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Tag Archives: Japanese cooking

New York Chef/Restaurateur David Bouley on Charlie Rose

An interesting conversation with David Bouley.

On his time learning about Japanese cooking – “We made dashi for three days”.

There are some interesting things said about the importance of nutrition and the use of artisan ingredients.

Definitely worth a view.

I presume that this will show up on Rose’s website shortly.

Culinary term of the day – miso

Miso. A simple thing, this aged, pureed soybean paste. And yet, it is quite complex in its own way.

According to the book, “How To Cook With Miso” by Aveline Tomoko Kushi (©1978, Japan Publications, INC, ISBN 0-87040-450-4), miso “contains living enzimes which aid digestion, and provides a nutritious balance of natural carbohydrates, essential oils, vitamins, minerals, and protein”.

Miso is also in integral part of Japanese culture. Not only is it seemingly ubiquitous, it also plays an important role in the harmony that the Japanese follow in food preparation and consumption. It is an important ingredient in the concept of yin and yang in food (that is a subject that is beyond the purview of this article; if you are interested, I suggest that you do some Googling). It also has impact on health, as it can be used as a healing paste, or as a tonic to counteract the effects of too much alcohol or tobacco use.

But we in the West seem to only encounter it as the broth in starter soups at sushi restaurants.

I predict that miso will become a “buzz ingredient” in the near future. We’re already seeing some forward-thinking Western chefs incorporating it in more and more dishes. We’re seeing it incorporated in salad dressings and fish broths. It’s a flavor that hs been recognized as a great carrier for “umami”, the famous “fifth flavor profile” of savoriness. When miso broth is augmented with kombu (a specific type of dried seaweed) and dashi (dried bonito flakes), umami is allowed to bloom, especially when you add mushrooms, another ingredient with massive umami characteristics. Addionally, miso has its own umami flavor components.

This is the form that we see it in the sushi restaurant starter soup, that cloudy, rich broth with a couple of slivers of shiitake mushroom and scallions. This soup usually starts with a kombu and dashi stock, and miso is added to give it body.

But miso is more than just a great addition to soup. In the sushi restaurant, we often see it as a major component of the dressing that tops the simple starter salad that accompanies many meals. Restaurants as mainstream as California Pizza Kitchen and Applebees and high-end places like The French Laundry and Nobu have incorporated miso into their menus. Many mainstream restaurants have an “Asian salad”, and it’s almost a certainty that miso is used in the dressing. It gives that slightly earthy quality that one prizes in Asian dressing. And  Nobu Matsuhisa, chef-owner of famed restaurant Nobu, has a signature black cod and miso dish that has become famous.

So, how do you encounter miso in the wild? It’s normally found in plastic wrapped bricks. It almost has the feel of fresh mozzarella; a sort of sensuous pliability. It’s both soft and firm.

What kinds of miso are there?

First of all, it doesn’t have to be fermented soybean, although that’s the most common type that we encounter. It can be made from fermented rice or barley or several other grains, and any of these grains can augment soybean miso. The two most common types of miso that we find in the US are red and white miso. However, as I’ve said, there are several versions of miso. Miso is often made in Japan according to family traditions and each family has their own way of making miso. Here are the different kinds:

Kome miso (rice miso), mugi miso (barley miso), misozuke (miso with pickled vegetables), name miso (salt and eggplant or melon), Tyougou miso, (mixed miso, or miso made from multiple sources), red miso (aged miso), and white miso (normal miso). Occasionally, you come across yellow and black miso as well.

Each miso has its own flavor characteristics. Most of the time, US chefs and cooks will choose between red and white miso. However, don’t be misled, “white” miso isn’t usually white. It’s a lighter shade of “red”. Actually both kinds of miso usually appear to be red-brown. White miso usually looks more beige than white while red miso is more brick-red. And there are variations in all colors, depending on the type of processing and aging involved. white miso is usually sweeter, while red miso has the earthier flavor and lasts longer in storage. white miso usually has a higher proportion of white rice and is better suited for dressings, while red miso has more soybean content, is aged longer and has a more robust and complex flavor perfectly suited for hearty soups and can be used in sauces and braises.

And I think that it’s in main dishes that miso will become a star performer in the future as Western chefs learn its unique properties. Here’s a good example of miso being used as a glaze for halibut:

How is miso made?

