Miso is a paste made with soybeans, rice and/or barley and has been part of the Japanese diet for centuries.

Miso first appeared in China about 400 years BC. The Chinese Hisio was BOWL OF MISO SOUP a paste made by fermenting soybeans, wheat, alcohol and salt. Miso was introduced to Japan in the 7th century by buddhist monks, when it became a staple of the samurai diet. Over time miso became a staple food for Japanese people. According to Japanese mythology, miso is a gift to mankind from the gods to assure health, longevity and happiness.

The natural fermentation of rice, barley or soybeans with salt, water and culture (aspergillus oryzae) transforms the ingredients amino acids, simple sugars and fatty acids. Using Miso with other foods boosts the protein content, which helps in meatless or reduced meat diets.
The enzymes in Miso keep working in the intestines where they break down or digest complex proteins, carbohydrates, and fats into simpler, more easily assimilable molecules.
Natural oils in Miso are mostly unsaturated and completely free of cholesterol and are rich in lecithin and linoleic acid which help in dispersing cholesterol and other fatty acids in the circulatory system.
The maximum health benefits are derived if Miso is not overheated, as it destroys many of the health beneficial bacteria and enzymes.

Miso that has been fermented for two years or more will keep almost forever if refrigerated. It will become darker in colour and develop a richer, deeper flavour with aging.


There are basic 3 types of Miso: Rice Miso, Barley Miso and Soybean Miso. These can each be sub-categorized into very sweet, sweet and salty. Tastes also vary by manufacturer and place of origin, so try different types.

Protein        soybeans       Reduce blood cholesterol; maintain              
                              elasticity of blood vessels;prevent 
                              cerebral apoplexy

Vitamin B2     aspergilli     Promote oxidization reduction in the body
Vitamin B12    bacteria       Help blood formation; reduce mental
Vitamin E      soybeans       Inhibit generationlipidperoxide;
Enzymes        koji,yeast,    Help digestion
               lactic acid 
Saponin        soybeans       Inhibit generation oflipid peroxide;    
                              reduce blood cholesterol; prevent
                              hardening of the arteries; prevent   
Trypsin        soybeans       Anti-cancer; prevent diabetes
Isoflavon      soybeans       Deoxidization; alleviate stiff neck and 
                              shoulders; anti-mutagenicity; prevent        
                              breast cancer
Lecithin       soybeans       Reduce blood cholesterol; prevent 
                              hardening of the arteries ; prevent 
                              senile deterioration 
Colin          soybeans       Prevent fatty liver; anti-aging
Prostaglandin  linoleic acid  Prevent high blood pressure
E              in soybeans    
Brown pigment  soybeans       Inhibit generation of lipid peroxide; 
Dietary fiber  soybeans       Reduce blood cholesterol; prevent colon 

Ingredients (for 2 servings)

-Heat 2 cups of water in a sauce pan (Do not bring to a boil)
-Add a few slices of nori into the water (eatable seaweed)
-Stir in 3 heaping tablespoons mellow white miso diluted in a small amount of water.

Place the following ingredients in a bowl:
-Spiraled sweet potato and succhini
-thin sliced carrot discs
-Sliced green onion
-Choped celery
-1/2 chopped avocado
-Snipped fresh parsley

Add all the vegetables and herbs from your bowl to the soup base, stir gently, season with herbamare*, and eat immediately.

Prep time 10 Min's.
Type and amount of vegetables can vary to taste
You can add crackers.

(*Herbamare- premixed seasoning made of Sea salt, celery, leek, watercress, onion, chives, parsley, lovage, garlic, basil, marjoram, rosemary, thyme and kelp.)


The Japanese Food Report

Onsen Tamago, or poaching eggs in their shells

My God, it has been ten months since I last posted a recipe on the JFR! Well, I launched my restaurant in September and now it's back to cooking, finally. Nice to be back.

Recently a TV reporter visited Ganso and asked a typical reporter question: How many distinct ingredients do we use to make a bowl of ramen? We scratched our heads bit and came up with an estimate: Close to 30. Amazing. As I thought about our complex ramen, I realized we could deconstruct elements from it to use in other dishes. I want to talk more about this, so let's start with onsen tamago, or "onsen" egg.

Onsen tamago is a technique for poaching an egg inside its shell. While we add onsen tamago to certain styles of ramen here at Ganso, Japanese owe this cooking method not to noodles, but to the country's bountiful natural hot springs. Hot springs or "onsen," dot volcanic Japan from tip to tip (dipping into a steaming onsen one of the great pleasures of visiting Japan), and a custom for cooking eggs at these springs evolved over the years -- toss them into the hot water, wait a bit, and the egg magically poaches. The secret is the onsen's water temperature, which causes the egg's yolk and albumen congeal into a nice sphere on the outside, and beautifully creamy and tasty on the inside. It's a great way to cook eggs if you're a stone's throw (or make that, an egg's throw) from an onsen. But supposing you're not, how do you replicate this at home?

