Crustaceans have always played a large part in the cuisine of Japan and one of our favourite uses of them is in kani meshi. It belongs to a family of dishes known as takikomi gohan which translates roughly as ‘cooked with rice’. In a similar way to a pilaf or kedgeree, takikomi dishes usually involve cooking rice in a seasoned broth to introduce extra layers of flavour along with the addition of vegetables or meat; in the case of kani meshi, this is the sweet juicy white flesh of a crab.
Whilst shopping for our kani meshi, we were distracted by some incredible looking Scottish langoustines, they were too perfect to resist- miniature, eight inch lobsters, fiercely armed and packed with a delicately perfumed flesh not dissimilar to prawns. We decided on the spot that they would make a fantastic variation on the standard crab kani meshi, and to compliment their sweet briny flavour we’ve added some seaweed and dried bonito to create a subtly flavoured rice that reminds us of holidays by the coast, both here in the UK and in Japan. Our kani meshi makes a great side dish in place of regular rice, and there’s a deliciously tactile pleasure in cracking the claws open and picking out the morsels of flesh from inside.
- 15 whole raw langoustines
- 2 cups Japanese rice
- 10cm by 5cm piece of dried kombu
- large handful katsuobushi
- 6 spring onions (or you could use a small leek)
- 30ml vegetable oil
- 60ml mirin
- 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
- 60ml shiro shoyu (or you can use 45ml regular soy sauce)
- handful baby spinach or pak choi leaves
- Place a large saucepan of water and a steamer basket on a high heat. While the water is coming to the boil, scrub the langoustines clean in plenty of cold water (they tend to live in areas with lots of muddy sediment, so can have a fair bit of dirt and grit on them). When the water has come to a rolling boil, add the langoustines and steam them for exactly five minutes before scooping them out onto a plate and allowing them to cool.
- When the langoustines are at room temperature you need to remove the flesh from the tails- start by pulling each of the claws off, then take the head section in one hand and the tail in the other and firmly twist until the two parts separate. Carefully peel the plated shell sections away from the delicate flesh and repeat this for the rest of the langoustines; roughly chop the meat and set it aside with half of the claws for later.
- Rinse the kombu under running water then place it together with the remaining claws, all of the heads and the tail shells from the langoustines in a saucepan along with about a litre and a half of cold water. Slowly bring the pan to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for around an hour. Add the katsuobushi for the last five minutes of cooking and then strain the liquid into a bowl through a muslin lined sieve (pay attention during this stage, it’s so easy to forget what you’re doing and pour away the beautiful dashi you’ve just spent an hour making). Let the langoustine-infused dashi cool down completely before moving on to the next step.
- Place the rice in a bowl in your sink and add plenty of water. Using both of your hands, swirl the rice around in the water, then rub the grains between your palms in a circular motion. Repeat this step a few times until you’ve rubbed all of the grains and the water has turned very cloudy with starch. Drain off the water, then add fresh water and repeat this whole process two more times. Strain the rice well and tip it into a saucepan along with 580ml of the dashi you made earlier, cover the pan with a lid and over a high heat bring it to the boil (this should take three to four minutes).
- When the water has come to the boil, turn the heat as low as it will go and leave to cook for another ten minutes. When the ten minutes is up, turn the heat off but don’t remove the lid from your pan. Let the rice steam undisturbed for a further ten to fifteen minutes.
- While the rice is cooking place a frying pan on a high heat, cut the top and roots from your spring onions and throw them into the pan. Don’t stir the onions too much, just let them catch and char slightly on each side. Take the onions out of the pan and cut them into centimetre thick slices, add the onions back into the frying pan along with the vegetable oil and sauté them for three minutes, then add the mirin, shiro shoyu and sesame oil. Gently simmer the onions until they’ve softened and slumped into a sweet sticky pile and the liquid has reduced to a syrup. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the baby leaves, allowing them to wilt.
- By now the rice should be perfectly cooked; take the lid from the pan and sprinkle on the chopped langoustine meat, the claws and the stewed onions with their liquor, then stir thoroughly to combine. Replace the lid on the pan and allow the rice to sit for two minutes before serving.
Serves 4 people as a side dish.