Cooking Japanese rice

Rice is the most important component in nearly every Japanese meal so cooking it correctly is a good skill to master if you want to regularly eat Japanese food.  When we first read about cooking rice the Japanese way, we were put off by the washing stages, thinking that they couldn’t possibly make a difference to the finished product- how wrong we were!  If you don’t wash your rice well, or even if you wash it half-heartedly, you end up with an overly starchy mass which lacks the flavour, character and definition of properly cooked rice.  In our opinion the best rice to use is Koshihikari (Megumi is an excellent brand), it has very short grains which retain a distinct bite, a beautiful pearly appearance, and a sweet flavour unrivalled by other rices.  There have been many times while eating a bowl of this rice that I have thought to myself, I could be happy eating nothing else but perfectly cooked plain white rice for three meals a day.

In Japan, nearly all rice is prepared in electric rice cookers, and while we couldn’t justify the storage space for a dedicated rice cooker, we have perfected a way to cook it in an Instant Pot electric pressure cooker that gives identical results. Don’t worry if you haven’t got an Instant Pot, we’ve included instructions for cooking rice in a saucepan too.

rice
The cornerstone of nearly all Japanese meals.

 

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Kenchinjiru

With its roots in shojin-ryori Buddhist cuisine, this hearty miso enriched soup is a great way to get more vegetables into your diet and warm you up on these windy, rainy days.  It reminds me of tonjiru, but without the porky overtones, and is the type of soup that makes you feel almost invincible after eating a bowlful.  We make ours with homemade chicken stock, which adds a medicinal chicken soup vibe to help ward off those winter bugs. You can of course keep it traditional by using vegetable stock which makes it vegan friendly and just as delicious.

kenchinjiru
Traditional winter warmer, kenchinjiru.

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Yakitori assortment

Perhaps Japan’s most ubiquitous bar food, or at least the one most well known outside of Japan, yakitori is a firm favourite with us.  Visiting a traditional yakitoriya is a daunting experience, normally lacking in menus, the bill of fare is hung from banners near the ceiling written in kanji completely indecipherable to most westerners, but they offer a fantastic insight into how the locals wind down after work.  Charcoal grilled chicken, offal and skin, served on sticks, glossed over quickly with a brush dipped in an almost magical concoction of drippings and soy sauce, the perfect accompaniment to a beer, or two.

yakitori
Yakitori, L to R: Skin, tsukune, thigh with spring onions, hearts, gizzards.

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Jagaimo Oyaki

Oyaki are delicious little fried filled parcels, usually with a buckwheat outer shell but can be made with pretty much anything that you can form into a dough, in this case leftover mashed potato.  The filling of these oyaki is an attempt to recreate the flavours of some that we bought from a street vendor outside the Hachiman shrine in Tomioka, Tokyo- a mixture of chopped pork and prawns, similar to what you’d find inside everyone’s favourite little dumplings, gyoza.

oyaki
Jagaimo Oyaki, fried parcels of joy.

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Two ways with kabocha (kabocha namul & kabocha no miso)

With Autumn being our favourite time of year it only stands to reason that kabocha squash, being such an Autumnal vegetable, is one of our go-to ingredients when we want to eat something Japanese and comforting.  Kabocha, with its sweet yet savoury flavour makes a great main component for a meal, but works just as well as a side dish or a splash of colour in a bento.  These recipes work well with butternut squash or most other hard skinned winter squashes (crown prince is a really good match for kabocha in both flavour and texture, but it’s probably best to peel its harder outer skin away)

 

Kabocha Namul.

Namul (or namuru) is a family of dishes of Korean origin; shredded vegetables, seasoned with sesame and served as a side dish.  This namul works really well as a side dish to rich, sweet meat dishes such as buta no kakuni, and its nutty flavour contrasts extremely well with vinegared foods or those served with a ponzu dipping sauce.  It even makes a great coleslaw substitute in sandwiches.

kabocha namul
Kabocha Namul, delicious served with Buta no Kakuni.

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