One of the most enjoyable things about a Japanese meal is the sheer number of plates and bowls you get, little plates of pickles, bowls of dipping sauce, salads and small vegetable sides. In a restaurant you can think you’re ordering one basic dish and then end up with seven or eight little portions on your table per person. In this post we’ve got recipes for two such dishes; a punchy, strong pickled cucumber, powerfully seasoned with raw garlic, and a fresh salad of chikuwa fishcake mixed with spring onions and red peppers, topped with dried bonito shavings.
A Japanese meal wouldn’t be complete without a little plate of pickles to cleanse the palate and give the occasional punch of concentrated flavour. This recipe for a brutalised, pickled cucumber is adapted from Nancy Singleton Hachisu’s fantastic book, Japanese Farm Food and is one of our all time favourite pickles. There’s an enormous release that comes with smashing a cucumber to pieces, cracking the firm swollen skin with a mallet or rolling pin, turning it into something beautiful to eat is an added bonus.
- 1 firm English cucumber
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon salt
- optional red chilli to sprinkle on top
- Place your cucumber on a chopping board and, using the side of a wooden rolling pin, carefully smash it into chunks. I’m not sure if to ‘carefully smash’ is an oxymoron- but anyhow, you’ll need to hit the cucumber hard enough to crack its skin and flesh, without messing up your precious fingers or your kitchen surfaces. You also don’t want the flesh to be squashed too much.
- Once you’ve broken the surface all the way along the cucumber, use your hands to pull it into pieces, then get a teaspoon and scrape the watery seeds out. You want to end up with a variety of mostly bitesize rustic chunks of cucumber- but some a bit larger than this is good too.
- Put your smashed cucumber into a sealable plastic food bag, and add the chopped garlic and salt. Seal the bag, squeezing most of the air out, then massage the outside of the bag to rub the salt/garlic into the broken edges of the cucumber. Refrigerate for 10-15 minutes to let the garlic and salt permeate the flesh of the cucumber, the salt will draw out quite a lot of the moisture from the flesh and you’ll want to drain this away before serving the pickle.
Serves 8-10 people as a pickle.
Chikuwa to negi no sarada.
Chikuwa, an ingredient almost impossible to find in most of the UK, is a distant relative of the crab stick, a blend of surimi, egg white and starch, formed into a long tube around a bamboo stick before being steamed and grilled. You often find it in bowls of oden or ramen, but here we’ve served it cold in a salad paired with that most Japanese of fish products, Katsuobushi.
- 5 chikuwa fishcakes
- 6 spring onions
- 1/3 red pepper
- 1/3 yellow pepper
- handful katsuobushi flakes
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped ginger
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons rice vinegar
- Start by slicing the peppers into thin strips, then put into a frying pan with a very small amount of cooking oil and sauté lightly for around 2 minutes. You don’t want the peppers to colour at all, only for them to wilt and sweeten slightly. Leave to cool.
- Cut the spring onions and chikuwa thinly on a diagonal, the fishcake slices should be around 3mm thick and the onions as thin as you can manage. Keep them aside whilst you make the dressing.
- Put the soy sauce, ginger, sugar, sesame oil and vinegar together in a small bowl, and stir well to blend. Use this to dress the softened peppers in a large bowl.
- Now add the prepared spring onions and fishcake and mix together with your hands to make sure everything is coated evenly. Take a handful of katsuobushi flakes, sprinkle this over the contents of the bowl, then mix by hand again. Allow the salad to sit at room temperature for 10 minutes to allow the flavours to meld then serve with an extra pinch of katsuobushi on top.
Serves 4 people as a side dish or starter.