命の出汁 – broth of vigour

an adventure in japanese cuisine, an obsession with the izakaya


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dashi – the broth of vigour

Dashi is the basis of almost everything in Japanese cooking. This is a very strong statement which until recently I would have slightly chuckled at. Sure, the majority of basic cooking stocks build upon dash, but so do most sauces and even batters for Takoyaki (octopus balls) and Okonomyaki (Japanese Pancakes).

The recipe below is the standard I use as a basis for my dashi. I have seen a plethora of different variations using the same ingredients just tweaking the amounts, more on that later on. For a vegetarian stock I would substitute 50g of dried shitake mushrooms for the bonito flakes.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Litre of water
  • a piece of konbu 3″ x 3″(dried kelp)
  • 30g katsuobushi (dried bonito shavings)

Preparation:

Put the water and the konbu in a saucepan and start up on a medium heat. Just prior to the water coming to the boil, pull out and discard the konbu and put in the katsuobushi, leaving until the water comes to the boil. When boiling begins turn off the heat and allow to  cool for 10 to 15 minutes or until all the katsuobushi has sunk to the bottom of the pan. Then strain through a fine sieve or colander lined with muslin or paper towels.

From this base you can easily grab 200ml or so with a tablespoon of miso paste and your favourite garnishes (seaweed, long onions, tofu, etc) for a very delicious miso soup. It is so easy to throw together (even if you make the dashi from scratch) you will wonder why you used the packet mixes in the first place (except maybe to take to work!!). Another variation that is a favourite of mine is to add a handful of frozen seafood (from a marinara mix or similar) as the dashi is being brought to the boil for a more filling soup.

The finished dashi will keep for a few days in the fridge, or you can freeze it. I have some jumbo cubed ice cube trays which are great for this. You may want a more condensed dashi if you are going to freeze it (to take up less space in the freezer); my approach for this is to double the amount of konbu and katsuobushi and leave it to steep for longer. That way you can add an equal amount of water to the melted ice cube and get a similar flavoured soup.

Other regular uses in my kitchen include:

  • Cooking rice – replace the water you would use in your rice cooker with dashi
  • Vegetables – turnips, daikon raddish, cabbage , eggplants or other vegetables to be used as part of a japanese dish can be boiled in dashi to add extra flavour before the rest of the dish is added
  • Add to rice – one of my favourite lunches is to make some rice in a rice cooker, add some bits & pieces (long onions, any leftover or frozen seafood (defrosted of course) and other garnishes) and pour over hot dashi to make an almost porridge like consistency

Michiba’s Broth of Vigour

One of the key inspirations for this site, and hence the honour of the name comes from the original Iron Chef series (surprise). The first Iron Chef Japanese, Rokusaburo Michiba, had a trademark Dashi which was labelled “the broth of vigour” (in Japanese “Inochi no Dashi” or 命の出汁). He prepared this at the beginning of almost every battle, bringing water to the boil with Konbu in it then putting an absolute bucketload of katsuobushi into the pot.

This would make such an incredibly intense stock. I have overloaded my dashi a few times (no where near this extent) when I wanted to make a rich sauce base but I find you end up with a little too smoky a flavour for my liking using it this way just for a soup stock.

Anyway, dashi is easy and quick to put together from long life ingredients. Try it, you’ll never want to go back to the packet mix and it will never go to waste.

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Friday Night Sushi

I love a casual sushi night at home; out come the Japanese knives and the toys from the kitchen street in Tokyo. Next thing you know the head is shaved and the Jiro impressions come out. Well, maybe not quite that far.

The biggest challenge I have with sushi at home is variety. Going to the trouble of making the vinegar from scratch and slicing up the fish along with all the garnishes etc is kinda effort effort for a Friday night. On the flip side however my choice of sashimi grade fish is limited in Australia even when going to the biggest fish market in Sydney. There is always salmon, tuna (normally just straight maguro not otoro or chutoro fattier variants), king fish and if lucky you will get one of the following available: Scallops, Snapper or Octopus. Very soon you can get the feeling that you’ve “had enough raw fish”.