I asked Chef Rio and here is his easy technique: Fill a large pot with water and bring it to a boil. Turn off the heat and add 4 eggs. Leave the eggs in the water for about 30 minutes. Remove the eggs, crack them open and -- viola! -- you'll have nicely poached onsen tamago. (For those of you who demand perfection, maintain the water temperature at exactly 145 degrees F (or 65 degrees C), which will yield an impeccably spherical poached egg.) So now you have a beautiful onsen tamago, what do you do with it?

Here are a few ideas: Eat with grated daikon and shoyu (Japanese soy sauce); make a indentation in a mound of steaming rice, lay an onsen tamago in it, drip in a few drops of shoyu, mix up and eat; place on top of a frisee salad; float with soba or udon in a hot broth; mix with natto (fermented soybeans) and shoyu; mix with yama imo (grated mountain yam) and shoyu; or rest atop a beautifully grilled ribeye and eat together -- the egg serving as a rich, creamy "sauce" for the steak.


Announcing My New Restaurant -- GANSO!

Tis clip from today's NY Times -- my new restaurant GANSO will be opening this summer in Downtown Brooklyn! (map) I'm teaming up with my pal Chef Rio Irie, who's an amazing cook. Wait until you try his food.

In fact, the genesis for this project was a staff meal several years ago at Matsuri restaurant, where Rio served us his special ramen. His noodles were so incredibly good I made an instant note-to-self: Open a restaurant with this guy!

Fast-forward five years, and here we is...

I'll post more about Ganso as we get closer to launching. We'll be open for lunch and dinner, and besides ramen we'll serve all manner of comfort food, from Japanese-style fried chicken to mind-blowing gyoza to tons of veggie dishes. Visit www.gansonyc.com and sign up for our newsletter for updates.

This has been an incredibly exciting time for me, but so busy I have to take a short hiatus from blogging. As soon as Ganso is live, I'll be back with new posts! Stay tuned.

Japanese Soul Food! Need Recipe Testers for Our New Cookbook

Dear JFR readers: Thank you for your overwhelming response to this post! We now have our testing team in place, and have stopped accepting testers for the time being. I may put out the call for more testers in a month, please stay tuned. Thank you again -- Harris (Feb. 28th)

Calling all friends of the Japanese Food Report: We need your help! My coauthor Tadashi Ono and I are now in the thick of writing our biggest, baddest, most exciting new cookbook yet -- and we're organizing a team of volunteer recipe testers. Want to test recipes for us?

The book, tentatively titled "Japanese Soul," is a celebration of our all-time favorite, down-home Japanese comfort foods, to be published by Ten Speed Press. We're talking gyoza, Japanese curry, donburi, tempura, and tonkatsu. There's also ramen, soba and udon. Plus korokke (croquette), kaki-furai and Japanese-style fried chicken. And the list goes on...

What does recipe testing mean? As a recipe tester, you'll help us evaluate our dishes in your home kitchen. We'll send you a set of recipes along with a response form. You'll cook the dishes, and tell us what you think. Do the instructions work for you? Did the dish turn out delicious? (But, of course.) Anything confusing or unclear?

No prior recipe testing experience is required. We're looking for enthusiastic home cooks who hunger (so to speak) to learn more about Japanese cuisine. That, and a good skillet, and you're set! We ask that you commit to cooking and evaluating at least four dishes by the end of March.

Thanks! Harris & Tadashi

Chicken sautéed with garlic chives

Here's one from my wife's playbook. Simple, so delicious and versatile. I cooked it in ten minutes last night with dark meat chicken, garlic chives (nira) and slivers of carrot. Here's what you do: cut about a pound of bones dark meat (or white if you like) into bite-size chunks. Trim, clean and cut a bunch of garlic chives. Shave cut or thinly slice a small carrot. Now mix together 1 tablespoon each of soy sauce, sake and oyster sauce, plus 1 teaspoon of tobanjan (spicy fermented bean paste), in a small bowl. In another small bowl mix together 1 teaspoon each of katakuriko (potato starch) and water. Now you're ready to cook. Preheat a skillet (I like cast iron) over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of roasted sesame oil. When the oil is hot add the chicken and sauté, stirring, for a couple of minutes until it turns color. Add the carrot, sauté some more. Add the garlic chives. When they've turned bright green, add the flavoring mixture. Sauté another 30 seconds or so, and add the starch mixture. Mix everything together well and turn off the heat. Did anyone say din-din? Serve with steaming white rice.

