Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Japanese Cuisine

Japanese cuisine is known for its emphasis on light clean flavors, seasonality of food, quality of ingredients and presentation. Like Korean cuisine, the evolution of Japanese cuisine was also influenced by Chinese cuisine and the introduction of Buddhism. Surrounded by water, Japanese cuisine also uses an abundance of fish and seafood.

Before the introduction of Buddhism, meat eating in was rather common in Japan. Since the introduction of the religion, meat eating has become quite rare. However, strictly vegetarian food is uncommon because most vegetable dishes are still flavored with dashi stock, which is made of seafood (typically dried skipjack tuna flakes called katsuobushi). Vegetable consumption has also dwindled with the rise in popularity of processed foods and the general increase in the costs of groceries.

Japanese cuisine also offers a vast array of regional specialties, many of them originating from dishes prepared using traditional recipes with local ingredients. 2 main regional cuisines include Kanto region and Kansai region. Kanto region foods are stronger in taste. For instance, the dashi-based broth for serving udon noodles is uses the heavier dark soy sauce. Kansai cuisine on the other hand is lightly seasoned with clear udon noodles made with light soy sauce.

Rice and noodles are the two common staple starches in Japanese cuisine. They are usually served with side dishes that can be made up of ingredients such as fish, meat, vegetables and tofu. Dishes are typically flavored with dashi, miso and soy sauce that are low in fat and somewhat high in salt.

A typical meal in Japan consists of a starch accompanies by 3 sides and a soup (ichiju-sansai). Different cooking techniques are applied to each of the three side dishes. These side dishes can be sashimi (raw), grilled, simmered, boiled, steamed, deep fried or dressed.

Common Japanese Sauces and Flavors

Mirin is a clear sweet Japanese cooking wine that is used to add a mild sweetness and nice aroma to many Japanese dishes especially fish and seafood. It typically contains about 14% of alcohol and is made from glutinous rice (mocha-gome), cultured rice (kome-koji) and a distilled alcoholic beverage (shochu), that are mixed together and fermented for about 2 months. Mirin made this way is known as hon-mirin, which is different from mirin-fu chomiryo made from ingredients to resemble the flavor of mirin. Mirin-fu chomiryo contains less than 1% of alcohol and are usually cheaper than hon-mirin. Well known brands of hon-mirin include Takara and Mitsukan.

Yuzu is a Japanese citrus fruit that is quite tart with overtones of mandarin oranges, resembling that of the grapefruit. It looks like a tangerine with an uneven skin and can be either yellow or green depending on the degree of ripeness.

Although a fruit, it is rarely eaten as such. Instead, the rind is commonly used to flavor various dishes such as vegetables, fish or noodles. The juice is used commonly as a seasoning, somewhat like the way lemon is used in other cuisines. It is an integral ingredient in ponzu and yuzu vinegar. Yuzu can also be used to make various sweet treats such as marmalade and cake. It is also used to make a spicy Japanese sauce called Yuzu Kosho. Silvered rind is also used to garnish the Chawanmushi (a savory egg custard/pudding dish) and miso soup.

Ponzu basically refers to a mixture of citrus juices with soy sauce and other flavoring ingredients such as rice vinegar and dashi.

Miso is a soy bean paste that is an essential condiment in Japanese cuisine. It is made from fermenting soy beans with salt and cultured grains such as rice and barley.

There are many kinds of miso, ranging from darker colored ones to lighter colored ones. The taste can also vary from sweet to salty. The most commonly available miso are white (light yellow) miso and aka (red) miso. The white varieties are light yellow in color and have a sweet taste. The red varieties are darker brown and are more savory. Awase miso are mixtures of different types of miso.

Dashi refers to Japanese stock and is used as a base for many Japanese dishes such as soup, dipping sauce and simmered dishes. There are different variations of dashi. Dashi can be made from kelp, dried bonito flakes, dried small sardines, dried shiitake mushrooms and more. Dashi made from kelp and shiitake mushrooms are considered vegetarian stocks.

• Kombu Dashi - for clear soup, nabe (hot pot dishes), and more.
• Katsuo Dashi - for nimono (simmered dishes), clear soup, noodle soup, and more.
• Kombu and Katsuobushi Dashi - for clear soup, nimono, noodle soup, and more.
• Niboshi Dashi Recipe - for miso soup, nimono, and more.
• Hoshi-shiitake Dashi - for nimono, and more.

Dashi is best used on the day it’s made.

Sashimi refers to raw meat usually fish, sliced into thin slices and is a delicacy in Japanese cuisine. Not all raw fish are suitable to be served as sashimi. Sashimi grade fish is harvested and prepared in a certain way. Sashimi grade fish is caught by individual handline and as soon as the fish is landed, its brain is pierced with a sharp spike and is place in ice slurry. This process minimizes the amount of lactic acid produced and will allow the fish to keep fresh for about 10 days without turning white or degrade.

Sashimi is often served as a first course in a formal Japanese meal but it can also be served as a main course with rice and miso soup in separate bowls. The sliced seafood is typically draped over a garnish of long thin strands of white radish (daikon), accompanied by a green perilla leaf per slice. Wasabi paste is sometimes mixed directly into the soy sauce as a dipping sauce.

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