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So here are some of my approaches for adding a bit more variety to the table when ingredients are rare:

  • Marinate the fish: There are many different ways to change the flavour of the fish and add variety. For Tuna I often blanch a piece in hot water very quickly, bathe it in ice, then marinate in a mix of sake and soy sauce. For white fish, wrapping it in konbu seaweed and refrigerating it for a few hours.
  • Dressed Sashimi: From a simple drizzle of yuzu or lemon juice to the Nobu style Tiradito which includes a drop of chilli paste along with cilantro (coriander) leaves you can have a small plate of zing on the menu
  • Pressed Sushi: We can often get BBQ Eel at our fish markets. Making this into nigiri sushi normally requires more attention to detail than I have available on a Friday night especially when I have already burned my focus not cutting off fingers with the yanagiba. Pressed sushi frames are often available in asian grocery stores and give a different shape and style to add variety.
  • Lazy Garnishes: While most sushi bar’s have piles of stringy daikon radish on hand, this also is not a Friday night fun project. I will often grab a bag of bean sprouts to use as garnishes or to prop up sashimi. Some salmon roe perched atop a scallop or a twisted flower made from slices of salmon give het another twist.
  • Rice Cakes: I admit it, to make my sushi rice I use an electronic rice cooker. There is always that starchy crust on the bottom no matter how many times I wash the rice. It never goes into the mix for the sushi rice, but I will often season it with a bit of the sushi vinegar and dry fry it in a non-stick pan to give a crust on both sides as a lazy-western-onigiri.
  • Vegetables: Yeah, Yeah I know, vegetables. From cooking slices of carrots in sake, mirin and soy to using okra, avocado (not my favourite) or even mushrooms this can add a bit of a change. Also can calm down vegetarians if they manage to get through the security guard you have placed at the door.

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Hope this gives you some ideas. Now just chill the sake, turn up the Jazz & chill 😉


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Staying Soba

From my first visit to Japan I fell in love with Soba noodles. They were my first experience of cold noodles in a dipping sauce and the combination of the sweetness of the sauce with the texture of the noodles was amazing. They also make sense in a warmish climate in Australia as a simple summer dish. On one of my trips I bought a soba bocho (knife for cutting soba noodles) and had a couple of reasonable attempts at making the noodles. These were inspired by a couple of recipes from Nobu that I had in a US visit where the Soba were made with either Jalapeño or Cilantro into the actual soba dough.

In August 2014 my wife and I braved up and attended a full day Soba Making course as part of the Tokyo Cooking School. Our teacher Inouye-san was cheerful and extremely excited to share his knowledge of Soba noodles.

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The course started with Inouye-san giving some background into Soba and its preparation followed by demonstrations from him on how to make various soba broth and dipping sauces, preparing different accompaniments for cold and hot Soba and then making both pure soba and soba noodles that incorporate a small amount of wheat flour.

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As with anything you try to do yourself without seeing a master do it, there are plenty of tricks involved in preparing Soba noodles. All the recipes I had used were quite simply in weight of flour and volume of water. I almost felt taken back to black and white photo school talking about the impact of relative humidity on the production of noodles – the end result being using the weight of the added liquid against a table of humidity. Far more techie than I was expecting.

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The rolling technique was something I was really looking forward to. Of course, Inouye-san’s rolling pin flew around like a crazed ninja; making it look so very simple. Soon after the big “axe” appeared (the soba bocho) and we had a plethora of noodles.

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At this time we broke for lunch, tasting the noodles that Inouye-san had prepared. We helped put together the accompaniments and had a delightful lunch of both Soba in hot broth with scallops and cold Soba with dipping sauce. Quite frankly at this stage my wife and I were ready for a nap having felt that we had absorbed Soba noodle culture both mentally and via the stomach, but we were here to learn, it was now our turn.

We both made 80/20 and pure Soba flour noodles over the next couple of hours with constant supervision from the master. The results were quite good with our major flaw being the variable width of our noodles as we tired out. At one stage Inouye-san suggested my last handful might be reserved for use in a fettucini recipe 😉

The rolling was more of a challenge for me, I think I probably need to break both my thumbs to get them into the position required for smooth and constant rolling.