It starts with koji, a “starter” of fermented barley, rich, wheat or soybean. Koji is roughly akin to sourdough starter, or the yeast/grain/carbohydrate combo in alcoholic products. The ingredient that koji is made from determines the type of tofu because soybeans usually comprise the bulk of the miso. Koji is then combined with soaked and steamed soybeans and salt. Depending on the type of miso being made, the levels of the various types of koji are adjusted up or down. All miso is aged to a certain degree because additional fermentation is required. For white miso, fermentation is limited to a few weeks, while red miso can be aged up to 18 months.

So, what is the takeaway from all of this?

Miso is an ingredient that will become increasingly prominent in Western cooking and more and more of the general public become exposed to it in mainstream restaurants. We’re already seeing it happen. As a waiter, you should at least know what it is, what its flavor profile is, how you can use it tableside to market dishes that include it. Many of your guests have heard the name but have no clue what it is. It’s your job to gently educate them.

And I hope that more and more of you home cooks incorporate this lovely and nutritious ingredient in your own cooking.

Cookbook of the day – The New Professional Chef


The New Professional Chef

by The Culinary Institute of America


  • Publisher:Van Nostrand Reinhold; 6 Sub edition (November 7, 1995)  
  • ISBN-10: 0471286796
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471286790

    This is the basic textbook of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). It’s big and expensive. I don’t recommend buying it new, but you can sometimes find it at used bookstores for $20 – $30.

    Obviously, it has a lot of basic information about things that a chef needs to know about nutrition, safety concerns, kitchen tools, food prep and food ingredients. However, I think that some of the other books that I’ve recommended that focus on specific things like ingredients, cooking techniques for specific cuisines, etc. is money better spent.

    I’m recommending this book to those who have the occasional need to produce food for large gatherings. if you occasionally throw large dinner parties, patio barbecues for family and friends, or do the occasional catering gig, this book is invaluable because it had many many recipes for basic sauces, stocks and classic dishes that are designed for 10 or more people.

    Most restaurant chefs in quality restaurants keep this volume handy, and it’s a short-sighted professional caterer that doesn’t also use this volume often. It’s also useful for the non-pro as well, but only if you cook for large families and gatherings occasionally.

    Cookbook of the day – Splendid Soups


    Splendid Soups: Recipes and Master Techniques for Making the World’s Best Soups

    by James Peterson

    Publisher: Wiley (September 22, 2000)
    ISBN-10: 0471391360
    ISBN-13: 978-0471391364
    Once again, I don’t have the most current edition of this book. I have the 1994 edition, which clocks in at 100 less pages than this new edition. Mine has a different cover as well:



    I’m assuming that Peterson has added some modern variants of classic soups, as he has presumably done with the updated edition of his Sauces book that I reviewed yesterday. This could be considered a companion edition to Sauces, but even this earlier edition has a wider scope than Sauces, with non-Western ingredients such as bonito flakes, Udon noodles, miso, and various soups from the Far East and other places included in this edition. You’ll find soups from India, Japan, Morocco, Thailand and other far-flung corners of the globe.

    This is another of Peterson’s “reference” works. As such, you won’t find a single photograph. It’s all recipes, tips and techniques. Some recipes are for intermediate or advanced cooks, but even the beginning cook can find a lot of practical advice on soup-making that will help them move past the basic into the more advanced levels of cooking.

    If you have Peterson’s Sauces, this should sit next to it on your bookshelf.

    Cookbook of the day – The Joy of Japanese Cooking


    The Joy of Japanese cooking

    by Kuwako Takahashi

  • Publisher:Shufu No Tomo-Sha (September 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 4079751508
  • ISBN-13: 978-4079751506
  • This is one of those standard reference works that non-native Japanese cooks should own. For such a compact volume, there’s an amazing amount of information – from nice photos and line drawings of various ingredients to various cuts employed in Japanese cooking.

    The book  does have some flaws according to at least one person in Tokyo, a couple of which are a rather inaccurate English translation at times and the lack of  a Japanese name index. Also, they point out that there are sometimes inconsistencies in measurements. Both metric and non-metric measurements are given, but sometimes you only get one or the other. The last drawback that this reviewer points out is the use of the occasional “non-authentic” ingredients in certain dishes. I don’t find the measurement issue of much consequence. Most of the time, it’s something pretty trivial like using cups instead of ml for liquid measurements or teaspoons and tablespoons, but weights are usually given in both standards. Obviously, the authenticity and translation is something that I can’t judge. I realize that calling dishes “casseroles” might startle a Japanese speaker familiar with English (I have a hard time myself using the word casserole with any Japanese dish), but I suspect that it’s not that big of a deal in the long run. There are some Japanese dishes that would be hard to name in an English context. I think that you basically just to have some common sense about it. 

