5 Essential Japanese Dishes to Know
Going through the basics of Japanese cuisine
What are some techniques that cooks should be familiar with to be successful with Japanese cooking?
I’d like to introduce two techniques that the Japanese use often for cooking. First, we always skim off the scum and fat when making soups and stocks. It is quite a bit of extra work but it's the key for the refined taste and it is required to keep the soup/stock liquid clear.
Secondly, we use an otoshibuta (a drop lid) for simmering food. The drop lid ensures that the heat is evenly distributed so that the ingredients cook quickly and evenly. The cooking liquid circulates toward the lid and coats the top of the ingredients without stirring. Also, the drop lid holds ingredients in place so that they don’t move around and break apart.
Can you describe the typical flavor profiles in Japanese cuisine?
Traditional Japanese cuisine is all about simplicity of the dish and using seasonal and fresh ingredients to create harmony.
Simplicity lets the food speak for itself. The Japanese believe that if the dish is prepared with quality, fresh ingredients, then there isn't the need to add many flavors. The rule of thumb is not to kill the natural flavor of the food and include seasonal ingredients, as we have four distinct seasons in Japan.
We think about "harmony" (wa) when preparing each dish and meal. The ingredients must be in harmony together to make one dish, and the dish must be in harmony with other dishes to make a meal. Color, texture, and flavor are some of the important elements when considering harmony.
Are there any shortcuts you use on a day-to-day basis?
Most of Japanese dishes require dashi stock (as you would use chicken, beef, or vegetable stock for Western meals). I either prep a large amount of dashi stock in advance (store in the refrigerator to use over several days) or I use a convenient dashi packet, which can be prepared in a short time. I consider this method better than dashi granules/powder (some brands contain MSG, but there are MSG-free versions available). (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Franzeska)
Is there anything else you think TDM readers should know?
Japanese cuisine is considered to be one of the world's healthiest cuisines due to its low-fat content and small portions. It is nutritionally well-balanced, light, and healthy, which is one of the reasons for the longevity of the Japanese population. The diet is very low in cholesterol, fat, and calories, and high in fiber. I hope more people become more interested in cooking Japanese food and live happily and healthily.
Will Budiaman is the Recipe Editor at The Daily Meal. Folllow him on Twitter @WillBudiaman.