Most commonly encountered grated as a garnish for oroshi dishes or as a crunchy pickle (the Nihombashi district of Tokyo even holds an annual daikon festival every October where hundreds of vendors sell their own variation on the pickle), daikon- Japan’s unwieldy, oversized white radish- is surprisingly even tastier when used in a warm cooked dish than when eaten raw. The mellow sweetness of the root is encouraged into the limelight by gentle stewing while the spicy, almost watercress-like flavour is ushered into a supporting role- more of an intriguing, characterful nuance than its normal in-your-face approach. A soft, juicy disc of daikon is a prize to be found bobbing around in a steaming vat of oden along with the assorted fish cakes, or cut into tiny cubes sunk into a bowl of miso soup, but by far the best way to enjoy cooked daikon is as a tender, gently simmered ‘steak’. Our preferred partner to a succulent piece of daikon is a classic nerimiso sauce; intensely flavoured on its own, too savoury and far too salty, but after you bite into the tender radish, it releases its juices and they combine together with the yuzu perfumed paste to create the perfect seasoning.
After a bout of illness or a long trip abroad, simmered daikon is often the first comfort food that Japanese people crave; the enveloping, warming aroma eliciting carefree childhood memories and the soothing, nostalgic taste of mothers’ homely cooking. Whilst its close relative the turnip has fallen out of favour in British cuisine in recent years for being too old-fashioned in flavour, stewed daikon has never lost its popularity in Japan, remaining a winter favourite and an example of traditional, country style cooking at its finest.
- 600-700g daikon
- 50g Japanese rice (unwashed)
- 10cm x 10cm piece kombu
- 170g white miso paste
- 60ml dashi
- 45ml yuzu juice (you can substitute lemon juice if yuzu is hard to get hold of)
- 30ml mirin
- 15ml sake
- 10g caster sugar
- 1 egg yolk
- yuzukoshō to serve (if you can’t find yuzukoshō, then we have a recipe for our own version here)
- Chop the daikon into rounds approximately 3-4cm tall, then neatly peel the skin off the pieces and bevel the corners of the cut edges with a vegetable peeler- this makes the daikon less likely to disintegrate whilst cooking and creates a pleasing barrel shape. Place the peeled discs on a flat surface, then cut a cross around 1cm deep into the underside of each piece to speed up cooking time and allow the kombu flavour to penetrate the flesh more easily.
- Put the daikon into the bottom of a large pan- it should be big enough for them to sit in a single layer without overlapping- then cover with cold water. Take the unwashed rice and place in a dashi bag or tie it in a square of muslin and add this to the pan (cooking the radish with rice helps remove any strong bitter flavours and keeps the daikon a bright white colour); bring the pan to a boil, then turn the heat down and continue to cook at a gentle simmer.
- When the daikon has cooked for thirty minutes, remove and discard the rice and carefully drain off the starchy liquid; add the kombu to the pan and enough fresh cold water to completely cover the radish. Place over a low heat and simmer the daikon for another forty minutes- check it for tenderness at this point by piercing the flesh with a sharp knife or a skewer, continue cooking for a further ten minutes or so if needed.
- Whilst the radish is cooking, prepare the nerimiso sauce. Put the miso, mirin, sake, dashi and yuzu juice into a small pan over a low heat and mix well to combine, stirring the sauce constantly until it starts to thicken. Add the sugar and stir until it has dissolved, then turn off the heat and beat in the egg yolk to enrich the sauce and give it a glossy finish.
- To serve the daikon, divide the pieces between four serving dishes and spoon over a small amount of the cooking liquor, then top each of the discs with a generous slick of the miso sauce. To add an extra burst of fruity, chilli heat, place a small mound of yuzukoshō on top of each portion, and serve whilst still hot.
Serves 4 people as a side dish