The second Japanese Home-Cooking class contained introductions to even more Japanese ingredients that I had never heard of. We started with miso soup with little beech mushrooms, and then began prepping the salads and the main course of mackerel, nimono and rice.
Polished white rice (uruchi mai), the most common rice in Japan, was the side dish. It must be rinsed several times with a scrubbing motion to ‘polish’ it and remove the excess starch. The rinse water will be milky white for the first few rinses but will eventually become clear. Add 1 1/4 cup water to 1 cup rice in a pot with a tight-fitting lid, and cook for about 30 minutes, resulting in a fairly ‘sticky’ rice.
Gomaae: sesame-dressed salad. Spinach is commonly used for gomaae in North America, but in Japan everything from greens to fish and meats are used. For our gomaae Hana chose asparagus, chopped into 1 1/2 inch pieces and boiled for 3 minutes, together with cherry tomatoes cut in half. The dressing has several variations but all versions contain ground sesame seeds, sugar and soy sauce. Sometimes sesame oil is added although not always. I love sesame seeds so I really liked this salad. Hana’s recipe for gomaae (sesame seed dressing) on her blog: http://letsforking.wordpress.com/2010/10/24/spinach-gomaae/
The other salad, ‘onion and jako’, was… interesting. It reminded me of the first time I tried seaweed. Then I wasn’t so sure about it, but now I go out of my way to get seaweed-wrapped treats. The first step to making the salad is to soak paper thin slices of white onion to reduce any onion flavour, similar to the daikon radish prep in the previous class. I actually like the pungent flavours of both white onions and daikon, and am not really sure I like these wishy-washy versions. I suppose they had to be made more delicate in order to taste the jako that was tossed in with them. Jako are baby sardines, teeny tiny little translucent things.
The salad was drizzled with Ponzu and pinkish bonito fish flakes were piled on top giving the dish faintly fishy taste. Ponzu sauce: this I love; it is the main ingredient in the gyoza dipping sauce and I’ve always wondered what they used for that. The first character on the label is Chinese and means: ‘ taste, smell, experience; delicacy‘, which just about says it all.
Nimono – ‘things’ simmered in a dashi, water, soy sauce, sugar and mirin sauce. The ‘things’ we simmered were carrots, a weird yam gelatin and bamboo shoots. Potato and thin-sliced beef are popular in Japan. The bamboo shoot was time-consuming to clean; the centre of the shoot containing delicate ‘gills’ with a white grit that had to be removed – the final result was very tasty and I’d make that again. Eek! just saw the price! I think I’d substitute a tin of hearts of palm: cheaper, easier and with virtually the same light vinegar tang.
The main dish was mackerel fried in miso. Mackerel is an oily ‘fishy’ fish; the miso paste complements it nicely. Each piece of mackerel is scored with a large ‘X’ to allow the flavour of the miso to penetrate. We learned an interesting method of cooking using parchment paper, and one of the students said that once she discovered parchment paper she stopped using tin foil altogether.
Although desserts are rarely served in Japan they are pretty popular in the west, and Hana had a surprise dessert for us: green tea ice cream sprinkled with the nutty flavoured roasted soy bean flour.
Gallery of images from my Japanese Home-Cooking Class, offered by UBC Continuing Studies and taught by Hana Dethlefsen. Hana has her own blog with lots of Japanese recipes and restaurant reviews at: http://letsforking.wordpress.com/