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We walked away from this awesome day with great memories, a new friend and about 2 kilos of Soba which kept us going for a couple of weeks. Some were distributed to Japanese friends for their opinion and they were quite impressed. Looking now it seems the school has expanded it’s courses to a wider selection of Japanese food so I can see myself going back for more learnings this year. If you check the site there is a link to a site that sells all sorts of cooking gear around noodle making also.

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Uncle Tetsuya’s happy trout

Tetsuya Wakuda is one of Australia’s most recognised Japanese Chef’s and no surprise the owner and executive chef of restuarant Tetsuya in Sydney. His signature dish has been for a long time a confit of ocean trout. In this youtube video below he explains the process for creating this incredible dish at home including substitutes for certain japanese ingredients that you may not be able to find outside of Japan.

The only change I would suggest to his approach would be to perform the confit process in an oven for more success. Particulary a good idea if, as he points out, you have a gas stove rather than an induction cooker. One of these days I will get back to his restuarant and try this in person, until then I will have to resort to my own version. A written version of the recipe is available here.

Side Note: In my recent travels to Japan and France on business I have had the delight in seeing a fantastic documentary on Tetsuya on TalkAsia on CNN. If you have cable or access to CNN I would check this out (or transctiption here, video here. Not only does it give an interesting profile on his background but shows an insight into his restuarant and some of the recipes. WARNING, it may cause you to put money away from those vital mortgage payments to save up for a session in his private dining room.


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Champon – ちゃんぽん

Champon (ちゃんぽん) is one of my favourite noodle dishes of all time and part of a long term search to reproduce at home. I first encounterd this dish at Narukyo (なるきよ) as a “finisher”; a final dish at the end of a great night of food and shochu (is there eanything else to drink at an isakaya?). The combination of ingredients and the stock made me stand up and take notice, much more than any ramen, laksa or miscellaneous soup noodle combination.

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It appears that the dish is a Chinese / Japanese fusion concoction that first came to life in Japan in the city of Nagasaki. The combination of pork, seafood and vegetables when well picked is quite a balanced dish and adding seasonal produce makes almost every Champon a new experience. At Narukyo (なるきよ) I have experienced a deluxe version made for a friend of mine. Well, several deluxed versions, usually with Uni (Sea Urchin Roe) for him but I have had additions of soft roe of cod or even ikura (salmon roe) to build up the luxurious content.

After my first Champon experience I tried to have a crack at making it on my return home and ended up with a reasonable noodle soup, but not Champon. Some of the key (well regular) ingredients are hard to get in Australia (mostly the particular type of fish cake) and my first few attempts probably did not have the balance of noodle / vegatable / pork & seafood. Over time my recipe is getting closer based on constrant laboratory and field research.

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Ingredients
OK, this is not going to be measured to the microgram kind of recipe, it is still a work in progress and it is more fun to play with the variations.

  • Stock 500ml to make two servings
  • Lard
  • Standard Meat  /Seafood – sliced pork fillet, slices of fish cake, squid or calamari slices, soft roe of cod
  • Vegetables – cabbage, carrots, beanshoots
  • Additives (Deluxe) – sliced abalone, prawns
  • Toppings (Super-Deluxe) – salmon roe (ikura) or sea urchin roe (uni)
  • Champon (or ramen) noodles

The best ratio I have found is to have an equal volume of noodles / seafood & meat / vegetables with stock to fill the bowl.

