Category Archives: Japanese

Gyudon (Beef Bowl)

I’m going through a bit of a Japanese phase at the moment. A lot of people, who haven’t had the joy of visiting Japan, would be forgiven for thinking that the Japanese only eat fish and rice. Not true! (Well, the rice bit may as well be true, noodles be damned!) However, Japanese cuisine does contain lots of meat dishes to complement the bountiful supply of fish that their island has blessed them with. This week I’m going to be posting two delicious Japanese recipes, one using beef, one using chicken, to introduce you to another side of Japanese cooking that is accessible to everyone.

A lot of people can be put off by the fact that you have to buy special ingredients but these are rarely something you can’t find in the supermarket (if you want a sure fire hit in one place head for Waitrose, they stock an excellent range, including decent sake). If you have a local Chinese supermarket then they almost always stock Japanese ingredients too.

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Of the essential ingredients I shall start with the hardest to track down, dashi powder. The box above is usually what you’re looking for. I always find it in the Chinese supermarket, although I think I saw a different brand in Sainsburys once. It is a fish stock made from bonito flakes (dried tuna) and konbu (dried seaweed). Unfortunately, I have yet to come up with with a half decent substitute so there’s legwork needed here.

Happily, the other essentials are easy to find. Kikkoman soy sauce is the authentic Japanese one but can be rather pricey. You can substitute with light soy sauce but the flavour is a bit stronger, however, I don’t think a Western palate will object. Mirin is a sweet cooking sake and can be found in any supermarket. Sake is the final piece in the jigsaw and luckily it is much more available now than it was even a few years ago. If you fancy drinking it then, as with most alcohol, it pays to spend as much as you can. If you’re simply going to cook with it then I wouldn’t bother. A dry sherry can be used as an emergency substitute… But only in an emergency!

Armed with these essentials (and some granulated sugar) whole new avenues of Japanese cooking are at your fingertips! At first you may think that all recipes look the same from the ingredients list but Japanese food is all about subtlety and the slightest alteration of ratios makes such a difference to the finished product.

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Now let’s start with Gyudon. Gyu means beef and -don is a bowl of rice with something on it. This dish is the specialty of Yoshinoya, a chain of eateries found all over Asia. It’s cheap, filling and delicious. A sort of beans on toast type meal, nothing fancy but very satisfying!

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Serves 4

~400g beef thinly sliced (I just use very cheap steaks for convenience)
2 onions, halved and thinly sliced
300ml hot dashi stock
5 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp mirin
3 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp sake
Sticky rice to serve

– Put the dashi, soy sauce, mirin, sugar and sake in a sauce pan and bring to a simmer.
– Add the onions and simmer for 10-15 mins until the onions are soft.
– Add the beef and cook for 3-4 minutes until the beef is cooked through.
– Serve on a bowl of sticky rice, with a little pickled ginger if you like it.

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Teriyaki Marinade

Oh my god I can’t believe it’s been a whole month since I posted on here, yet again I am so sorry! My excuse is I got an iPhone just before Christmas and I still can’t figure out how to get the photos off it so I’m posting this using the WordPress app.

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This teriyaki marinade is so simple to make it is so useful you can have it on salmon, chicken, beef, vegetables, anything! It’s absolutely delicious and one of the quintessential Japanese flavours for me.

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– 200ml soy sauce
– 100ml sake
– 100ml mirin
– 4 tbsp sugar
– whatever you want to marinate (salmon fillets, chicken breasts, strips of beef)

– Mix all of the ingredients together in a ziplock bag. Shake until the sugar is dissolved.
– Add your meat/fish and either leave in the fridge overnight or at room temperature for 2 hours.
– Remove the meat/fish from the bag and pour the marinade into a saucepan.
– Bring the sauce to a boil and simmer for 20 mins until it starts to get thicker.
– If making skewers then thread the meat onto your skewers while the grill heats.
– For salmon fillets I would suggest a cast iron skillet or heavy frying pan, for skewers the grill.
– While cooking brush the meat or fish periodically with the sauce for an even better flavour and a nice sticky coating.
– If making vegetables skip marinating and simply sturdy the veggies and then add the thickened sauce.
– I always serve this with sticky Japanese rice, gyoza (dumplings) and edamame. Yum!

