If you look back at the articles I have written in the 6 months or so since I joined the Taiken writing team you will probably notice a disproportionate amount of my writing is about food. As someone who comes from a culinary family (both my mother and father are qualified chefs) I have long held an appreciation for food in all its forms.
From an early age, I was introduced to a cornucopia of cuisine from around the world. The likes of Italian pastas, Indian curries, Thai soups, and Chinese fried rice, whilst only an occasional treat to most Scottish households were an almost daily occurrence when I was growing up. But for all his expertise in the kitchen, there was one line of cooking my dad just couldn’t get his head around, Japanese cuisine.
To many western chefs, Japanese recipes are so far removed from conventional cooking wisdom that they seem almost alien. It is only in the last 10 or 15 years, with the rise in popularity of celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsey and my personal favourite, the late, great Keith Floyd, that cookery from eastern Asia has started to find a willing audience in UK homes. These days supermarkets like Safeway, Asda and Tesco stock Sushi “bento” boxes alongside their sandwiches and flatbread wraps.
Photo: blue.tofu on Flickr
However, despite the sudden spike in interest in Japanese food in the UK and Europe as a whole, few people have mustered to courage to actually attempt to recreate such delightful dishes in their homes.
Indeed it is undeniable that to taste the likes of sushi, teppanyaki and yakitori in their purest form one must make use of fine ingredients that can only be sourced in Japan. However, as I will explain today, there are a number of dishes that one can make using ingredients easily found in any major supermarket in the UK or the US.
So join me today as we take a look at a couple of my favourite Japanese recipes using western produce.
This simple and yet delicious dish is the staple of many a busy salaryman across Japan. Cheap, easy to make, though perhaps not the healthiest dish on the menu, here’s how you can make your own Katsudon at home.
First, you’ll need the following ingredients:
Fresh pork cutlets (1 per serving)
White rice (enough to fill a bowl)
1 onion (chopped)
Brown Sauce (optional)
Soy Sauce (also optional)
Photo: Pittaya Sroilong on Flickr
First, take your pork fillet and beat it until it is reasonably flat. Next crack one egg into a bowl, whisk thoroughly. Next, pour your breadcrumbs into a bowl. Dip the flattened pork fillet into your egg mixture, and then coat it thoroughly in breadcrumbs.
Next, you’ll want to prepare your rice, wash it thoroughly to remove excess starch. Once the rice is clean boil it in a pot, or use a rice cooker if you have one.
Chop your onion, stir fry it in a wok with a little soy sauce, and some black pepper, crack open your two remaining eggs and pan fry them alongside the onions, stirring well until the whole thing beings to take on a scrambled egg type consistency.
Now, take your breadcrumb coated pork fillet and deep fry it in oil until golden brown.
Photo: snoop_snoopy on Flickr
Serve the rice first, then add your pork fillet on top and finally top off the dish with your onion and egg blend. For a bit of extra flavour, you can add some brown sauce on top.
Brown sauce does taste a little different from conventional katsu sauce, but it is a pretty close facsimile, if perhaps a bit more tangy and less sweet than its Japanese counterpart.
Enoki Beef Wraps
Enoki mushrooms, or straw mushrooms as they are often known in the west are a truly delicious vegetable. However, they aren’t always easy to find in the local supermarket. One of the best ways to enjoy these mushrooms is the way they are served up at many izakayas across Japan: wrapped in wafer-thin grilled beef.
Not to worry though, because even without these mushrooms, one can create a very close replica using simple supermarket produce.
For this recipe you will need:
Thinly sliced beef
1 packet of fresh beansprouts
Sweet Soy sauce
1 finely chopped onion
1 finely chopped red pepper
Start by pan frying your beansprouts, onion and red pepper together with some sweet soy sauce and a little oil. One this is done, take your slices of beef and lay them out on a chopping board.
Photo: Todd Lappin on Flickr
Spread the mixed onions, beansprouts and red pepper over the meat liberally and then roll it up into tubes, in the same way you would roll up a Mexican fajita. Finally, place your rolls on a baking tray and place them under the grill or in the oven, whichever is easier and cook on a high heat for about 5-10 minutes, turning halfway through. The cooking time will vary depending on how big you make your rolls, but make sure the beef is browned lightly before serving. The taste here will be a little different from what you may be used to in Japan but I find that the addition of the peppers and onions goes a long way to making up for the lack of strong flavour from the beansprouts. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with the result.
Photo: Matthew Stinson on Flickr
As you can see, with just a few small changes it is really easy to make delicious Japanese style cuisine in the comfort of your own kitchen and without the expensive trip to the local Asian supermarket or specialist food importer. These are just two very simple recipes I have provided today, and the only limit on what you can do is your own imagination.
Experiment, try different foods and substitute different ingredients where necessary. For example, I find that aubergine (eggplant to my American friends) makes an excellent substitute for some of the hard to find Japanese vegetables like Lotus root or Tofu. Likewise, if you can’t find any sweet soy sauce, mixing together some honey and rock salt makes an excellent alternative garnish. So what are you waiting for? Get cooking!