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JAPANESE COOKING METHODS
There are abundant opportunities for creativity in Japanese cooking. There
is great joy in tasting something for the first time and a concentration
of skills in producing an original dish or garnish. It is considered
commonplace to repeat what was a successful dish — one must always strive
to improve. It is for this reason that Japanese cookbooks stress cooking
methods rather than recipes, techniques rather than ingredients.
The following are some of the basic methods:
Tempura or Tendon: In 1550, batter-dipped and fried shrimp was introduced
to the Japanese by Portuguese traders. The Portuguese did not eat meat on
Catholic Ember Days (four times annually); these days came to be known as
Quatuor Tempora and the fried shrimp that became the specialty was called
Tempura. Tempura now refers to the Japanese cooking method of coating
cleaned cut or sliced foods in a light batter and frying quickly in a
light vegetable oil. Tendon refers specifically to fried crustaceans.
These foods so prepared are served with a base of rice or noodles,
accompanied by sauces for dipping.
SAUCES: Aside from those sauces
providing obviously contrasting flavors - for instance, shoyu, hot mustard
or grated horse radish - most sauces are made from the boiled stock of
trimmings and entrails. Sauce is well reduced then finished with a small
amount of dashi, shoyu, grated fresh ginger-root, or horse radish.
Sushi: Refer Breads and Grains in
Japanese Foods section.
Sashimi: a method of preparing thinly sliced raw fish or chicken and
sometimes raw lobster, shrimp, or clams garnished with paper-thin slices
of raw vegetables. They are eaten by dipping into a light sauce seasoned
with shoyu or horse radish. Sometimes sashimi is prepared by dipping the
raw slices of fish or vegetables very briefly in boiling water before
eating. Fresh ocean fish is best for this method.
Fugu Sashimi: the highly skilled preparation of raw blowfish. Since the
liver and ovaries contain a lethal poison, incorrect handling or
preparation could contaminate the meal. More than 100 dead each year are
mute testimony that eating this delicacy is fraught with danger.
SOUPS: There are basically three types of soups:
Suimono: clear broths made from bits of meat, fish, bones,
trimmings, entrails, skins, etc. These are strained and flavored lightly
with salt, shoyu, and dashi.
Misoshiru: thicker and heavier soups made with the addition of miso,
fermented bean paste. Substantial soups that are more like chowders or
thin stews and make a meal in themselves, these may be made from fish or
Zoni: this is a special soup made for New Year's, comprising a rich
chicken broth with slivers of chicken meat but flavored with Japanese
herbs (nanakusa) and fish paste (kamaboko). Threads of lemon
and spinach and sprinkles of shoyu and dashi complete the soup. To serve,
Zoni is poured over specially made cakes called o-mochi.
SUKIYAKI: suki means a plow and yaki means roasted. This dish is
cooked at the table in front of the diners, with the ingredients artfully
sliced and arranged on a platter. Sukiyaki is usually made with prime
quality tender beef and an array of vegetables which may include onions,
leeks, types of seaweed, carrots, radishes, squares of tofu, shirataki
(Japanese noodles), spinach, bean or bamboo shoots or sprouts, konnyaku
(devil's loot squares), and mitsuba (marsh parsley). The liquids to
be added are water, sake, and shoyu. Nabe is the frying pan which
is placed over a hibach or hibachi, an earthenware cooking
pot heated with charcoal embers.
The cooking ritual of Sukiyaki begins with the sauces heating in the pan,
then the meat slices are browned, and finally the vegetables, pushed each
to one side as they are cooked.
The meal is begun with a clear soup, sake or beer served throughout, rice
served before or after the Sukiyaki. Foreigners like to eat the rice with
the sauces; to the Japanese this is unthinkable. Rice is revered and is
savored usually by itself. The meal concludes with fresh fruit and then
Beef is the classic meat, but any other fish, meat, or seafood and any
vegetable variety may be used.
YAKITORI: Spit-roasted meats or foods grilled on tiny wooden
skewers are prepared by this process. Often the meats are marinated first,
basted with the marinade while roasting (miso or dashi-shoyu marinade),
and dipped in sauces while eating. Finely minced ginger or horseradish may
enhance the flavors. Teriyaki is one version using shoyu and mirin as
NIMONO: This refers to boiled foods. This is also called one-pot
cooking and may be done at the table or in the kitchen. Meats or seafood
(in appropriate pieces) are boiled in the broth then removed and kept hot.
Vegetables are then added and boiled until done, then removed. The cooked,
slivered vegetables and sliced meats are well drained, placed on a plate,
and served with a little broth as sauce.
MUSHIMONO: This is the classification that includes all steamed
foods. There are three main methods:
1. Various ingredients are steamed in individual bowls and served in the
2. Foods are steamed in one large platter or in layers of platters in a
large steamer and then portioned out individually.
3. Prepared foods are arranged over hot coarse salt in a special
earthenware (unglazed) dish called a horoku. The fresh foods placed
on the scalding-hot salt release their own moisture to steam-cook the
foods. The dish is covered during cooking time.
Dobin: a small teapot used for steaming single dishes.
Chawan-Mushi: Classic dish of sliced chicken, shrimp, mushrooms
with chestnuts or ginkgo nuts layered in individual dishes with an egg
custard poured over. After steaming till set, the dishes are garnished
with a sprinkle of lemon juice and lemon slivers.
Odamaki-Mushi: Similar to Chawan-Mushi except that on the bottom is
a layer of noodles that are topped with ham, sliced fish paste, vegetable
slices, and finally the egg custard. A sprinkle of lemon juice sharpens
the taste before eating.
AGEMONO OR KARAAGE style: Kara means empty and age to fry. Tendon
and tempura are part of this style, although generally the term refers to
foods pre-dipped in cornstarch and lightly fried in a little oil.
SALADS: Japanese "salads" are made from pre-cooked vegetables,
meats, fish or seafood, cooled and dressed and served as zensai
(appetizers), side dishes, or small separate courses. Each of the
ingredients may be arranged in little mounds and sliced, chopped, grated,
or shredded. The dressing is called aemono (or mixture).
Tsukemono refers to pickled vegetables while sunemono means
vinegared dishes. These are usually eaten accompanied with many rounds of
sake. Pickling is done with salt or salt and rice bran to aid