Hello loyal readers! Sorry for disappearing but I’ve been really busy with my non-cooking life. I don’t want the blog to stay dormant forever, though, and my husband really wanted me to add this recipe for his new favorite way to eat chicken: minced!
When you think about it, it’s funny: ground beef and ground pork are common enough, but how often do you see ground chicken? Our local supermarket sure doesn’t sell it, so for this recipe, we mince it ourselves. It’s not the most pleasant of kitchen tasks, granted, but it’s not actually hard either…just chop some chicken thigh and breast meat into blocks and put it through a food processor. Takes a minute or two.
Torisoboro Gohan isn’t really a fancy dish, but it’s very flavorful and always seems to be a major hit when I’ve served it to Westerners. To make it really appealing, you want to pair it with brightly colored garnishings – usually green beens and silk-thread eggs – aiming for a tri-color effect at the end.
A hotpot cooked at the dinner table, Nabe is the quintessential Japanese winter dining experience. With Nabe, you’re cooking and eating in “real time”, which imposes its own pace on a meal: it’s just not physically possible to eat a Nabe in a rush.
That probably helps explain why Nabe conjures up that special kind of conviviality you get when it’s cold outside and you’re huddled around a warm pot sharing a leisurely meal with friends, family or business associates.
Strictly speaking, “Nabe” refers not to the recipe but to the hardware: the clay pot itself. In Japan, everybody eats from a single Nabe, sort of like with a fondue.
All kinds of stuff can go into a nabe, from thin slices of meat (for “shabu shabu” and “sukiyaki”) to meatballs (“chanko-nabe”) to salmon and miso (“ishikari-nabe”) to poisonous blowfish (“te-chiri”).
There’s even a fun dinner party game you can play, called Yami-nabe, where you turn the lights off and each guest has to put a secret ingredient in the pot: the fun is in trying to guess what all the different ingredients are. I remember playing this one time when I was in college and a friend of mine put a McDonald’s McNugget in our yami-nabe: we never invited him again!
Out of the dozens of nabe variations out there, Yose-nabe is one of the simplest and most popular: a light broth flavored with sea kelp and starring, chicken, shrimp, tofu, mushrooms and vegetables. Readers in Quebec may think of it as “Fondue Chinoise Japonaise”, only with none of that weird curry mayonnaise. And with a lot more vegetables in it.
In Montreal, you can find Japanese Nabe clay pots starting at $25 in Chinatown, and we just use a simple portable electric burner to put on the table ($19.95 at Canadian Tire). But if you have an electric pot for Fondue Chinoise, or even a normal Fondue pot, those will work fine. You just need something to keep the ingredients simmering.
This is another dish that stretches the definition of “healthy”, but on the other hand chicken breast is a lot less fatty than pork, plus this dish fills them with vegetables. So this is still fried, but feels much lighter than ton-katsu.
In any case, my attitude is that it isn’t meals that are healthy or unhealthy, it’s diets. Eat sasami-roll-katsu four times a week and you have an unhealthy diet. Eat it once every two or three months and you have a delicious treat to look forward to as part of a healthy diet.
Preparation is quite similar to ton-katsu’s, but with a twist. Rather than just frying a cutlet, you’re making a kind of meat-and-vegetable roll, battering it, and frying the whole thing! It’s almost like a Japanese cordon bleu.
Making sasami-roll-katsu is not really difficult, but it will take time and your kitchen is going to be a big mess at the end. Sometimes, though, it’s worth it!
Here’s a chicken-and-the-egg dish whose name is a bit of a play on words. Oya means parent and Ko = child. The don is short for donburi, a whole family of protein-in-sauce-over-a-rice-bowl dishes. So put it together and you get “parent-and-child-donburi”…get it?
Following much the same recipe you could also make Tanin-don, which uses pork instead of chicken. (Tanin means…wait for it…”strangers”). Or skip the meat and you end up with Tamago-don (tamago = “egg”). The sauce is the same in each: all of them are delicious.
A donburi is, by definition, nothing fancy. Yet, when it’s done well, oyako-don can be absolutely magnificent: a light, savory-sweet dream of chicken and egg over sticky rice.
This is the dish that first convinced my husband that Japanese food really is something special. On trips to Japan, he forces me to hunt around for the best Oyakodon, finally landing in a tiny restaurant in Kyoto famous for this dish. With a typical Kyoto taste, light and delicate, this dish transcends its junk food roots and comes very close to…well…a work of art.
This recipe is dedicated to our friend Juan who went to the Asian store in his home town and got confused – buying Japanese pepper (sanshyo) instead of Japanese peppers. He’s been wondering what to do with the pepper ever since. Well, Juan, oyako-don here is an excellent use for your sanshyo!
You want to talk about silly-sounding literal translations? Umani comes out as “delicious boiled thing”. Which pretty much tells the tale of this simple, unfussy dish which brings together several of Japan’s favorite vegetables with just a little bit of chicken for flavor. The vegetables – which include the delicious, potato-like taro roots – are chosen not just for their flavors but also for their colors: umani must have those orange carrots and bright green beans to keep it from looking like prison food.
One great thing about umani is that it scales up easily: you can just double or triple the portions below to feed more people. For this reason, it’s a typical choice when you have a lot of guests or in big family occasions.
As is usual with these kinds of recipes, there are any number of variations on umani. In a professional kitchen, you would cook each of the vegetables separately – but that’s far too much trouble for home cooking. It hardly needs pointing out that each family will vary the composition of the dish slightly to suit its taste.
This recipe is the version my mom used to make. It tastes like home.
Lets be clear: standard Japanese rice is plain. No flavorings, no spices, no salt, no nothing. Just rice, water, heat and time. Older people in Japan – and even a good number of younger people – eat this kind of plain white rice three times a day. It’s like bread for Western people: there at every meal.
So that’s the standard thing. But once every great while mom gets frisky and decides to do something different with rice. Enter takikomi-gohan: a flavored rice that can serve as a main course. Takikomi-gohan can be eaten hot or cold, and it’s a popular lunch-box item. We don’t make this kind of rice every day. We don’t even make it often. But every once in a while, it really hits the spot.
Historians will tell you that tempura was introduced to Japan in the 16th century, by Portuguese traders. These days, nobody in Japan would dream of calling tempura foreign food, though: we think of it as quintessentially Japanese.
Deep fried bits of meat, shrimp or vegetables are not, of course, the first thing that pops into foreign people’s minds when they think of Japanese cooking. But tempura is a much loved treat throughout Japan: after all, even the healthiest diet should have some fried things in it once in a while!