Dating back as far as the 1600s, shichimi togarashi is a vibrant condiment that started life as a medicine mixed by herb & spice dealers in Edo- old Tokyo- before becoming popular as a seasoning for food. The combination of citrus, chilli and seaweed flavours make it a perfect accompaniment to slow cooked soups and fatty meats, or whenever you want to add a bit of freshness and heat to a dish. There are many popular blends of shichimi togarashi (the name means ‘seven flavour chilli’ by the way) available on the market, but when made fresh at home it has a much brighter flavour, and of course you have the ability to tweak the recipe to your liking.
By mixing our shichimi with salt and sugar, we’ve made a delicious seasoning for an izakaya favourite- renkon chips. With a flavour slightly sweeter than potato and a long history of being used medicinally, lotus root makes a perfect partner to the seasoning and when thinly sliced and fried as chips it makes a fantastic bar snack.
Raw fish in the form of sashimi is quite often the first thing a foreigner thinks of when you mention Japanese food, but perhaps less well known is gyuu tataki, a lightly cooked piece of beef fillet that while seared on the outside remains completely raw in the centre. We’ve paired our beef with a couple of citrussy accompaniments, firstly a home-made take on yuzukosho (we’ve used the word ‘modoki’ in the title, which means pseudo or mock) and then with a ponzu style dipping sauce made of lime juice and soy sauce.
Yuzukosho is a fantastically strong, fiery condiment used mainly with hotpot dishes and sashimi, made from fermented citrus fruit and green chilli peppers. Yuzu- the traditional fruit used in the seasoning- is unfortunately for us very hard to come by in England, so we have combined a number of different fruits to craft a flavour reminiscent of the complex aroma the original has. This zesty paste brings together sour, bitter, floral, salty and spicy flavours which all balance the beef’s natural earthiness and when used as an appetiser at the start of a meal really awakens your palate.
Miso is one of the cornerstones of Japanese cuisine, a protein rich paste of fermented soy beans used in making pickles, sauces, spreads and in its most well known guise as soup. Here in the middle of the UK it is pretty difficult to get hold of good miso, and when you find it you can end up paying luxury prices for a basic ingredient, so, having some home-brewing experience we decided to try making our own. A fungus called koji is grown on grains such as rice or barley before being introduced to cooked beans and salt. The salt kills off any bacteria present to make an environment conducive to fermenting, but since the koji enzymes can still function in a salty environment, they continue to do their job breaking down the carbohydrates and proteins creating the paste we know and love.
The process of making your own miso isn’t a short one, taking around two months to get a usable product, but we feel that following the journey from beans to miso is helpful in understanding Japanese food. Rice grains inoculated with koji can be bought online from a number of suppliers, otherwise all the ingredients are extremely easy to get and the hardest part of the procedure is the waiting and resisting using your paste before it’s ready. Incidentally, you also end up with a small amount of home-brewed tamari every now and then as it leaches out of the miso. We wouldn’t have been able to work out how to make miso without the help of the brilliant, but out of print, Book of Miso by William Shurtleff & Akiko Aoyagi; we highly recommend hunting down a copy if you want to experiment some more with fermenting your own miso.