Over the last month I've been working on a project, identifying the key elements of Japanese home cooking. This is a two purpose project, one it is intended to be used as a guide for healthy eating, and two it is to reteach myself how to cook in a Japanese style without a cookbook. You see, I have been doing simple home cooking my whole life and almost never follow a recipe, cooking instead with intuition. The Japanese diet is one of the healthiest in the world but I find it exhausting to always be looking for recipes. Instead I would like to retrain myself with the basics and core principals of Japanese home cooking. This has been one of the driving forces in the short book I'm writing at the moment, about the pillars of washoku.
As the first practical of this project I decided to make a hot pot style soup without consulting a recipe. Nabe or hot pots are a style of Japanese soup popular in the cold seasons. Usually they consist of a donabe (cooking pot) full of broth, cooking on a burner in the middle of the table. Anything can be added to this in the form of vegetables, meat, or fish and it is cookied and consumed by the family right on the table. However, you can also make a hot pot soup on the stove top in a more familiar western fashion. I've done this before with pork and a curry so I had the basic idea down, but both of those were made by following a recipe.
One of the funny things about Japanese soups, which I've mentioned before, is that often the ingredients are cooked separately from the broth, then they're incorporated together for one last boil. So this was the approach I took with my salmon miso. My broth was a simple konbu and katsuobushi dashi stock (the instructions for which are on the basics page), plus white miso, which would of course be added last to preserve it's aliveness. As for the vegetables, I selected carrots, potatoes, cabbage, and daikon, which are proven to be fantastic with the star of the soup, salmon.
So first I blanched the vegetables, cooking them one at a time in boiling water until they were just cooked. Then I ran them through cold water to stop the cooking process. The salmon, on the other hand, I cut into cubes, doused in sake, and broiled in the oven, similar to this recipe, though this time I only let it cook partially. This method really couldn't be much easier. I set aside a ladle full of warmed dashi to mix with the miso, then arranged the ingredients into my pot full of broth. Separating them into sections like a pie chart I balanced the colors in an eye pleasing way. Then the heat was turned up, bringing the soup to a boil, warming the vegetables, and finishing off the salmon. A reasonable amount of miso was added to my set aside broth and mixed into a creamy paste. Always remembering that you shouldn't over cook miso, I turned the heat off and let it rest for a few minutes before the mixture it over the soup.
I couldn't have asked for a better outcome, the flavors came out just as I was hoping, making it a pretty successful experiment. If I didn't know better I would have assumed it was made with a recipe. Of course I don't want to toot my own horn too much, but damn I'm good. But in all honesty, taking the foundations I had already learned and applying them to this soup was incredibly easy. I think that my first steps into practicing Japanese home cooking methods has only spurred me on.
Until next time, never stop learning.