You can also substitute thin-sliced pork or beef instead of chicken, and garlic shoots or scallions instead of chives. And, you can add more tobanjan if you like spice, or some black bean sauce for another flavor layer. Enjoy. We sure did.

Mizutaki Chicken Hot Pot

I'm on a hot pot roll these days -- but tragedy has struck! Notice the blue handles beneath my hot pot in the photo above? As I was transferring my beloved earthenware hot pot, it mysteriously sprang a leak. I quickly nestled it in a Le Creuset and soldiered on. But I'm going to try to re-season the hot pot by cooking rice porridge in it; hopefully that'll plug up the mystery hole.

Hot pot contretemps notwithstanding, the Mizutaki was outstanding. I've talked about this hot pot before (click here), one of my favorites. Mizutaki is about as simple as it gets: Pile a bunch of ingredients into a hot pot. Pour in water. Turn on the heat and cook. In our hot pot cookbook, Tadashi and I outlined specific quantities. But I want you to start thinking about hot pots as a more free-form endeavor: Don't worry about how much of this, how much of that. Just cook with what you've got, with a few basics in mind. The fundamentals of this hot pot are: Place a piece of umami-nourishing kombu on the bottom. Pile bite-sized pieces of cabbage or Napa cabbage over the kombu (I actually used both, since I had a small chunk of left-over cabbage in the fridge.) On top of the cabbage, which acts the "foundation," arrange piles of hot pot ingredients in neat bunches. On this particular eve, I added chicken, tofu, sliced negi, shiitake, maitake, carrots and harusame noodles (starch noodles that absorb flavor). I also secreted (a choice bit of cop talk, as in "secret-ed") a few chicken bones under the cabbage to pack the broth with more oomph. I poured in water, covered the hot pot, turned heat to high, and cooked. How long? You can tell when chicken looks done. At the last minute I added a pile of spinach, which cooked in seconds.

So that was that, leak or no leak. To eat, we poured some ponzu in a bowl and mixed in a dab of yuzu kosho (the one Abe-san made, which I had frozen). We fished morsels out of the hot pot with our chopsticks, dipped them into the ponzu/yuzu kosho, and went to town. Amazing flavors. And best of all, the ingredients did all the work: the kombu and chicken mingling umami flavors, the veggies adding their own notes, and the condiments layering in even more goodness. Just lovely.

On Cooking Sukiyaki

There are two styles of sukiyaki that I know about, but I forget which one is Tokyo-style, and which is Osaka-style. Wait, let me back up. Sukiyaki, of course, is a classic shaved beef hot pot traditionally cooked in a special cast-iron pot. We love getting down with sukiyaki on a frigid winter night here at Brooklyn mission control. Especially when paired with a glass of great sake.

At home I use a cast-iron skillet instead of the pot -- one of the few pieces of traditional cookware I haven't found the gumption to schlep back home from Japan. The ingredients I use are straightforward: sukiyaki beef (beef sliced about 1/8 inch thick, find in Asian markets), tofu, shaved burdock root (whittle like a pencil), sliced onions, shiitake mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, sliced carrots, and itokonyaku (konyaku noodles). The trick is the seasoning sauce, called warishita. I've seen some fancy recipes for this, but stick with the tried-and-true basic warishita, which is 1 part sake, 1 part soy sauce, 1 part mirin, and a sprinkling of sugar. It delivers the mail, trust me.

Okay, let's return to sentence number one of this post, the question of styles. With one of them, you're supposed to grease the pan with a chunk of meat fat, then sauté the beef for a minute or two, before adding the rest of the ingredients to the skillet in separate, neat clumps, after which you pour in the warishita, and cook. (Wait with the spinach, though, to almost the end.) With the other style, which is the one I followed, you grease the skillet, add all the ingredients at the same time in neat clumps, pour in the warishita, and cook. (Ditto about the spinach). Which method to follow? As always, up to you. If you brown the beef first, you'll get more caramel-y flavors, but on the other hand, option number two is quicker. I opted for speed. (It still tasted amazing.)

Final note, on how to eat. First, beat a raw egg in a small bowl. Next, dip ingredients you pluck out of the pot into the raw egg. Then, chow down. Why? The egg adds richness and its own silky texture. If you have access to really fresh eggs, do this (fortunately I live near a local farmers market). And don't forget a steaming bowl of white rice on the side. So that's it: Now it's your turn to cook sukiyaki for family, lovers, friends! Enjoy...

