A Japanese dinner

This is one of the first multi-course / "tasting" menus I've ever designed and cooked (a liberal application of that term, but it sounds nice). I had a free Saturday afternoon and decided I wanted to spend it cooking. The result is a four-course menu composed of dishes you might find at an izakaya, a Japanese bar/restaurant.

The dishes are:

  • Tofu miso soup
  • Agedashi tofu (lightly fried tofu)
  • Yakitori (grilled chicken skewers)
  • Saba shioyaki (grilled mackerel)

If you're cooking this solo, it's a pretty significant time involvement (I cooked and ate each dish one at a time so I didn't starve by the end), but well worth the investment.

For the tofu miso soup:

Miso soup is based on dashi, a broth of dried kelp and bonito fish flakes that forms the foundation of many Japanese dishes. I typically make my own dashi using kombu (dried kelp) and katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes). If you don't have those ingredients or don't feel like spending the time, dried granules such as Hondashi work as well.

Ingredients

4 cups dashi

1 Tbsp white miso paste

1 Tbsp mirin (sweet rice wine)

1 cup firm tofu, cubed

1 green onion

Directions

  1. Bring the dashi to a boil in a pot.
  2. Cut the tofu into cubes, and slice the green onion.
  3. Combine the miso and mirin in a small bowl, and mix with a fork until combined.
  4. Add the miso/mirin mixture to the pot, reduce the heat to medium, and stir until dissolved. Be sure not to let the pot boil once the mixture is added, as it will harm the flavor of the miso.
  5. Add the tofu cubes and simmer for 5 minutes.
  6. Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with the sliced green onion.

For the agedashi tofu:

Originally based on this recipe. Agedashi tofu is lightly fried tofu blocks with moisture pressed out, served in a dashi/soy broth. The original recipe calls for katakuriko, or potato starch, for coating the tofu. I didn't want to buy a whole package just for this dish, so I substituted cornstarch and it worked out just fine.

When I made this, 2 cups of dashi in the sauce seemed like a lot so I only used 1. I still had plenty of sauce, but it was a bit too salty and needed the dilution; I'd use 1 1/2 cups here at least, if not the full 2 cups.

Ingredients

For the tofu:

1 package firm tofu

1 cup cornstarch

Neutral oil for deep frying

2 Tbsp shoyu (Japanese soy sauce)

2 Tbsp mirin

2 Tbsp sake

2 cups dashi

For garnish:

Katsuobushi (bonito flakes)

Sliced green onions

Grated daikon radish

Directions

  1. Cut the tofu into large blocks, an inch and a half or so in height. To press out excess moisture, place paper towels on a cookie sheet, put the tofu on top, cover with paper towels, and weigh down with another cookie sheet for 20 minutes.
  2. In a small pot, bring the soy sauce, mirin, sake, and dashi to a boil. Reduce the heat and keep warm.
  3. Heat about a half inch of oil to 350. Make sure to use a neutral oil such as canola, NOT olive oil.
  4. Toss the tofu blocks in a bowl of cornstarch to coat.
  5. Gently place the tofu in the oil, and deep fry for around 2-3 minutes on each side, turning once. If you're making a large amount, fry in batches and avoid crowding the pot.
  6. Remove the tofu from the pot and place onto a paper towel; pat off excess oil.
  7. Place the tofu in a serving bowl or dish and pour the sauce over the tofu. Garnish with the katsuobushi, green onions and grated daikon.

For the yakitori:

Originally based on this recipe. Yakitori is grilled chicken skewers, traditionally cooked over a charcoal fire. I unfortunately do not have a charcoal fire in my apartment, nor even access to a real grill, so this is my compromise version where I broil the chicken skewers to try and get a tasty crispy texture.

A note on sauce: I found the sauce delicious but a little thin. Next time I'd stir in a teaspoon or so of cornstarch to thicken it up a bit.

A note on plating: As you can see in the picture I poured the sauce directly over the skewers on the plate. This tastes great but puddles up on the plate and doesn't look so good; if you care about that sort of thing I'd brush on the sauce separately and then transfer to the serving plate.

Ingredients

Metal or wooden skewers

1 lb boneless chicken thighs

1/2 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup mirin

2 Tbsp sake

1 Tbsp brown sugar

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 inch ginger, minced

Green onions, sliced for garnish

Directions

  1. Cut the chicken thighs into one-inch pieces and place into a small bowl.
  2. In a small pot, combine the soy sauce, mirin, sake, brown sugar, garlic, and ginger. Simmer for 7 minutes and let reduce a bit. Reserve 2 Tbsp for serving, and pour the rest over the chicken pieces. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
  3. If using wooden skewers, soak in water for 1 hour.
  4. Preheat your broiler.
  5. Put the chicken pieces onto skewers and broil for 7-8 minutes per side, turning once, or until crispy and cooked through.
  6. Drizzle with the reserved sauce and serve garnished with green onions.

For the saba shioyaki:

Originally based on this recipe. Saba shioyaki translates to literally mackerel (saba) grilled with salt (shio). It's an extremely simple and easy dish that relies solely on the salt and rich flavor of the mackerel.

I've filleted whole mackerel before, but here I was able to find cleaned and packaged fillets in my local Japanese supermarket, so I went with those to save some effort.

Note: the last time I tried grilling mackerel fillets on my grill pan, it completely fell apart and made a mess. Here I went the easy route and just pan fried it.

Ingredients

2 mackerel fillets

2 Tbsp sake

2 inches Daikon radish peeled and grated, for garnish

Lemon slices, for garnish

Directions

  1. Rinse the mackerel fillets, rub with a splash of sake, and sprinkle liberally with salt.
  2. Heat oil in a pan until hot. You want the fillets to sizzle when added to the pan.
  3. Pan fry the mackerel fillets, starting with the skin side down, until the skin is crispy and flesh cooked through, turning once. I aimed for an internal temperature of about 140-145.
  4. Plate and serve the mackerel, garnished with the lemon slices and the grated Daikon radish.

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