Rika Yukimasa, host of NHK WORLD’s Dining with the Chef, a Japanese cooking series, shares her favourite ingredients and Japanese dishes that can be made at home. See her on NHK world or at Hyper Japan on 11 July at London’s O2.
Japanese home cooking
Most Japanese dishes are healthy, because, traditionally, our cuisine is typically low in fat and rich in fish, lean protein, vegetables, fruit and beans. As a result we’re a nation with an average 82-year life expectancy and there isn’t the same concern about healthy eating as there is in many Western countries. There’s more of a focus on balance and the real key to this is combining lots of different ingredients to get a wide selection of different vitamins and minerals.
Essential storecupboard ingredients you should buy before you start
A good soy sauce is top of the list; it’s as important to the Japanese as olive oil is to the Italians! You can find Japanese brands such as Kikkoman quite easily in UK supermarkets, but there’s much greater variety in specialist Asian shops. If you’re making a special shopping trip, stock up on wasabi, sushi rice, mirin (a rice wine used for sweetening), ponzu (a citrus-based sauce used in many other Japanese sauces) and instant dashi stock (a savoury stock made from kelp and dried bonito flakes).
You’ll be able to keep these essentials in your store cupboard for months. Other Japanese ingredients can easily be substituted for British alternatives. Shiso, for example, a Japanese herb used in many recipes, can be replaced with basil – much easier to find in the UK.
My three favourite ingredients for adding flavour
It has to be sesame oil, yuzukosho (a Japanese seasoning made from chilli peppers, yuzu peel and salt) and Thai fish sauce (sometimes called Nam Pla) – I love combining flavours from different cultures.
Western ingredients also sneak into my dishes
I use a lot of aubergine, onion and ginger. Steak is also enormously popular in Japan and steakhouses are on the increase, though you’d probably associate this kind of dining more with American food culture.
Presentation is so important in Japanese cuisine
From the way you decorate the plate to the dish it’s served on – we like to eat with our eyes. I like to collect antique plates on my travels, which I mix with Japanese plates.
Japanese cuisine is all about detail and precision
So the most essential piece of kitchen kit is a very sharp knife. Two would be even better – a big one and a small one.
My Japanese comfort food
Has to be donburi. Donburi is a type of traditional rice-bowl dish with plenty of variations – I’ll be demonstrating one of my favourites ‘Oyako-don’, a rice bowl with egg and chicken, at Hyper Japan this year.
Dining with the Chef is on Fridays at 3:30pm and 9:30pm. NHK WORLD TV is available on Sky, Freesat, Virgin Media, TV Player and the NHK WORLD TV app.
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