Udon-Chicken-Clam Hot Pot

So I was talking to a Japanese chef friend named Rio Irie about clams, and he brought up something interesting. (Rio, who used to cook with my coauthor Tadashi Ono, is an amazing chef; his knowledge is deep, deep deep...). Cooking clams together with chicken in a liquid, Rio told me, creates a broth with a remarkable mouthwatering flavor synergy. When the umami compounds found in different foods mingle, he explained, the flavor burst is greater than the sum of the parts. Naturally, I wanted to try this. So how to prepare? Rio suggested udon hot pot -- great idea!

Rio suggested two options for the broth: Kansai style (Osaka and environs), using dashi, usukuchi soy sauce and mirin in a ratio of 12:1:1, or Kanto style (Tokyo and environs), using dashi, koikuchi soy sauce and mirin in a ration of 8:1:1. I decided to go with Kasai style 'cause udon's a Kansai noodle.

First I prepared a broth using 12 parts dashi, 1 part usukuchi soy sauce (a lighter-colored, saltier Kansai soy sauce) and 1 part mirin. I then cooked a couple of bricks of fresh-frozen udon, which are available at Japanese markets. (Follow package instructions.) After cooking, I drained, cooled in cold running water to stop the cooking, and set the noodles aside. Now I began assembling ingredients for the hot pot. Which ingredients? Whichever you want! That's the great thing about hot pots. I pulled out clams, chicken legs (boned), carrots, negi, oyster mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, "broiled" tofu and spinach. (Can you tell I went to the Japanese market the day before?). I cut all the ingredients that needed cutting into bite-sized pieces, and neatly arranged everything except the spinach and udon in a hot pot. I poured in the broth, covered, and started cooking. When the clams opened, I added the noodles and spinach, cooked for 2 minutes or so more, and presto! Hot pot was ready. I served it up and sprinkled schichimi togarashi (seven spice powder) to accent. Delicious. And yes, that broth was stratospherically out of this world...

Make the dashi, use whatever ingredients you have, and cook this hot pot. Just don't forget the chicken and clams. Thanks, Rio!!

Remembering Karatsu Potter Jinenbo Nakagawa, 1953-2011

The first time I traveled to Japan it wasn't for the food, but for the pottery. Back when I was a TV news producer in Washington in the early nineties, I caught a number of phenomenal Japanese pottery shows at the Smithsonian's Sackler-Freer Galleries that simply blew me away. I loved the glazes, the natural forms, the tactile-ness of the vessels being displayed. Those clay pots spoke to me somehow, and I resolved to learn more about this artisan-slash-art form. A meandering path led to books, more shows, and ultimately, pottery villages and galleries in Japan. At one Tokyo gallery, I met a Karatsu potter named Kajiwara-san. Through a bilingual clerk I asked the potter if I could visit his workshop in Karatsu. I think he was a little shocked at the request, but graciously agreed, and we made a plan to meet at the Karatsu train station, six hours southwest of Tokyo. When I arrived at the tiny depot, he drove me out of town into the countryside.

We pulled up to workshop across the road from a series of neat, rectangular rice fields. The place was humming. Young men with towels tied on their heads like bandanas hauled long wooden planks lined with raw clay pots. Others brushed pots and plates with thick black glaze. A long, earthen wood-fired kiln stood beside the compound's one-story buildings, waiting. A rugged-looking man with a goatee stepped out the workshop and introduced himself: Jinenbo Nakagawa.

I stayed a number of days that first time in Karatsu, located in Saga Prefecture on the southern island of Kyushu. Jinenbo arranged for me to bunk at a local truck stop inn (where the keeper, an ancient woman who also raised beef cattle, challenged me to nightly beer drinking contests after feeding mountains of grilled meat), and through one of his apprentices, Katsu Kikuchi, now a great potter in his own right, who spoke a little English and a lot of Spanish (I speak some Spanish) we got to talking. Jinenbo told me how he dug clay from the nearby hillsides, how he burned rice stalks to make his rice-ash-glazes, and how he used hand-made tools to apply those glazes in rough, sweeping, breathtaking, strokes. He explained the origins of Karatsu pottery in Korea, and his devotion to "ko-karatsu"-- old Karatsu - pottery. He showed me his work, tea vessels and everyday functional ware, rugged and natural like the artist himself. ("Jinenbo" means "nature boy" in Japanese.) His work took my breath away.

Over the years I strived to visit Jinenbo every time I traveled to Japan. I watched him at work, wrote about him for Gourmet, shared laughs (the guy had a sense of humor), spent time with him and his family, and brought his pottery home with me to New York. I use Jinenbo's wares at home almost every day and have taken most of my food shots on this blog with his vessels; to me, his clay forms are living things imbued with his indomitable spirit. Over the years I got to know Jinenbo Nakagawa. And over the years I have had the distinct honor to call Jinenbo my friend.

