It’s fair to say that Japanese food has taken the entire world by storm. From sushi and tempura to ramen and udon, these exotic, delicate flavors and textures have become part of our culinary vernacular. More profoundly, it’s not only at your local Japanese restaurant or sushi bar that the aromas of the Land of the Rising Sun have their impact. Top western restaurants, celebrity chefs and reality cooking show contestants are all borrowing liberally from Japanese cuisine to add sophistication, depth and color to their cooking.
You might think that authentic Japanese style is beyond your reach in the kitchen. However, with a bit of homework, preparation and know-how, you too can produce stunning dishes worthy of the neon-lit streets of Tokyo. Here’s how:
1. Be Prepared
Japanese food utilizes pretty much the same cookware and equipment as most other cuisines. However, it pays to have certain items on hand before you get started. A sturdy wok, a top-quality rice cooker, santoku knife, bamboo sushi mat and rice mixing bowl are all items that will come in handy and don’t have to cost the earth. For the more ambitious chef, specialized items such as a cast-iron nabe (hot pot), tamagoyaki (Japanese omelette) pan, rice moulds and others are usually obtainable either at your local Asian market or online.
2. Finding Flavors
Gorgeous Japanese cuisine utilizes a handful of base ingredients to achieve its signature delicate flavor balance. With the following readily available items, you’ll be prepared for almost any Japanese dish:
3. Miso Hungry
Most commonly known as a type of soup, miso comes in a thick paste form and is also used in dressings, sauces, marinades and glazes. It’s a highly versatile food that appears in a variety of colors, each of which imparts subtly different flavors. From the lighter white and yellow to the rich, umami-filled red and black miso, it’s worth experimenting to find the right type for your favorite item.
4. Just a Dashi
Any accomplished cook will tell you that Dashi (stock) is the key that unlocks all Japanese cuisine’s mysteries. In its most basic form, dashi is usually a thin broth made from katsuobushi and konbu. However various other ingredients, such as iriko (dried baby anchovies or sardines) can also be used to give a more complex taste. For vegetarians, blending the broths from simmering dried shiitake mushrooms and konbu will produce stunning dashi that can easily substitute for the fish-based versions.
5. White Like Rice
It doesn’t take a genius to know that getting the rice right is critical to your mission. Stay away from the longer grains and look for short or medium grain versions that cling. These should be available at any Asian grocery and on many supermarket shelves. As crucial is getting the cooking right. I strongly suggest investing in a decent rice cooker. You can usually pick one up relatively cheaply, and you will thank yourself for the expense when you get perfect rice time after time.
You’re now prepared to take the world of Japanese cooking by storm. All you need now is the recipes for your favorite dishes, and you’ll find that these tips will help you get them right!
Itadakimasu! (Bon Appetit!)