Mastering the Art of Japanese Cooking with Masaharu Morimoto

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Photo © Evan Sung

You’ll recognize Masaharu Morimoto from Iron Chef, and by way of his show-stopper restaurants – Nobu in in New York, Morimoto in Philadelphia, and sushi bars all over the world. So, it’s a bit of a surprise that a book as heartfelt and down-to-earth as his new Mastering the Art of Japanese Cooking could proceed from all the dazzle.

But here it is.

Mastering the Art of Japanese Cooking – the Japanese mirror to Julia Child’s iconic Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and written for much the same reason – introduces you to the essentials of Japanese home cooking – the style, the flavors, the pantry and the techniques from the perspective of a home cook. And the cool thing about this book is that Morimoto doesn’t American-ize the dishes or talk down to you. He assumes you love Japanese food for its essential nature, and the recipes he shares are for dishes that a Japanese person would cook at home.

Making your own dashi – the classic Japanese broth – is almost too easy, although there is a trick to it which Morimoto shares with you. Then you’re on to rice, and before you know it you’re making onigiri and fried rice dishes, sushi rice and sushi, temaki (hand rolls) and donburi (rice bowls).

From there it’s a short leap to soups, then yaku (grilling), musu (steamed dishes), itame ru (stir-fry), men (noodles), age ru (to fry, as in tempura and fritters), dressings (ae ru) and pickles (tsukemono). Nothing ever seems difficult, and the excellent photography has you anticipating the dishes before you even approach the stove.

If you keep just one all-purpose Japanese cookbook on the shelf, Mastering the Art of Japanese Cooking is it.  It’s comprehensive, it’s accessible, and it’s an intimate introduction to Japanese culture and cooking through the back door of the family kitchen.

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A dish you may recognize, Nitsuke – fish simmered in sake, soy sauce and sugar – is not so easy to reverse-engineer at home (if you’ve ever tried), but a snap to make from Mastering the Art of Japanese Cooking.

NITSUKE

FISH SIMMERED WITH SAKE, SOY SAUCE, AND SUGAR*

*Cook’s notes in italics.

Reprinted with permission from Mastering the Art of Japanese Cooking, Masaharu Morimoto, New York, Ecco, 2016

SERVES 4

Special Equipment – A wooden otoshibuta or one made from foil (easy to make from foil; check out the photos)

  • 1½ cups Dashi (dried fish and kelp stock – recipe follows), Kombu Dashi (kelp stock), or water (photos show recipe made with water)
  • ½ cup sake (Japanese rice wine)
  • ½ cup mirin (sweet rice wine)
  • ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons Japanese soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • Four ¼- inch- thick coins peeled ginger
  • Four 4-ounce skin-on fillets fatty white- fleshed fish, such as Spanish mackerel, red fish, Chilean sea bass, or black cod
  • ¼ pound drained medium-firm tofu, cut into 4 equal pieces
  1. Combine the dashi, sake, mirin, soy sauce, sugar, and ginger in a medium skillet and bring to a boil over high heat.
  2. Add the fish skin side up to the skillet in a single layer and cover with a wooden or foil otoshibuta (shown in the photos above). Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cook for about 12 minutes.
  3. The fish will be fully cooked after about 8 minutes; the longer cooking time is meant to infuse the fish with the flavor of the cooking liquid.
  4. Remove the otoshibuta, carefully transfer the fish to a plate, and increase the heat to high to bring the liquid to a boil. Add the tofu to the skillet and cook, flipping once, until the liquid reduces slightly and its flavor intensifies, 8 to 10 minutes.
  5. Return the fish to the skillet and continue cooking, basting constantly with a spoon, for a minute or two.
  6. Serve right away in shallow bowls with some of the cooking liquid. Or even better, remove from the heat, cover with the otoshibuta or partially with a lid, and let the fish sit for 10 to 15 minutes, so the fish absorbs even more flavor from the sauce

DASHI

DRIED FISH AND KELP STOCK

MAKES ABOUT 7 CUPS

  • ½ ounce kombu (dried kelp)
  • 8 cups water, preferably filtered or spring water
  • 1½ ounces bonito flakes (katsuobushi), about 3-cups lightly packed
  1. Briefly and gently wipe the kombu with a damp towel to remove any dirt or grit, but do not scrub off the white stuff.
  2. Combine the water and kombu in a medium pot, set over medium heat, and heat uncovered just until you see small bubbles break the surface of the water, 10 to 12 minutes.
  3. Take the pot off the heat. Use tongs to remove and discard the kombu. Add the bonito flakes to the pot and stir gently to distribute the flakes throughout the liquid.
  4. Let the flakes steep for about 1 minute and use a spoon to skim of any white froth from the surface of the liquid. Let the flakes steep for 2 minutes more.
  5. Line a sieve or strainer with cheesecloth or sturdy paper towel, set the sieve over a large container and pour in the dashi. Very gently press the flakes and discard them.
  6. If you’re not using the dashi right away, let it cool to room temperature and store it in the fridge for up to 4 days.
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