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Posts Tagged ‘comfort food’

Oden is Japanese home cooking at it’s finest as well as being a favorite winter-time treat. While the ingredients can vary, the basis of oden is to have a slightly salty dashi broth filled with fish cakes, daikon, konnyaku, hard-boiled eggs, and potatoes. Slowly simmered and warm in the belly, this is true comfort food. In Japan, it’s served at home, in restaurants, at street vendors, and you can even get it warm from vending machines (you can get anything in a Japanese vending machine, and I do mean anything!).

To start I made a good dashi broth. I used about 1/3 cup of dried anchovies, 3 tablespoons of mirin, 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, and 1 tablespoon of kosher salt. Most oden sets come with their own little packets of soy flavoring. They are usually pretty good, but it’s just as easy to do it yourself giving you more control over the flavor.

I let the anchovies simmer in 4 cups of boiling water for about an hour. I wanted every last bit of flavor out of the fish and into the broth.

I strained the broth and discarded the anchovies. Then I mixed in the mirin, soy, and salt.

You can buy oden sets at any Japanese market and some Asian markets. We got two two-person sets that were on sale from Mitsuwa, each containing a variety of fish cakes. Some with carrot in them, some with burdock root, some grilled, most deep fried. We also had a package of chikuwa fishcakes that we used. I skinned and chopped two russet potatoes, medium boiled 4 eggs (just enough to peel the shell off, since they were going to simmer in the dashi for a while I didn’t want to overcook the yolk too much), 1 daikon skinned and chopped, a bunch of green onions chopped, and a couple packaged of shirataki konnyaku.

Once the dashi was ready I added the eggs and daikon and simmered them, covered, over a low heat for an hour. This allows both to absorb a lot of the dashi flavor.

Then I added the potatoes and konnyaku. If you boil the potatoes too long they will fall apart and melt into the broth. I only let them simmer for about 20 minutes. That’s also enough time for the konnyaku to take on some flavor. If you’re using sliced blocks of konnyaku instead of the shirataki noodles you’ll need to add them about 20 minutes earlier.

Since most of the fishcakes are deep fried before packaging they can sometimes have a little bit of grease residue. Because of that I boil and drain them seperately for a few minutes before adding them to the dashi, that gets rid of any unwanted oil. They also are fully cooked so just need to be heated up. After about 5 minutes in the dashi, along with the green onions, the oden is ready to go.

To serve it up I divied one of each for both of our bowls and then laddles some dashi on top. Oden is great with a cold beer and some white rice, I covered our rice with ground sesame seeds. I tell you though, oden is even better the next day. It is a stew, so once all of the flavors fully penetrate the ingredients you really have a special dish here. The daikon and egg for lunch today were outstanding!

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The other night I tried my hand at making a classic home-cooking dish from Japan, Nikujaga. It is a stewed meat and potato dish that is the definition of Japanese comfort food. There are about as many different ways to make it as there are Japanese mothers (and Jewish husbands who cook for their Japanese wives).

The basics of Nikujaga are thin slices of beef (can use pork for variation), potatoes, and onions that are simmered in a sweetened soy broth. Frequently there are other veggies added such as carrots and peas or green beans. It’s really very easy to make as well as being healthy and delicious. It’s the perfect meal for a winter’s eve when served with white rice.

I made it using about 2 cups of water, 1/3 cup of soy sauce, 1/3 cup of mirin, and a couple tablespoons of sugar as the broth. I threw that all into my pot with about a pound of large chopped Yukon Gold potatoes. I brought that to a boil and let the potatoes soften for about 20 minutes. It’s best to put all of that in the pot with the potatoes cold and bring to a boil together so that the potatoes absorb more of the flavor.

Once the potatoes were partially cooked I added about 2/3’s of a pound of thinly sliced beef. After that boils for a few minutes I skimmed off the foam that forms from boiling raw meat, much like I do when making chicken soup. The foam isn’t bad for you or anything, but by skimming it off you get a clear broth.

After the meat simmered for about 5 minutes or so I added a thinly sliced onion along with a sliced carrot. I simmered those for about 10 minutes. I just wanted them softened, not fully cooked, so that there was still some texture left in them.

Then I threw in a bunch of shelled edamame. Those don’t need to cook since they’re small and already cooked when you buy them. They just need to be heated through so they go in towards the end. After they’re cooked through I thought I was finished and proceeded to serve up the meal.

However, I forgot the last ingredient that I wanted to put in, shirataki. These are clearish-white “noodles” that are made from the starch of a yam-like vegetable. It’s the same substance as konnyaku, but in noodle form. They don’t need to be cooked, just heated through. They come in a package in liquid. Drain the liquid, rinse them off, cut them into smaller pieces, and throw them in to the stew for a few minutes. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a pic with the shirataki in the Nikujaga. Just imagine some opaque noodles in the stew and you’ll get the idea.

If you follow my recipe you’ll end up with about 4 servings. The only suggestion I would make, and it’s something that I’ll do the next time I make it, is to use Russets instead of Yukon Gold. Russets will stand up to the long stewing a little better as their a little more dense.

After Yuki ate the Nikujaga she gave me probably the best compliment I could have received. She said that her mother would definitely enjoy eating it. Knowing her mom and what a great home cook she is, that’s pretty high praise. I am now officially a Japanese mother! I may be the only Japanese mother in the world who is actually a Jewish husband without any children. That’s all part of my charm.

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