Do you like pork roast? Of course you do, it’s delicious! It’s also greasy and heavy and, all things considered, probably not the healthiest meal around. So what if you want a lighter, healthier alternative? Kocha-buta is the solution: a sort of Mock Pork Roast made by boiling pork loin in black tea.
I have no idea when, where or who invented this recipe, but I think it’s very homey and Japanese. Boiling gets rid of a lot of the extra fat in pork, and the black tea softens that meaty smell while also flavoring it and coloring the outside. The result is an incredibly tender, juicy meat that looks like a Pork Roast, but isn’t.
In Japan it’s popular to serve Kocha-buta in a Sweet & Sour sauce. In my house, though, my mom would always serve it cold, with salad and Ponzu (vinegar) sauce. As per usual, here I’m sharing mom’s recipe.
One advantage to kocha-buta is that you can keep it in the fridge for a week to 10 days, so it’s a good idea to make a lot and eat it a bit at a time over several days. If you’re making Hiyashi Chuka, it’s a lovely idea to substitute a bit of left-over Kocha-buta in place of the ham.
Walk down any main street in Japan at the start of the summer and you’ll see these little signboards hanging from restaurant shingles saying “We’ve Started Making Hiyashi Chuka” (Hiyashi Chuka Hajimemashita) . It’s when you start seeing those Hiyashi Chuka signs that you feel summer’s really started.
What is Hiyashi Chuka? Literally, it’s “chilled chinese” – meaning “chilled chinese noodles“, of course. It’s another of those refreshing cold-noodle dishes we Japanese instinctively turn to when the weather gets sticky and hot.
The key to this dish is the Kinshi tamago ( “Silk thread egg”) garnish: basically, a stack of omelettes sliced very very thin. It takes some practice to get kinshi tamago just right, but once you learn how to make it, it will be very useful to garnish a lot of Japanese dishes.
For this recipe, I use Japanese Somen noodles instead of chinese noodles. That may seem contradictory, considering the name and all but, somehow, the real chinese noodles we find in Canada are different from “Made-in-Japan Chinese-style noodles” we get back home. Trust me, though: somen noodles work great with this recipe. Added plus: Somen noodles are easy to find in almost any Asian store.
Since so many of my readers seem to live in Japan, I should add a clarification: in Western Japan, where I’m from, this dish is often called “reimen“. This can lead to confusion on two fronts. First, because it sounds a bit like “ramen” – that ubiquitous hot noodle soup. The two are not at all the same. And, second, because in Eastern and Northern Japan, “reimen” refers to a spicy cold noodle dish from Korea that’s become Morioka’s signature dish: that kind of “reimen” is totally different from Hiyashi Chuka.
With this weather, there’s only one Japanese dish you think of: an ice-cold noodle specialty called Hiyashi Somen.
Besides being delicious, Hiyashi Somen’s also easy to turn from just a meal into an event. If you have a long cane of bamboo handy, you slice it in half, smooth out the inside, and you’re ready to make Nagashi Somen: a bamboo water slide for Somen. Everybody loves this, but especially kids, who have great fun picking out their lunch with their chopsticks as it moves down the half-pipe. (See the video)
I know the very concept of eating ice cold noodles strikes foreigners as especially weird and maybe not so appetizing. But you really should try these: they’re very easy to like. What can I say? On a hot summer day, there’s nothing as refreshing as an ice cold bowl of Somen.
How do you usually eat Tofu? In the Japanese repertoire, there are plenty of recipes to choose from, from Yu-dofu and Nabe to Miso soup, Kenchin-jiru, Agedashi tofu and Hiya-yakko, a popular fresh tofu recipe that I’ve not yet presented here.
In this recipe, I show you how to make a kind of fancied-up hiya-yakko using sesame oil rather than soy sauce. Why the need to fancy it up? Because, while simple Hiya-yakko sure is delicious, it’s just a little bit too plain a dish to serve guests. If you want to make a fresh tofu dish that’s sure to impress, this recipe is the solution for you.
A note of caution: these uncooked tofu recipes will turn out impossibly light and delicious if you use the right kind of tofu. Really, they live or die on the quality of the tofu you manage to get. In Kyoto, where silken tofu is a prized artesanal specialty made fresh each morning by traditional craftsmen, it’s hard to go wrong. Here in Montreal, where the tofu is ok but not necessarily fantastic, results can vary. Wherever you are, you should only try these using the best quality, softest silken tofu you can find.
And a tip: in North America, some quite decent Korean brands market this type of tofu as “extra silken”. That’s the kind you want.
I’m very much aware that non-Japanese people find plain white rice quite boring, so I’m always looking for quick little recipes that add some flavor to it. This one does that with sesame seeds and shiso leaves.
A few years ago, you would’ve had the hardest time finding the leaves, but suddenly Shiso leaves are all the rage in Western cooking, so finding these should be no problem for you.
In Japan, rice with store bought shiso-flavored furikake (“yukari”) is quite popular, but making shiso-gohan with fresh shiso leaves is much better, with a far more delicate taste. I often make shiso-gohan for guests, because this is the kind of flavor that makes you feel special.
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!