07 September 2022
Discover the seasonings and condiments of Japan
On a journey of discovery through Japanese cuisine
Japanese cuisine is characterised by quality and flavour, as well as the use of high-quality ingredients, the pure flavour of which remains intact. Japanese chef Kuniyoshi Ohtawara will introduce you to the unique seasonings and condiments of this country, because if you know what you can use all these ingredients for, you will be able to experiment to your heart’s content with them. In this way, your dishes will be given a unique flavour, thanks to the Big Green Egg and the use of these seasonings and condiments.
Sake is Japanese rice wine and is primarily known as a drink to accompany dishes. However, just like wine made from grapes, you can also use it in your (outdoor) kitchen, such as the Big Green Egg. It is used in Japanese cuisine, among other things, to make ingredients with a very intense flavour milder. Allow your mackerel or sardines, for example, to simmer gently in the sake, which will soften the strong fish flavour and remove the smell.
Soya beans, wheat, salt and water are the ingredients from which soy sauce is made. This also involves a fermentation process. There are five types of soy sauce in Japan, but it’s primarily koikuchi shoyu that we know about. You use this salty sauce in marinades, sauces and as extra seasoning to dip your sushi in. It is often used in Japanese cuisine to add a salty note. Salt and pepper aren’t used all that often, because many seasonings are already rich in flavour. However, salt is used, for example, to draw the moisture out of fish. Do you serve soy sauce with sushi? When eating nigiri sushi, make sure that you lightly dip the side with fish in the sauce, not the side with rice, as this is not done in Japan.
Sushi vinegar and rice vinegar are often confused with each other. The difference is that sushi vinegar is made from rice vinegar, to which sugar, salt and possible seasonings are added. That means it is a ready-made product. Rice vinegar is a pure product made from fermented rice and has a very mild vinegar flavour. That is what makes rice vinegar so well-suited to use in dressings. In addition, it is used in Japanese cuisine, among other things, to marinate fish. As a result of the acid, the proteins in the fish coagulate and it becomes opaque. In this way, the fish takes on a firmer structure and a delicious delicate flavour.
Miso has been used in Japanese cuisine for hundreds of years and is a delicious seasoning used in sauces and marinades, but also an important ingredient for miso soup. Thanks to the paste-like consistency, it is also called miso paste. This paste is created by allowing soya beans, rice or barley, salt and koji to ferment for anywhere from just under a week to years, after which it is compressed. The fluid that is released from this was the precursor to soy sauce. The compressed mass is miso. There are various types of miso available, the flavours of which differ greatly, from white to almost black miso. The darker the miso, the stronger and saltier the flavour. In addition to a savoury accent, white miso also has something sweet and you can even use it for sweet dishes, but also for example to marinate salmon in.
Katsuobushi, or bonito flakes, is primarily known in these parts as those wavy and wafer-thin shavings, which start moving due to heat. However, it is much more than a gorgeous garnish. These shavings of the bonito fish are a downright salty umami bomb. Bonito is also called striped tuna or skipjack, but is related to the mackerel. The fish is first boiled, then cold-smoked and after that dried, in the process of which it ferments and umami is created. When thinly shaved, it is primarily used as decoration and when thickly shaved it is an important seasoning for dashi.
You will frequently come across serrated shiso leaves in Japanese cuisine. The flavour also combines wonderfully with fish and is somewhat reminiscent of a mix of caraway seed, mint and basil. You will sometimes find whole leaves on your plate with a small dish on top or fish is sometimes rolled in a shiso leaf. You can also finely cut shiso leaves and sprinkle them over cold dishes, such as sashimi and salads. The delicious flavour is released even better when cut finely. It is much more, therefore, than just a decorative leaf.
Dashi quite simply means stock. For example, there is dashi made from, among other things, beef, chicken, soya beans and mushrooms. If the term dashi alone is mentioned, then it often concerns a stock made from bonito flakes and kombu. A delicious, salty stock full of umami. Dashi is frequently used in Japanese cuisine. It is available as a powder, but you can also make it yourself.
If you are looking for sushi ginger, you may also find it in the Asian food store under the Japanese name ‘gari’. In order to make this, thin slices of young ginger root are pickled in a mix of vinegar, sugar and a little bit of salt. Sushi ginger is served as standard with sushi and sashimi and you are meant to take a bite of it in between the different types of dishes in order to freshen the mouth and thus neutralise the flavour. It is also rolled in sushi sometimes. Thanks to the delicious, fresh flavour, finely-cut sushi ginger is also extremely tasty as a component for a dressing.
Mirin is sometimes mentioned in the same breath as sake, as this is also a Japanese rice wine, although with a high sugar percentage. It is used in many recipes as a sweetener. In addition to sugar, it also contains alcohol, but this evaporates if you boil it. When you cook an ingredient in mirin, this gives it a firmer structure due to the acid in Japanese rice wine. If you only want a sweet undertone, you can also add sugar. In addition, it is a popular ingredient in marinades.
Japanese mayonnaise is also called Kewpie sometimes, which is actually a brand name. This delicious, tangy mayonnaise is very common as a finishing touch to okonomiyaki, a savoury Japanese pancake and a modern dish in Japanese cuisine. Nowadays, it is also used sometimes for sushi, but this is not traditional. The mayonnaise is creamy and slightly sour, and is made from egg yokes, Japanese mustard and vinegar. In Japan, Kewpie is sometimes used for salads and to marinate salmon, for example, before grilling it. This gives the salmon a richer flavour.
Wasabi is Japanese horseradish. Due to its antibacterial effect, it is traditionally often served with raw fish. If you buy it as a paste, the taste is quite spicy. Finely-grated, fresh wasabi root is much milder and tastes better. Traditionally, wasabi root is grated on a sharkskin grater, as a result of which it can be grated extremely finely. Grate fresh wasabi root just before serving, as once grated the paste oxidises quickly the flavour fades and the beautiful green quickly becomes darker. You can store the root itself in the fridge for about 2 to 3 weeks.
Kombu is dried brown seaweed. The large leaves are sometimes dried for many years. The longer this process lasts, the more umami the kombu contains. It is used, among other things, as a salty vegetable after the kombu has soaked in water for about an hour and to make fish extra tasty by wrapping it in the kombu. Umami is absorbed in the fish and some of the moisture is extracted from the fish into the kombu. As a result of this, the structure of the fish becomes firmer and the fish keeps longer. It is also added to dishes like a hotpot as seasoning.
Yakitori cannot be made without shichimi togarashi, a spicy mix of seven ingredients, which is also called Japanese 7 spice powder. The basic ingredient is chilli powder. In addition, the mix contains sansho or sichuan pepper, ground ginger, hemp seeds, sesame seeds, roasted orange or yuzu peel and nori. Ground chilli powder is also used in Japan sometimes, but this is less complex than shichimi togarashi. In addition to using it for yakitori, you can also use it as a seasoning for various types of meat or, for example, soups.
Would you like to use a number of these special Japanese seasonings and condiments in dishes from the Big Green Egg? Chef Kuniyoshi Ohtawara cooked three delicious Japanese dishes in his EGG. Try them yourself!
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