupboard starter kit by ordering in the basics: japancentre.com would be perfect for this.
Bill's restaurant, Granger & Co, is at 175 Westbourne Grove, London W11, tel: 020 7229 9111, grangerandco.com
Prawn and scallop gyoza
It's fun making your own dumplings. I tend to be a bit more Chinese and Thai with my chilli than Japanese, so I've made these quite hot, but you can easily use less chilli if you prefer.
Makes 20 – serves 5 to 6
1cm ginger, roughly chopped
4 spring onions
2 garlic cloves, chopped
150g/5oz raw shelled prawns, half left whole, the other half finely chopped
100g/3½oz scallops, finely chopped
2 tbsp snipped chives
75g/3oz Chinese cabbage, finely shredded
1 tbsp miso paste
1 tsp crushed chillies
1 tsp sesame oil, plus about 4 tsp for frying
20 gyoza wrappers
About 2 tsp groundnut oil, for frying
For the dipping sauce
3 tbsp soy sauce
1½ tbsp rice vinegar
Pulse the ginger, spring onions, garlic and the whole prawns with a food processor to make a paste. Add the chopped prawns, scallops, chives, cabbage, miso, chillies and 1 tsp of the sesame oil. Pulse a few more times until well combined.
Put a gyoza wrapper on the work surface, place a teaspoonful of filling in the middle, run a wet finger around k the edge of the wrapper, then fold the wrapper over to form a crescent shape, pinching the edges together into pleats to seal in the filling. Repeat with the remaining filling, keeping the prepared gyozas on a lightly oiled plate, under a tea towel, to stop them from drying out.
Heat 1 tsp groundnut oil and 2 tsp sesame oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add as many gyozas as can fit and fry for 3 minutes, until golden on one side. Now pour in 2 to 3 tbsp of water, lower the heat then cover with a lid. Steam-fry for 2 minutes, or until the dumplings feel firm and the wrappers look translucent. Uncover, increase the heat and cook until all the water has evaporated. Repeat with the remaining gyozas.
Combine the soy sauce and rice vinegar and serve with the dumplings as a dipping sauce.
I love the way the pork falls apart after bubbling for ages in the aromatic stock. In an izakaya you would get a small plate to share, but at home I like to make a large batch and serve it with a salad and some steamed rice. The mustard adds a kick at the end, contrasting nicely with the sweetness of the sauce.
1kg/2lb pork belly, cut into 7-8cm cubes
2½ tbsp soft dark-brown sugar
1 leek, sliced
1½ tbsp chopped ginger
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
4 tbsp soy sauce
4 tbsp mirin
150ml/¼ pint sake
2 sliced spring onions
Heat a large, heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat. Add the pork and brown it on all sides. Don't worry about adding any oil to the pan – the fat from the pork will start rendering as you brown it. When the meat is browned, add the sugar and stir to coat the pork. Cook stirring for 1 to 2 minutes then add the remaining ingredients and enough water to cover the meat.
Bring to the boil, then simmer very gently for about 3 hours, turning occasionally and adding more water if needed, until the pork is meltingly tender. Strain, collecting the sauce into a separate pan, then boil down the sauce until thick and syrupy.
Serve the pork pieces with some sauce and a scattering of spring onions. As you eat, add a little mustard to the sauce, if you like.
Braised kabocha pumpkin
The beauty of the Japanese kabocha pumpkin is that it has quite a dry, dense texture that doesn't break down with cooking. Thinking they were an exotic rarity, I ordered one especially from my greengrocer the other day, only to see a whole basket of them displayed in the window of my local supermarket as I walked home from collecting it.
450g/14½oz kabocha pumpkin
500ml/17fl oz dashi stock
1 tbsp sake
1 tbsp mirin
2 tsp sugar
1 tbsp soy sauce
200g/7oz shiitake mushrooms
Half-peel the kabocha and cut it into large chunks. Put it skin-side down in a large frying pan and add the stock, sake, mirin, sugar and soy. The pumpkin pieces should now be submerged in liquid. If not, pour in a little water.
Bring to the boil then simmer for 12 to 15 minutes, until the squash is almost tender. Turn the pumpkin over, add the shiitake and cook for another 5 minutes. Allow to cool in the liquid before serving warm or at room temperature.
Wakame, daikon and cucumber salad
This salad has a fresh, crisp quality that benefits from being served chilled. More than any other recipe here, it proves that Japanese food is all about pure flavours.
15g/½oz wakame seaweed
85g/3¼oz daikon (white radish), cut into matchsticks
½ cucumber, thinly sliced
For the dressing
½ tbsp mirin
½ tbsp soy sauce
½ tsp groundnut oil
¼ tsp caster sugar
Soak the wakame in cold water for 15 minutes, until soft and tender, then drain thoroughly and cut into pieces. Meanwhile, soak the daikon in another bowl of cold water for 10 minutes then drain thoroughly.
Place the wakame, daikon and cucumber in a large bowl. Mix together all the ingredients for the dressing and toss it into the bowl. Set aside in the fridge for 10 minutes before serving.
Food preparation: Marina Filippelli
Props merchandising: Rachel Jukes
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