It is with great sadness that I must report the passing of Jinenbo Nakagawa, a life force and one of Japan's preeminent potters.

Here are some photos of Jinenbo and his work:

Chef Abe's Fresh Yuzu Kosho

Yuzu kosho is one of my absolute favorite Japanese ingredients. A salt-cured condiment made with yuzu citrus peel and chilies, it's at once intensely fragrant, hot and alive, a zesty accent that plants a big, fat palate-popping kiss to any dish. Yuzu kosho hails from the southern Japanese main island of Kyushu, an area that has traded with Korea and Southeast Asia for centuries, a connection that naturally produced some interesting cross-cultural influences. One of these is shochu. Another is yuzu kosho.

A few weeks ago, when I received an amazing box of fresh yuzu citrus that were grown here in New York, I thought, okay, now's my chance -- for the first time I'm going to try to make my own yuzu kosho. I did some research online and started experimenting, but nothing I did seemed right. Then I thought: Gotta call Chef Abe! The executive chef of EN Japanese Brasserie, Abe-san is a native of Fukuoka, the largest city in Kyushu, one of my favorite places in Japan. "When I was growing up in Fukuoka," Abe-san told me, "yuzu kosho was like ketchup is here in America --you can always find it on the dining table." How did his family use it? With grilled chicken and fish, hot pots, sashimi, buta jiru, you name it, he said. "In fact," added Abe-san, "my father spiked everything he ate with yuzu kosho."

In Japan, they make yuzu kosho with a chili that resembles Bird's Eye chili, which is common in Southeast Asia (I'm sure that's no accident). I had the New York State yuzu but couldn't find fresh Japanese chilies anywhere. What to do? Use jalapeños, Abe-san advised, a lovely bag of which I picked up at my farmers market in Brooklyn. (So not only is my yuzu kosho going to be for-real, it's also going to be locally sourced -- farm-to-table, baby! :)) Armed with jalapeños and yuzu peel, I headed to the EN kitchen to meet Abe-san before service, and learn how to make yuzu kosho. Here's his method, with photos:

Fresh yuzu

In the quite likely event you cannot find fresh yuzu (at least in America), you can substitute it with other fragrant citrus. I think Mayer lemons would make amazing "Mayer-kosho." Abe-san also suggested limes, or a combination of lemons and limes. (Maybe throw in some grapefruit too?) The first step is to remove the seeds from the jalapeños and chop the peppers very fine. Make sure you use protective gloves or you'll burn the crap out of your hands! For the yuzu (or other citrus), Abe-san suggests grating the fruit with an oroshigane or microplane to produce zest. Another approach is to thinly peel the skin and chop it finer than the chilies. (I did it this way because I had to save and freeze the then-fresh yuzu peel a few weeks ago when I started this grand experiment.)

Abe-san said that the classic proportions for yuzu kosho are, by weight, 80% chopped chilies and 20% grated yuzu peel, and 10% of that total mixture in salt. But for the yuzu kosho with jalapeños, Abe-san adjusted the proportions to balance the pepper's fiery heat, and made his batch with 60% chopped jalapeños and 40% grated (or super-finely chopped) yuzu peel. He then added 10% of the total weight of the mixture in salt, arajio to be specific -- a fantastic, minerally Japanese sea salt that's still damp with brine. Once Abe-san got his desired proportions, he mixed the ingredients by gloved hand until they were well combines, and then put the yuzu kosho in jars. The yuzu kosho needs to cure for 1 week in the refrigerator before it's ready. Yuzu kosho will keep in the fridge for 1 month, or you can store batches in the freezer for up to 1 year. (Freeze the yuzu kosho after the week of curing in the fridge.)

I have to say, the taste of Abe-san's fresh yuzu kosho blows the doors off anything store-bought I've ever tried. By the way, while he was working, Abe-san wondered aloud what the yuzu kosho would be like if he made it with super-hot, fragrant habanero chilies. Great idea, next time... Thanks for the lesson, Abe-san!

12/10 UPDATE: I received some great comments about this post (thank you all!), so wanted to update: Nancy, you make an excellent point. As a final step you can certainly grind the yuzu kosho in a suribachi (Japanese mortar and pestle) or pass it through a food processor, if you prefer more of a paste-like consistency. Also, don't hesitate to adjust the proportions if you prefer your yuzu kosho more or less spicy, citrusy or salty. It's all good!

