This is probably foreign territory for some of you foodies out there–but fear not! This all is nothing more than Japanese comfort food. It all started out with my love of kamameshi: Japanese steamed rice pilaf.
Ever since my mom introduced me to the wonders of that slender box with the plastic bag filled with veggie mystery spooge, I’ve been crazy for Kamameshi. Mushrooms, burdock root, lotus root, carrot, jellied yam protein, soy sauce, and Kami-only-knows-what-else is what comprises Kamameshi. All you have to do is measure your rice and water into a rice cooker, dump the contents of the bag on top, give it quick swirly mix with a rice paddle, close the top, punch the on-button, and–only minutes later–you have steaming rice pumping the earthy umami funk-bliss of wild mushrooms and soy into your face.
The big hitch with kamameshi is that it’s rather expensive to buy in the pouch form. That’s the reason I decided to go it alone. And it takes no more inspiration than the weirdness of alien ‘shrooms that none but the indoctrinated are allowed access to:
Most foodies know about shiitakes. They are great defacto wild mushrooms to make use of to save your wallet from excessive porcini love. Look at a package of mixed wild mushroom, and you will see the shiitake. The maitake is also known as the “hen” mushroom. These are the ones that are shaped similar to the chantrelle. The bunashimeji is know as the beech mushroom and has the little white spheres on top.
Now, to take pause for a minute, I must point out that I’m not being chronological here–except by order of inspiration. The thing is, the kamameshi was only one part of a mad frenzy of dinner-making on my part. Typical. Here’s the menu:
Grilled Miso-Glazed Nasubi Eggplant Dusted with Toasted Sesame Seeds
Japanese Mixed-Mushroom Kamameshi Pilaf
Chicken Simmered with Soybean and Ginger (Daizu no Nimono)
My madness started from my staring at a whole free-range chicken Margaret bought on sale. We like doing things on the cheap. Anyway, to business, I had never cut up a chicken before, so I had to visit the Internet. Lots of good advice there; however, Gourmet online had a brilliant video. Food editor, Ian Knauer, had the method down in spades! Here’s the link: http://www.gourmet.com/food/testkitchen/2009/01/knauer_how_to_cut_up_whole_chicken Basically, the kind of advice you need is the kind that is specific and hands you the keys that unlock the door to each step along the way. He’s like: “See this? This here is the key. Go about it this way, and you can do no wrong.” Tight! The chicken is now down to 2 legs+thighs, 2 breasts+wings, and the back bone is in the freezer to be used later for stock.
Now it’s time for the recipe (inspiration comes from Quick and Easy Japanese Cuisine For Everyone by Yukiko Moriyama, pub. Joie Inc. Start there and adjust everything to your own taste and situation):
3 or 4 (14.5oz) canned soybeans–organic is best, as they taste better.
1 cut-up whole chicken
2 inch piece ginger root, thinly sliced
Enough water to barely cover contents in pot–but some kind of home-made stock is always better!
Simmering sauce: 1/2 cup soy sauce, 1/2 cup mirin, 1/8 cup sugar.
Rinse first and then add soybeans to pot. Add chicken pieces (If you cut the parts into smaller pieces or use only thighs, you should be able to use a smaller pot. As it was, I resorted to the largest we had in the house. Whatever…). Add water until above top of contents. Cook over moderate heat. Skim off any scum that might form on the surface. Mix up simmering sauce and add. Slice up ginger and add. Cook until chicken is tender, about 45 minutes.
As soon as you have finished adding the last ingredient to the pot, turn your attention to making the Kamameshi. The maitake and bunashimeji are usually found in 3.5 oz packages. You will need only half a pack, each, to make 3 rice cooker “cups” of rice (This is a rice cooker recipe!). Look back at that picture of the ‘shrooms, up above. You will need only half of all that for the job. And don’t forget about the fresh shiitakes. Recipe as follows:
2 or 3 tblspn grapeseed, olive, or even canola oil. Depends on how you want it to inflect the final taste. All are fine.
1 medium yellow onion, minced.
1 or 2 medium cloves garlic (to taste!), minced.
1.75 oz shiitake mushrooms, roughly chopped.
1.75 oz maitake mushrooms, roughly chopped
1.75 oz bunashimeji mushrooms, roughly chopped
3 medium-sized carrots, jullienned and cut to bite-sized lengths
Splash of dry sake.
Salt and pepper to taste.
You know the drill: Large skillet. Medium (10″) skillet is okay, too. High heat. Heat oil. Add garlic first, if you want a stronger taste, brown a little if you want it even stronger. Add onions, cook until translucent. Chop mushrooms while cooking onions. Add mushrooms, saute until somewhat cooked down. Add carrots. Hit with sake. Salt and pepper to taste. Saute maybe another 5 minutes or so. Kill the heat and move to rinsing and adding 3 “measures” of rice to the rice cooker. Fill water to the cooker’s correct plimsol marks. Dump in mushroom mixture. Close the lid and turn on the rice cooker. When it’s done, it looks like this:
No time to rest!!! You’ve pushed the button on the rice cooker and the chicken and soybeans are simmering. It’s time to prep and grill the nasubi eggplants. Here’s what you should already have on hand:
4 Japanese nasubi eggplants
3 tblsp cooking oil–toasted sesame oil is awesome for this job!
1/3 cup white (shiro) miso
2 tblsp mirin
2 tblsp sake
1 tsp sugar
1 tblsp minced ginger
1 egg yolk
3 tblsp freshly toasted sesame seeds
Pre-heat your grill on high while you prep the eggplant. A gas grill is the supreme ticket, but broiling in the oven is fine–It’s just a bit more of a hassle. So, halve the eggplants length-wise. With a very sharp knife, score the flesh side with a tight, diagonal, cross-hatch pattern. This is to keep the grilling sauce from dribbling off. Brush flesh side with your choice of cooking oil. Oiling skin side is optional. Whisk the miso, mirin, sake, sugar, ginger, and egg yolk together in a bowl and set aside. Take eggplant to the grill and cook, flesh side down for 4 minutes (If you were broiling in the oven, cook the skin side first for about 5 minutes, then turn over). After time is up, move the eggplant to the upper rack in your grill–you know, the place where you would toast your burger buns while the meat cooks below. Place them there, flesh side up and brush on the marinade. After another 4 minutes, sprinkle on the sesame seeds and cook until the marinade darkens brown. Maybe another 2 or 3 minutes?
By then, when the eggplant is done, the chicken in the pot should be fully cooked, as well as the kamameshi pilaf. Get some wide plates, and spoon on a half-plate bed of rice. On top of that, place your favorite piece of chicken. Spoon out, from the bottom of the pot, some of those soy beans–right next to the rice. Around the rim, lay on some of those sweet-savory, sesame-crusted miso eggplant. It looks like this:
This is the epitome of savory, umami womb-cozy, Japanese comfort food. Well, actually, one of them. Still, with each bite, you will feel the soft gauze of culinary bliss slide over your senses. The only scary thing about this recipe is the amount of leftovers you will have. Make sure you have kids or invited some foodies over for dinner. Have any friends from Hawaii? Call them on the phone. They will appreciate it. Oh yeah: The Hitachino Nest White Ale went perfectly with the meal. Love the owl!
By the way, where was Margaret? She was succumbing to a cold, while I was on my way out of one. I had just powered up on some kimchee and could feel mad inspiration taking over as I stood in the kitchen, staring at that whole chicken in the reefer. Soon after the photo, Margaret gave the chef the thumbs up. Cheers!