    Having noted these reservations, I still heartily recommend this book for anyone interested in exploring Japanese cuisine. The section on sushi is helpful and the last section is devoted to “menu planning” with some timetables for assembling a large meal.  I think the best part of this book is the detailed cutting techniques that the Japanese use to prepare their food. The line drawings and instructions are clear and concise. And the book is fairly compact and easy to use in the kitchen. Many books that try to cover a cuisine that has a lot of unusual ingredients and techniques ends up being the size of a refrigerator. Not this book. There’s a lot of value packed in a small space.

    This is the cover for the paperback:


    If you can get the hardcover, I’d recommend it. It’s got a good feel to it. I think that both editions might be out-of-print, but Amazon has lots of NOS and used copies from their associated vendors.

    Foodie Link of the day – Rouxbe


    One of the best instructional/cooking school/recipe sites on the planet.

    Lots of instructional step by step videos on everything from proper knife skills to making the perfect demiglace. Especially useful for even advanced cooks is the “drill-down” section. Here you’ll find everything from basic to advanced concepts of cooking. You can learn about the “water test” for testing the heat of a pan, removing tendons from chicken, how to make a balsamic reduction, deglazing a pan, and many more tasks and skill sets.

    When you sign up, they give you 30 days of free access to everything on the site. After the 30 days, you can join for a yearly membership fee. If you don’t join, you’ll still have access to much of their content, but you lose most of the videos. The videos are clearly organized and easy to follow, even when the dishes and techniques are complicated.

    This should be in everyone’s Favorites folder. Hands down.

    Cookbook of the day – nobu the cookbook




    by Nobuyuki Matuhisha

    Kodansha International

  • ISBN-10: 4770025335
  • ISBN-13: 978-4770025333
  • With an introduction by his business partner Robert DeNiro, this lavishly illustrated book illuminates Nobu (as he and his flagship restaurant are known) and his forward-thinking take on Japanese and Asian cuisine.  As Alain Ducasse, famed three starred chef succinctly and accurately proclaims on the inner dust cover, “Everytime I have a meal there, I’m seduced by the diversity and the qualtiy of the produce, as well as the novelty and precision of the dishes Nobu puts together. Every detail gives real pleasure!”

    The book starts with his personal journey and continues with with an informative section entitled “Ingredients, techniques, equipment and measurements”. It concludes with a section on his various sauces, a rundown on Japanese beverages and a profile of his various ventures. 

    The numerous highly detailed and enticing full page color photographs of the dishes will give a cook an appreciation for the structure and artistry that Nobu applies to his dishes and will hopefully inspire the cook to new heights of  plating and dish creation creativity. The principles of balance, contrast in both color and texture and the attention to detail can inform any style of cuisine, even the simplest and most humble type.

    And, if you’ve ever wondered how to dress and filet an eel (a hint, you’ll need a hammer and a nail), this book is for you.

    This book is beautiful enough to be a coffee table display book, but you’ll want to make sure that it isn’t a stranger to your kitchen countertop.

    There has been a bit of a backlash against Nobu since he’s expanded his empire to other continents. This is to be expected because, frankly, how do you clone someone’s personal artistic sensibility and culinary skills? Once you turn your kitchen over to another chef, you’re going to, by definition, dilute your vision. 

    But that doesn’t alter the utility of this cookbook. You’ll learn by looking as well as reading.

    Here is one of his famed constructions. Simple, with a sense of balance in both flavor, color and form. You’ll find the recipe in this cookbook.


    Black cod with miso

    There are only 6 ingredients if you count the ingredients of the Nobu-style Saikyo Miso. It’s the very model of simplicity and clarity. Actually, this photo adds a green leaf and another ingredient not included in the cookbook recipe – the two small truffle-esque items that prop up the hajikami (ginger pickled in sweet vinegar). The ginger isn’t rolled in sesame seeds in the cookbook either. But you can still appreciate the simplicity of the dish, even though two more things have been added to the mix. Note that these items are added in keeping to the original sense of balance.

    New foodie show worth checking out


    So, yesterday as I was typing my rambling tribute to my chef’s knife, unbeknownst to me, my DVR was recording a show on PBS whose title I found intriguing while breezing through the program guide – Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie. And this morning I got around to watching it. In an amazing bit of syncronicity, there were two segments on Japanese knives and the theme of the show was about an appreciation for the less-than-modern aspects of the culinary world. There was a segment on alambic pot stills in Napa, a bit on “heirloom” locally grown vegetables in Paris, a pottery maker in Italy who still collects his own clay from the mountainsides. And, lo and behold, an actual segment on the mortar and pestle, a subject of one my earliest posts!