Regarding uses, I use yuzu kosho as my go-to condiment with simple salt-grilled chicken or fish, and also like to add a dab to soup (chicken soup), or combine with ponzu for a zesty hot pot dipping sauce. Abe-san told me he likes to add it to soy sauce as a dipping sauce with sashimi. Mess around with yuzu kosho and try it with different foods/dishes.

Brian, super cool to hear you're growing yuzu in the great state of Wisconsin! Yes, in Japan you can buy green or red yuzu kosho (I've also seen one in between, too, kinda orangey.) The green variety uses green yuzu peel and green chilies and is the most common, while the red one is made with ripe (yellow) yuzu peel and red chilies and is more rounded, and not as sharp. Both are excellent.

Here are some photos:

Yudofu Tofu Hot Pot & Ponzu Two Ways

This post was originally going to include three ponzu variations, but after I squeezed the juice from a couple dozen yuzu and an unbelievable citrusy perfume overpowered the apartment, my wife asked me to save some juice for shochu cocktails! Wait -- let me back up: A few months ago I met a very nice woman at a Japan Society event and somehow we got to talking about yuzu, a variety of Japanese citrus. Originally from Japan, she told me she grows yuzu in her country house in upstate New York (in portable planters she moves inside in the winter), and graciously offered to send me some. A couple of weeks ago -- lo and behold -- a box-full of yuzu arrived!

Now that I had my hands on yuzu, what do to with them? I peeled the rind to make yuzu-kosho, which I'm still experimenting with (more on that to come). And I squeezed the juice for ponzu (and now, cocktails). Ponzu is versatile, citrus-based dipping sauce. There are tons of varieties of ponzu, with or without vinegar. We made two: A simple, simple ponzu from 1 part yuzu juice to 1 part soy sauce, which was fantastic because the yuzu was so fresh, and another more elaborate recipe, the signature yuzu of my researcher Tomoko's mom, which I share below. (Thanks Tomoko & Tomoko's mom!) Both are great, variations on a theme. Besides yuzu, by the way, you can use any kind of citrus for ponzu, or a mixture of citrus, like a combination of lemon, lime and grapefruit.

Now, what to eat with the ponzu? Yudofu is a natural, and so incredibly easy. Yudofu is tofu hot pot, a standard in the winter. Place a 6-inch or so piece of kombu on the bottom of a hot pot (or any vessel you use), add silken tofu, napa cabbage, Japanese negi or green onions, and mushrooms (we used maitake from our farmers market, but shiitake or oysters or a combo of them are great, too). Fill the hot pot 3/4 of the way with water. Cover and bring to a boil, and simmer for about 10 minutes and it's ready. Bring the hot pot to the dining table and go do town, dipping cooked ingredients into ponzu to eat. Simple, clean, delicious and so satisfying. Tomoko's ponzu follows after the jump. Do you have a favorite ponzu recipe? Please share in the comments!

4 yuzu (or combination of citrus)
1 cup juice from the yuzu
Finely chopped rind from the yuzu
1 1/2 cups soy sauce
2 tablespoon mirin
2 teaspoons shichmi togarashi (seven spice powder)
Small yellow onion (about 1/4 pound) finely chopped

Combine all the ingredients in a jar and allow the flavors to mingle overnight or for at least 12 hours. Strain and use as dipping sauce. Can keep in the fridge in a closed jar for a couple of weeks.

Hijiki Mixed Rice

Ah, Japanese mixed rice. There are so many variations, and they're all so tasty and easy to prepare. So why isn't this dish a standard in every American home? It should be. I've talked about Japanese mixed rice before (here, here and here), but just came across a number of great variations on the fantastic Shiro Gohan website, so let me share another one -- this time with hijiki, abura age (deep fried tofu) and carrots. Hijiki is a jet-black seaweed that grows in thin strands. Besides being delicious, it's full of iron and minerals, and, according to Japanese folk medicine, is supposed to promote thick, healthy hair. (I love hijiki but still remain rather hair challenged -- I wonder why the hijiki gods didn't bless my mane (or what little is left of it)? :) ) At my local Japanese market here in New York, I found this super cool, extra-long hijiki, which I used in the recipe; I think it makes the dish look more interesting. Here's my adapted recipe, great any time of the year (and great for amazing rice balls, too):

Serves 4

(Note to my fellow citizens: The recipe's in metric but all measuring cups have metric volumes, plus your digital home kitchen scale (which I keep urging you to buy) has metric, too, so no problem!)