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Tempura

Tempura batter is so easy and simple that I completely overlooked posting about it until now.  However, it occured to me that many people would never guess just how very simple it is!  So here I am to bust that mystery wide open.  Are you ready?  Wait for it…

… it’s flour and water! Ta da!  I told you it was simple.  Well, I did over simplify a tiny bit… I add a pinch of salt too. 

Tempura is a Japanese dish (天ぷら tenpura) which the Japanese got from the Portuguese way back in the day.  Even though it’s written tempura I will always call it tenpura as that is the Japanese pronunciation and it irritates me otherwise.  One of my favourite fast food chains in Japan was Ten-Ya, a tempura joint.  For about £2.50 you could get a great tendon, a bowl of assorted tenpura; vegetables, a prawn and some squid on a bowl of rice.  Delicious, nutricious and they also did a purely veggie option so that my vegetarian friend could eat there too (no mean feat in Japan!)

It’s a quick meal and, if you wanted, you could make it a much more communal meal by using a fondue pot and letting everyone choose their own foods to dip in batter and fry fondue style.  It’s a light and crispy batter but it is rather filling as it is deep fried.  You can batter and fry just about anything (and the Scot in me seems to like this!) so give it a go!

Serves 2 (1 courgette and 10 mushrooms in this case, just make more or less as you need)

6 tbsp plain flour
~3-6 tbsp cold water
pinch of salt
veggies/prawns/fish/squid/etc. cut into easy portions

– Put the flour and salt in a small bowl and gradually add the water until you get a thick batter. 
– Don’t over mix, a few lumps are just fine. 
– Heat up a deep fat frier or deep pot of oil to about 180/190C. 
– Dip the veggie/prawn/fish in the batter to coat then pop it in the oil and fry for a few minutes until the batter is just golden. 
– Take out of the oil and drain well before serving. 
– Do this in small batches so as not to crowd the tempura and keep it warm once cooked in a bowl lined with kitchen paper to help it drain. 
– Serve on its own for a starter or with a bowl of plain rice for a main and tsuyu or soy sauce to dip.

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Imodango

Sorry for the long break guys, I’ve been reverting to the old favourite recipes recently so haven’t had anything new for you!  However, I was feeling adventurous tonight!

I’ve been trying to think up an English name for these delicious deep fried morsels.  The Japanese name, Imodango, means sweet potato dumpling/ball, but this isn’t really a true dango and I think something a bit more poetic is called for so, if you want an English name, then Deep Fried Sweet Potato Pillows it shall be!

These come from one particular restaurant in Japan that I ate at at least once, if not three times, a week when I was on my gap year, Tokai Sendan.  The owner took it upon himself to educate us in Japanese food in exchange for practicing his English on us.  I still think we won rather, we got some astounding meals from him but the absolute stand out dish we ordered every time without fail was Imodango.  I wanted to visit again when I went back to Tokyo for University but the restaurant had closed.  Therefore it was about 7 or 8 years ago that I last tasted these, which made it rather difficult to recreate them, let me tell you! 

They might be a bit of an aquired taste for some.  Like much Japanese food they rely on the mixture of sweet and salty that some people just don’t like.  The texture is also out of the Western way as they use glutinous rice flour, which gives a sort of fluffy/chewy sort of texture inside, all wrapped up in a cripsy outside.  Now, all warnings aside, I do hope you try these, they’re unusual, yes but delicious! Serve these with any kind of stir fry (yakisoba for preference), may be some gyoza, and a nice bowl of steamed edamame. 