    As it turns out, it’s not a new show. It’s in its 3rd season. I guess it’s new to this market. My local PBS station seems to be starting with the first season and the episode that I saw was The Hungry Luddite (episode 5). In looking at some of the shows, it looks like a permanent add to my “record every episode” list on my DVR.

    The show is produced by the two people who produce No Reservations and has much of the same aesthetic.

    So, better late than never, I suppose. Go see this show if it’s in your market. And if it’s not, you can watch it at Gourmet’s dedicated site for it:

    My favorite kitchen tool


    This is my Shun 10 in. chef’s knife (technically, this is Shun’s stock photo).. I use it to smash garlic, slice meats, cut veggies and just to admire. It’s a sort of “faux Damascus” knife. Damascus is the process of folding two or more different steels many times to get a layered and stronger blade.  There are 16 layers of two different strength steels, but the layers that you actually see are just etched on the blade and not the actual “ends” of the steel. I’ve got a couple of actual Damascus blades in a pocketknife and a bowie knife and they are very cool because they’re made of carbon steel and not stainless steel, and this isn’t quite the same (they have a nice color and texture difference between the layers). A “true” Damascus blade would cost lots more. But this is a lot easier to maintain, and you get some of the advantage of a Damascus and that’s the fact that it’s stronger than a single type of steel (much like pine plywood is stronger than the corresponding thickness of solid pine). Plus, the etching helps with the prevention of sticking when cutting through a thick piece of meat or cheese (much the same way that scallops, or the “hollow ground” on a blade prevent sticking). It creates tiny air pockets that help the blade glide more smoothly.

    I’ve got another 10 or so different kitchen knives like santokus, nakiris, yanagis, paring knives, cleavers, etc., but this is the one that I turn to the most. It’s well-balanced and has a nice heft. Every cook should have a nice chef’s knife, a knife that they feel comfortable with. Some people like the Global style, where the handle is actually a continuation of the blade and as such, is metal itself. Personally, I don’t happen to like the feel of the handle, but this is a personal decision that  everyone should make for themselves. The handle can’t be too thick or too thin and the knife itself should feel balanced in the hand.

    This knife is more of a European style than the typical Asian knife. It’s a little more narrow than most European knives but it generally follows their shape. More and more Westerners are adopting the santuko, which is the more traditional type of Asian knife. The santuko is flatter on the ground edge, which gives more contact with the cutting board, but it’s not quite as useful when you need to do something like mincing parsley or anything operation that requires a rocking motion.

    My various sushi knives are single-ground, whereas this chef’s knife is double-ground (unusual for Japanese knives). This also makes it similar to European knives but one also has to be aware that the angle of the edge is slightly different than the standard European knife. A typical Henckel or similar European blade has a recommended angle of between 12 and 18 degrees depending on your preference, whereas the Shun  is set for 20 degrees. I’ve got a special Shun sharpening steel that is set up to guide this particular angle when steeling.

    Due to their single-sided edges (think of one side of the edge being more “l-shaped”  rather than “v-shaped”) the sushi knives are  wickedly sharp, but also a little more fragile. You want to use them for precise cuts and you don’t want to use them on things that have a dense mass.

    We’ll talk about knives more in the future, and discuss why steeling a blade isn’t actually sharpening it, and talk about the various types of knives and their uses, so stay tuned for more geek talk about knives.

    And I’ll also be talking about other tools that any well-equipped kitchens should have in future installments.

    Foodie post of the day

    A book worth seeking out if you’re interested in Asian food is

    the complete book of Japanese cooking: the traditions, techniques, ingredients and recipes

    emi kazuko, with recipes by yasuko fukuoka

    Hermes House

    There are two ISBN numbers: 13: 978-o681-28004-5 and 10: 0-681-28004-2

    My copy is a foreign imprint (printed in China). Beautifully illustrated with great photos,  the best part of the book is the first half of the book where they touch on Japanese culture and show loads of photographs of the exotic ingredients that you are likely to have to use, as well as describing them and how you use them. They also show specialized cooking tools and utensils. The recipes show techniques that you need to produce the beautiful Japanese dishes and I highly recommend this book to anyone interested at all in cooking. I doubt that it’s in print, but I’ve seen copies on eBay as well as used copies at Amazon. I’m sure that other sources would be able to supply this handsome large format volume. I’ve seen several copies at my local used bookstore.

    PS, I used the capitalization style of the cover, so don’t bitch at me for screwing it up.