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Cooking Instructions

  • Fire up the wok, and I do mean fire. Should be smoking hot
  • Add the lard and swish around to melt, making sure the smoking hot theory is still in place
  • Add the seafood / meat pieces (pork and fish cake at a minimum) and toss in wok for around 2 minutes
  • Add the vegetables and any of the deluxe additives that need less cooking than the meat, continue to toss wok like a madman
  • Scoop in the stock from your secret sauce bucket, throw on the noodles tossing everything through
  • Cover with a lid and let cook for around 2 mins
  • Serve into bowls by placing noodles and items neatly with chopsticks. Scoop in broth with other contents
  • For Super-Deluxe version add a “garnish” of salmon roe (ikura) or sea urchin roe (uni). Some ground sesami seeds may also be used.
  • Consume. Go to the top and start again 😉

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A Note on the Stock

So far my best efforts have been based on trail and error with a handful of suggestions obtained at the end of a long line of spent shochu. I start with a good chicken stock and for this I actually use a recipe from How to cook like Heston. This makes a fantastic chicken broth keeps well frozen (ideal for when you come home and decide you need champon). To this I would add some pork bones from the butcher, even some pork belly if nothing else comes to hand. You should end up with a milky appearance to the stock and a tonne of body added by the pork.

This recipe I am sure will be a work in progress and upgraded on every trip. Look for updates! Comments welcome!


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dashi – the broth of vigour

Dashi is the basis of almost everything in Japanese cooking. This is a very strong statement which until recently I would have slightly chuckled at. Sure, the majority of basic cooking stocks build upon dash, but so do most sauces and even batters for Takoyaki (octopus balls) and Okonomyaki (Japanese Pancakes).

The recipe below is the standard I use as a basis for my dashi. I have seen a plethora of different variations using the same ingredients just tweaking the amounts, more on that later on. For a vegetarian stock I would substitute 50g of dried shitake mushrooms for the bonito flakes.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Litre of water
  • a piece of konbu 3″ x 3″(dried kelp)
  • 30g katsuobushi (dried bonito shavings)

Preparation:

Put the water and the konbu in a saucepan and start up on a medium heat. Just prior to the water coming to the boil, pull out and discard the konbu and put in the katsuobushi, leaving until the water comes to the boil. When boiling begins turn off the heat and allow to  cool for 10 to 15 minutes or until all the katsuobushi has sunk to the bottom of the pan. Then strain through a fine sieve or colander lined with muslin or paper towels.

From this base you can easily grab 200ml or so with a tablespoon of miso paste and your favourite garnishes (seaweed, long onions, tofu, etc) for a very delicious miso soup. It is so easy to through together (even if you make the dashi from scratch) you will wonder why you used the packet mixes in the first place (except maybe to take to work!!). Another variation that is a favourite of mine is to add a handful of frozen seafood (from a marinara mix or similar) as the dashi is being brought to the boil for a more filling soup.

The finished dashi will keep for a few days in the fridge, or you can freeze it. I have some jumbo cubed ice cube trays which are great for this. You may want a more condensed dashi if you are going to freeze it (to take up less space in the freezer); my approach for this is to double the amount of konbu and katsuobushi and leave it to steep for longer. That way you can add an equal amount of water to the melted ice cube and get a similar flavoured soup.

Other regular uses in my kitchen include:

  • Cooking rice – replace the water you would use in your rice cooker with dashi
  • Vegetables – turnips, daikon raddish, cabbage , eggplants or other vegetables to be used as part of a japanese dish can be boiled in dashi to add extra flavour before the rest of the dish is added
  • Add to rice – one of my favourite lunches is to make some rice in a rice cooker, add some bits & pieces (long onions, any leftover or frozen seafood (defrosted of course) and other garnishes) and pour over hot dashi to make an almost porridge like consistency

Michiba’s Broth of Vigour

One of the key inspirations for this site, and hence the honour of the name comes from the original Iron Chef series (surprise). The first Iron Chef Japanese, Rokusaburo Michiba, had a trademark Dashi which was labelled “the broth of vigour” (in Japanese “Inochi no Dashi” or 命の出汁). He prepared this at the beginning of almost every battle, bringing water to the boil with Konbu in it then putting an absolute bucketload of katsuobushi into the pot.

This would make such an incredibly intense stock. I have overloaded my dashi a few times (no where near this extent) when I wanted to make a rich sauce base but I find you end up with a little too smoky a flavour for my liking using it this way just for a soup stock.


Anyway, dashi is easy and quick to put together from long life ingredients. Try it, you’ll never want to go back to the packet mix and it will never go to waste.