Serves 4-6 as a side

~200g sweet potato
200g glutinous rice flour
100g caster sugar
1 tsp baking soda
150ml boiling water

– Chop the sweet potato into chunks and boil for 20 minutes in very lightly salted water.
– Mix together the flour, sugar and baking soda in a small bowl. 
– Drain the potato and leave to dry a little, then mash in a large mixing bowl. 
– Gradually stir in the flour and most of the water, then the rest if it looks ok.  It will come together, never fear! Leave it to sit for a minute or two. 
– Dust your hands and a board in cornflour or rice flour and pinch off golf ball sized bits of dough and shape them into pillows.  You don’t need to be too precious about it, the mixture should make about 12 pillows. 
– Heat the deep fat frier to 180C.  May sure it’s good and hot, don’t jump in too early. 
– Place a few of the pillows in at once and fry for about 2 minutes then turn over and fry for another 2 minutes.  They should be puffy and golden, not too dark. 
– Take out and place on kitchen paper in a warm oven while you do the others in batches. 
– Serve with soy sauce to dip them in as a side with Japanese food.

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Japanese Hamburger

This is based on a dish I used to have at a restaurant in Tokyo and loved!  You don’t technically have to serve it in the foil parcels as I have but it does give the meat time to take up a little of the flavour of the sauce and you can get on with other things while you leave them in the oven so it’s a good prep ahead then pop it in the oven meal.  This was usually served with a baked potato but I chose to have chips tonight as I was in the mood.  I’ve also had the burger wrapped in bacon and served with a different sauce or may be no sauce but I can’t for the life of me remember!  I’m working on it. 

This is a good basic hamburger recipe too and I’m sure would make an excellent burger in a bun on its own.  I love Japanese  style Western food.  So often they take a staple Western food and do wonderful things with it that we would never have thought to do because we’re so used to doing something particular.  Although I am informed that this is similar to a Salisbury Steak in America.  What I do know is it’s delicious!

I’m dying of cold at the moment so if anything doesn’t make sense here drop me a line and I’ll fix in once I am able to breathe and think again!

Makes 6

For the burger:
1 small onion, finely chopped
500g minced beef
200g sausage meat
100g breadcrumbs
1 egg
1/2 tsp ground or freshly grated nutmeg
pepper to taste

For the sauce:
150g baby button mushrooms, sliced
red wine*
1 beef stock cube made up into stock*
3 tbsp ketchup
corn flour

– First lightly fry the onion in a little oil until soft.  Allow to cool a little. 
– Put everything in a bowl and mix it together with your hand. 
– Divide the mixture roughly into 6. 
– Gather a portion of the meat in your hand.  Roll into a ball then throw the ball forcefully back and forth in your hands to force out the air and flatten it into a patty. 
– Gently shape the patty to a circle and create a small hollow so the patty is thinner in the middle.  (This allows you to get a flat burger as it compensates for any swelling during cooking.)
– Place the patties on a large plate or chopping board and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, preferably about an hour. 

– Melt a small knob of butter in a frying pan and fry the mushrooms until just browning.  Set aside. 
– Sprinkle the burgers with a pinch of salt and prepare the foil sheets. 
– Fry the burgers in a large frying pan or griddle.  Give about 4 minutes each side.  Don’t move the burger about once you’ve placed it in the pan until it’s time to turn it or it will fall apart. 
– Place the burger in the centre of the sheet of foil and top with a spoonful of mushrooms. 

– Deglaze the pan with red wine (tip it in and scrape off any cooked on bits). 
– Add the stock and reduce until starting to thicken. 
– Add the ketchup and stir in continue to reduce. 
– If necessary add a little cornflour slaked in a little water to thicken the sauce.  It needs to be quite viscous slow moving. (Make sure to taste the sauce as it can need a little more ketchup to cut the saltiness of the stock cube.) 
– Pour a little sauce over each burger.

– Fold the foil up into a tent and fold together the edges to seal.  Then fold in the sides to seal those. 

