Japanese Food Made Easy – I was told last year that for this year, our over-riding theme for food, drinks, homes and more was likely to be Japanese. Of course, this was because we were all looking forward to the 2020 Olympics this summer in Japan…but now this has been paused, like so much else that we were eagerly anticipating. Well, not the publication of a fabulous new cookbook that, in my opinion, will inspire even the most inexperienced cooks among us to try this delicious and healthy cuisine. Aya Nishimura’s book Japanese Food Made Easy, published by Murdoch books this month at £14.99 (paperback), will dispel any myths you might have had about needing stacks of special ingredients and convince you to enter a whole new world of cuisine. If you do need to purchase one or two special ingredients, you will probably find they are stocked in the larger supermarkets or Ocado. Aya is a Japanese-born chef and food stylist, who’s been working in London for a number of years now with many well-known chefs and newspapers.
Japanese Food Made Easyshowcases favourite recipes such as ramen, gyoza, teriyaki and tonkatsu, as well as Japanese dishes are generally eaten at home, such as grilled peppers with bonito flakes, kakiage fritters and homemade fried tofu. You’ll discover how to make your own teriyaki sauce, tonkatsu sauce, miso dressing and shichimi togarashi (seven chilli mix) – these homemade versions are a healthier alternative to store-bought and will bring instant flavour to the simplest dish. There are also recipes for making dashi broth, sushi or sashimi from scratch, for those who want to try making more traditional Japanese food. During lockdown, it is the perfect time to hone your culinary repertoire and start cooking. I’ve chosen a couple of recipes from the book that I trust will whet your appetite…
Although you can buy atsuage (chunky fried tofu) in some supermarkets and health-food stores, I have found that the atsuage from Asian grocery stores is of better quality.
640 g (1 lb 6 oz) firm tofu (also called momen tofu), cut into 8 large cubes 200 g (7 oz) cherry tomatoes, quartered 2.5 cm (1 inch) piece of fresh ginger, finely grated 3 cups (750 ml) sunflower oil, for deep-frying 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 2 teaspoons soy sauce 2 large pinches of sea salt
Wrap the tofu in a clean, thick, cotton tea towel and place it on a baking tray for some of the excess liquid to drain away.
Heat the sunflower oil in a deep saucepan over medium–high heat until it reaches 180°C (350°F).
While the oil is heating, prepare the sauce. Mix the tomatoes, ginger, olive oil, soy sauce and salt together in a small bowl.
Deep-fry two to three tofu cubes at a time for 3 minutes until golden brown. Turn every few minutes to get an even golden colour on each side. Using a slotted spoon, carefully lift out the tofu and drain on paper towel.
Serve the tofu hot with the tomato and ginger sauce (grated daikon radish and soy sauce also works very well).
This is a wonderful dish that can be made with very little effort if you are short on time. However, it’s important to prepare the clams properly to remove all grit and sand.
1 kg (2 lb 4 oz) clams 30 g (1 oz) fresh ginger, peeled and cut into thin matchsticks 8 spring onions, cut into 5 cm (2 inch) pieces and sliced into long thin strips 30 g (1 oz) sea salt 150 ml (5 fl oz) sake
To remove the grit from the clams, mix 4 cups (1 litre) cold water with the sea salt in a large bowl and stir until the salt has dissolved.
Place the clams in a large deep tray and pour the salted water over the clams until they are almost covered. Cover the tray with a tea towel and leave it in a dark, cool place for 1 hour (or in the fridge overnight).
Drain the clams in a colander and wash them in cold running water. Check the clams – they should be tightly closed. Discard any half-opened clams or any that don’t close when tapped.
Combine the clams, ginger, spring onion and sake in a large saucepan or wok and cover the pan with a lid. Cook the clams over medium-high heat for 5–10 minutes. Remove the lid and check the clams. If all of the clams are wide open, the dish is ready. Discard any unopened shells.
The Japanese are experts at inventing their own versions of foreign dishes. They have a slight obsession with curry, so naturally, they have created a Japanese version.
1 large onion, thinly sliced 5 garlic cloves, grated 30 g (1 oz) fresh ginger, peeled and grated 4 skinless chicken thigh fillets, cut into bite-sized pieces 2 tablespoons butter 2 small apples, peeled and grated 2 carrots, coarsely grated 1 quantity of Steamed Rice (see page 208) 2 tablespoons sunflower oil 1/4 cup (35 g) plain (all-purpose) flour 3 tablespoons mild curry powder 200 g (7 oz) tinned chopped tomatoes 1.2 litres (42 fl oz) good-quality chicken stock 2 tablespoons tomato sauce (ketchup) 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce 1½ teaspoons honey 3 tablespoons soy sauce 1 teaspoon sea salt cornichons, tiny pickled onions and a soft-boiled egg, to serve, optional
Heat the oil in a large, deep saucepan over low heat. Add the onion, garlic and ginger and cook until it turns a deep golden colour and begins to caramelise. Increase the heat to medium and stir-fry the vegetables until the onion is golden.
Reduce the heat, add the chicken and fry for 3 minutes. Add the butter and flour and stir for 2 minutes. Add the curry powder, then increase the heat and cook until aromatic. Add the chopped tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes.
Add 1 cup (250 ml) of the stock and mix well. Pour in the rest of the stock, then add the tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, honey, soy sauce, apple and carrot. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. Add the salt, to taste.
Scoop the rice into bowls and spoon the curry on top. Serve with the cornichons, pickled onions and a soft-boiled egg, if using.