2 cups rice
15 g dried hijiki
1 piece of abura age (thin sliced, deep fried tofu pouches, pronounced "ah-bura ageh")
1/2 carrot
400 ml dashi (you can use all-natural dashi packs or dashi powder, which you can find in Japanese markets)
40 ml mirin
40 ml usukuchi soy sauce (light-colored soy sauce)

Wash the rice and set aside (see this or this post for more details). Soak the hijiki in a bowl of water for at least 30 minutes, drain and set aside. Pour boiling water over both sides of the abura age to remove any excess oil. Cut the abura age open (it's like a hollow pocket), then thinly slice. Slice the carrot into thin matchsticks about the same size as the abura age. Set both aside. Combine the dashi, mirin and usukuchi soy sauce and set aside. (The ratio here is 10:1:1. Use this combination for any kind of mixed rice.)

Add the washed rice to your rice cooker. Pour in the liquid. Pile the hijiki, abura age and carrot on top of the rice. Very important: Do not mix at this point. The rice will not cook properly if it's mixed with other ingredients; the rice needs to be with other rice so steam can circulate evenly between the grains. Turn the cooker on. When the rice is ready, now use a shamoji to mix the rice with the other ingredients. Use a slicing motion to turn the rice and ingredients together, making sure not to mush the rice. (I have to do a video of this at some point to demonstrate -- Jason K. if you're reading this, you gotta come over and help me shoot this video!) Serve immediately.

Gobo Kinpira: Sweet-Savory Sauteed Burdock Root

I love grabbing a drink in Japan, because it's never just about the booze -- there's always some kind of food involved. At its most elemental, that grub is tsumami, savory finger-snacks to whet the palate, to make you wanna knock one (or more) back. Some of the best tsumami I've tasted are crunchy deep-fried eel bones, karasumi (pickled mullet roe), shiokara (fermented squid or fish guts) and all manner of kinpira, a technique for sautéing root veggies in a sweet-savory reduction. A bite of tsumami and a sip of beer, sake or shochu -- that, my friends, is satisfaction guaranteed. The recipe that follows is for kinpira made with one of my favorite root veggies, earthy, elemental gobo (burdock root). But you can also use this technique with carrots, lotus root (peel and thinly slice), or a combination of roots (you can even make it with hijiki seaweed.) Here I shave-cut the gobo (sasagaki) but you can also cut it like matchsticks and sauté. Keep in mind, too, that kinpira is not just a bar snack; it's an easy side dish that you can also eat the next day cold (like I did for lunch in my office today!). Here's the recipe... enjoy:

1 gobo (burdock)
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon sake
2 teaspoons sesame oil
Sesame seeds, optional
Shichimi togarashi (seven spice mixture), optional

Clean the gobo by scrubbing the surface lightly under cold running water. I use a kitchen scouring pad. The key here is lightly. (I've seen recipes that instruct to scrape gobo with the back of a knife. Don't do that. The flavor is in the surface. In fact, a Kyoto chef friend told me he doesn't believe in scrubbing at all, he just rinses the gobo off -- but in America, at least, I think you need to do a light scrubbing.) Once the gobo has been cleans, cut it sasagaki-style: Score the root lengthwise several times, then with a sharp knife, whittle the end like your sharpening a pencil (does anyone still remember how to sharpen a pencil?!?) to produce shavings. (I have to do a video of this, I promise.) Place the shavings in a bowl of cold water and set aside.

Combine the seasonings to create the chomirio -- seasoning mixture. Set aside.

Add the sesame oil to a skillet and place over high heat. When the oil is hot (about smoking), drain the water from the gobo, and add the gobo to the skillet. Cook and stir for about 5 minutes until the gobo is cooked through and begins to look translucent. Add the chomirio and cook for about 5 minutes more, stirring occasionally, until the liquid disappears. Serve hot or cold, garnishing with optional sesame seeds or ground sesame seeds and/or shichimi togarashi.

Ton Jiru: Classic Winter Miso Soup

Tadasuke Tomita is the force behind an incredible Japanese-language website called Shiro Gohan ("white rice"). A self-described food enthusiast and now cookbook author, he writes that he created the site "to help people recognize the deliciousness of washoku" (traditional Japanese food). Go, Tomita-san! His website has dozens and dozens of great recipes; I can't wait to get a hold of his book the next time I travel to Japan. I've been perusing Tomita-san's recipes lately with the help of a researcher. His recipes rock, and what I really like is that he gets into the "how and why" of the cuisine, helping us understand the thinking behind the cooking. I've now started to cook through some of his dishes. Here's an adaptation of his version of Ton Jiru, a hearty miso soup with pork and root vegetables, a Japanese cooking winter classic. I shared a Ton Jiru recipe from Chef Abe before, but this one is another variation. Both are great, take your pick! I'm listing the ingredients in metric and weight measurements (as I've urged before, every home cook needs a decent digital scale, which costs about $30 bucks, best kitchen investment you'll make). I'm also adding grated ginger to the recipe, which I think gives a nice flavor layer, especially with the pork. Finally, this is really country cooking, so don't sweat the quantities, you can add more or less of anything. Here's the recipe for 4 servings, let me know how it turns out:

1 teaspoon vegetable oil
150g thinly sliced fresh pork belly, cut into bite-size pieces (find this at Asian markets)
80g daikon, cut into thin slices, then quarter the slices
1 medium carrot, cut into half moons
150 grams Japanese taro (sato imo), peeled and cut into quarters lengthwise
1/2 gobo root (burdock), scrubbed clean and cut sasagaki style (scroll down this website to see how)
3 cups dashi (700ml)
1 negi, cut into diagonal slices (if you can't get negi, substitute with 3 or 4 scallions)
4 tablespoons miso (I like Sendai or another red (aka) miso)

Add the vegetable oil to a saucepan and place over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the pork. Stir and cook for about 2 minutes, until the pork cooks through. Add the daikon carrot, taro and gobo, and continue to stir and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes, until the vegetables start to cook. Add the dashi. When the dashi begins boiling, remove any scum that appears on the surface. Add the negi and half of the miso (2 tablespoons). Reduce the heat to low and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the vegetables are cooked through. Turn off the heat, and use a strainer to dissolve the remaining miso (read this primer on miso soup for more details). Garnish with chopped scallions if you'd like, and serve.

A couple of notes: Miso is typically added at the final step of cooking miso soup, but here Tomita-san adds it in two parts, the first time to allow the miso flavor to penetrate the vegetables as they cook, and the second time, to flavor the soup as is typically done. Make sure you taste the soup when you add miso at the end. You may need to add more, depending on your preference, and the quantity of ingredients. Also, this is a soup not a stew, so you may need to add a little more liquid, if it seems a little stew-y. Adding a little dashi or even water will do the trick. I had to do this because I used more vegetables than called for in the recipe.

Steaming Large Clams with Dashi & Sake

I found these big, hunky clams at the farmers market this weekend, each at least 2 inches across. But how to prepare them? My wife Momo found a bunch of recipes online, but we decided to go as simple as possible -- steam them with sake. I talked about sake-steaming clams in one of my earliest blog posts (written over four years ago already, wow!) but the method we found online was different. Instead of combining the clams and sake in a saucepan and turning on the heat, as I did in the earlier recipe, this method instructed us to start by heating the clams in a dry pan, then add liquid once the clams opened. So here's what we did: I soaked a dozen clams in salt water overnight to get them to expel sand and dirt (keeping them in the fridge). Then Nobuko, my M-I-L, prepared 2 cups of kombu dashi, adding a pinch of salt to the liquid, and setting aside. She arranged the clams in a dry cast iron skillet, covered the skillet and placed it over high heat. After about 7 or so minutes, the clams opened up. Nobuko uncovered the skillet and added the dashi. When the dashi started to boil, she poured in about 1/2 cup sake. When the liquid boiled again, she swirled in soy sauce, I'm guessing about a tablespoon. That was it, the clams were ready: Nobuko plated the clams with the broth in individual bowls. (While Nobuko was working the stove, I chopped scallions for garnish, which I sprinkled atop the clams.) The clams were incredibly tender and so, so delicious, as was the broth. But I wondered, what was the point of starting the clams on the dry skillet, rather than in dahi and sake? Nobuko wasn't sure, but thought it was more appropriate for larger clams. I'm not sure either. Anyone out there know the answer, or have an opinion? If so, please post them in the comments! Thanks...

The Dynamic Duo: Butter and Soy Sauce

A few years ago I interviewed the chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten for a story and he mentioned something to me as an aside, that one of his favorite flavor combinations was butter and soy sauce. That stuck with me -- because there's something so incredibly beguiling about this bi-cultural marriage of velvety, rich butter and intense, savory soy sauce. It's a one-two punch that works fantastically with so many ingredients: all manner of mushrooms, asparagus, broccoli, zucchini, shrimp, scallops, flounder fillets and more. First sauté the ingredient in butter, and when it's just cooked through, drizzle in soy sauce. Cook a little more and it's done. This is exactly how the oyster mushrooms in the photo above were prepared, using about 1/2 pound of mushrooms, 1 tablespoon butter and 1 or so teaspoons of soy sauce (adjust to your own taste). Prepared this way, they impart this unbelievable mushroom-butter-soy sauce flavor and fragrance, ah, so wonderful...

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