– Place the parcels on a baking tray and place in the oven at around gas mark 5 for 10-15 minutes until everything is piping hot again.  (If preparing ahead cook for around 30 minutes to ensure food is piping hot all through.)
– When you’re ready simply put the parcel on a plate to serve. 

* I only cooked sauce for 1 tonight so I can’t speak as to actual quantities.  I just poured!

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Renkon Chips and Deep Fried Tofu

These are two typical dishes I used to eat in Izakaya (Japanese pub/reastaurants) when I lived in Japan.  Excellent as nibbles to wash down with decent Japanese beer!  Now that I’ve mastered the mandoline I thought I’d try my hand at renkon chips.  Renkon is usually translated as Lotus Root but it is actually a rhizome.  Either way it tastes good and is an incredibly versatile food and it looks fantastic too!  Tofu is generally thought of as a health food and even deep fried I think it’s still probably quite healthy and it tastes great with spring onions and soy sauce.  In summer I wouldn’t bother deep frying it but just eat it as it is with soy sauce and spring onions but in winter it’s nicer cooked and warm!  These hardly count as recipes but I thought that it was worth posting as guidance if nothing else. 

Renkon Chips, Deep Fried Tofu and Sapporo Beer

Renkon Chips

1 smallish lotus rhizome

– Heat up the deep fat frier. 
– Slice the renkon finely on a mandoline and blot dry with kitchen paper.
– Scatter into the basket of the deep fat frier, don’t try to do them all at once cook them in batches. 
– Deep fry for 2-3 minutes then tip onto kitchen paper to drain while you cook the rest. 
– Return them all to the deep fat frier for a further 1-2 minutes.  Watch VERY CAREFULLY as it only takes a short amount of time for them to burn as mine started to do. 
– Again place on kitchen paper to dry then serve hot with a pinch of salt sprinkled over. 

Deep Fried Tofu

silken tofu
1 or 2 spring onions, chopped

– Cut the tofu into chunks and heat the deep fat frier. 
– Scatter the tofu into the basket and deep fry for about 3-5 minutes until golden on the outside. 
– Drain on kitchen paper then serve scattered with spring onions with soy sauce.

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Nabe

I love Japanese food and I enjoy cooking it now and again.  The rest of my family aren’t quite so enamoured of it I’m afraid.  I think they find it rather bland and boring but I love the simplicity of it and how the ingredients are allowed to speak for themselves rather than being overwhelmed by seasoning and sauces.  Tonight I made Nabe with Renkon Chips and Deep Fried Tofu

Nabe, or Nabemono, is essentially a one pot stew, traditionally cooked at the table in a particulat dish, the nabe, but I did it on the stove in a large casserole dish.  You don’t have to stick to this recipe in the least, just adapt to what you have in stock.  Shitake mushrooms make an excellent addition.  The dashi and konbu and renkon (the dashi is a powder that you add to water to make dashi stock, the konbu is dried seaweed and renkon is lotus root) are the only speciality ingredients and you can get them at any decent chinese supermarket or japancentre.com have all three in stock at the minute .  I actually got my konbu in Sainsburys originally.    

Nabe

Serves 4

2 sachets dashi powder
1 strip konbu, wiped with a damp cloth
3 chicken breasts, cut into chunks
1 large carrot, cut into chunks
1/4 head white cabbage, cut into thin strips
1 small tin water chestnuts
a small handful of thinly sliced lotus root
1 leek, chopped
1/2 a block silken tofu, chopped
3 spring onions, chopped

– Add the dashi powder and konbu to a large pot of boiling water.
– Bring to the boil and add the chicken breast. 
– After 5 minutes add the carrot, cabbage, water chestnuts and lotus root to the pot. 
– After 20 minutes add the leek and tofu. 
– Continue to heat until all of the vegetables are cooked, about another 5 minutes. 
– Sprinkle the spring onion on top before serving. 

When varying the contents adjust when you add things dependent on how long they take to cook: meat, root veg, soft veg and take care with the size of your chunks.

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