Japanese food has the reputation of being hard to make and taking years to master. Although this may be true for some specialist styles of cooking, food that is eaten at home in Japan is very simple and easy to cook and prepare.
Most Japanese food can be made very quickly as long as you can get fresh ingredients and a few simple seasonings. The basic seasonings include soy sauce, miso, vinegar, sugar, salt, sake, dashi stock and mirin (Japanese food rarely uses spices). These eight flavours, used in different proportions and combined with fresh ingredients, are the essence of Japanese cooking.
Aya Nishimura, a Japanese-born food stylist and home economist who is also a fully qualified chef, shares her secrets for cooking Japanese at home.
She showcases favourite recipes such as ramen, gyoza, teriyaki and tonkatsu, as well as Japanese dishes generally eaten at home, such as grilled peppers with bonito flakes, kakiage fritters and homemade fried tofu.
You'll discover how to make your own teriyaki sauce, tonkatsu sauce, miso dressing and shichimi togarashi, a seven chilli mix, and these homemade versions are a healthier alternative to store-bought and will bring instant flavour to the simplest dish.
There are also recipes for making dashi broth, sushi or sashimi from scratch, for those who want to try making more traditional Japanese food.
- Recipes from Japanese Food Made Easy, by Aya Nishimura. Murdoch Books, $39.99.
This is another "no hard work involved" meal that's meant for sharing. You'll need a camping hotplate or a tabletop electric hotplate, which you can purchase online - they're inexpensive and a handy tool to have around the kitchen.
600g pork belly, thinly sliced, or a boneless chicken thigh, cut into bite-sized pieces (fish like salmon or cod, and tofu can also be used)
1/4 Chinese cabbage (wong bok), cut into bite sized pieces
1 leek or 1 bunch spring onions, sliced
300g mixed mushrooms, such as sliced shiitake, enoki and shimeji
1/4 daikon radish, grated
10cm square piece kombu, optional
ponzu, for dipping
shichimi togarashi, to serve
1. Soak the kombu in four cups of water in a shallow casserole dish (ideally, use a Japanese donabe pan if you have one - make sure that the pan you use isn't too shallow for frying).
2. Pour the ponzu into four shallow bowls for dipping.
3. Set a camping hotplate or tabletop electric hotplate in the middle of your table and bring the water to the boil in the casserole dish, then turn the heat down to a simmer. Add one-quarter of the ingredients, cover and cook for two minutes or until the meat is cooked.
4. Open the lid of the casserole and invite each person to pick up the food using chopsticks and dunk the food in the dipping sauce as they eat. Add grated daikon radish and shichimi togarashi as desired. When each batch is finished, cook another batch.
Karaage (Japanese fried chicken)
Who doesn't love fried chicken? This garlicky and gingery Japanese version is tasty as it is, but also great served with grated daikon radish, Japanese-style potato salad and ponzu dipping sauce.
1 egg white
2 garlic cloves, grated
3cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
600g boneless chicken thighs with skin on, cut into 4-5 cm pieces
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp sake
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
3 cups sunflower oil, for deep-frying
1. Mix the soy sauce, sake, sesame oil, egg white, garlic and ginger together. Pour the mixture over the chicken in a bowl and mix well. Place in the fridge to marinate for 30 minutes.
2. Heat the sunflower oil in a deep saucepan over medium-high heat until it reaches 180C.
3. Place the cornflour in a shallow dish, drop in the marinated chicken and toss to coat.
4. Slide one-third of the chicken pieces into the oil and cook for a few minutes until they just turn golden brown. Remove from the oil and leave to drain on paper towel while you cook the rest of the chicken.
5. Heat the sunflower oil to 190C and fry the chicken for a second time for one to two minutes, until golden all over.
Matcha ice-cream sandwich
This refreshing, subtly bitter green tea ice cream would be perfect for the end of any Japanese meal. If you're using an ice-cream maker and the bowl needs to be chilled, you can prepare this a day in advance.
6 organic egg yolks
280ml thick cream
2 1/4 cups full-cream milk
2/3 cup caster sugar
1 vanilla pod, split lengthways and scraped to remove the seeds
2 tbsp matcha powder
12 digestive biscuits
1. Mix the egg yolks and sugar in a large bowl.
2. Combine the cream, milk, vanilla seeds and vanilla pod in a saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat until just below boiling point. Remove from the heat. Pour just one ladleful of the liquid into the egg mixture, mix well and then add the rest of the milk. Mix completely to dissolve the sugar.
3. Rinse the saucepan and pour the egg and milk mixture back into the pan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
4. Remove the vanilla pod and scrape the custard into a bowl. Sift the matcha powder over the custard and carefully stir to remove all of the lumps. Cover with plastic wrap until cooled.
5. Pour the cooled custard into an ice-cream maker and churn according to the machine's instructions. Alternatively, pour the custard into a container to freeze for two to three hours. Whisk the custard, then return to the freezer and repeat this process for the next two to three hours, until frozen.
6. To serve, scoop about 90g of the ice cream and sandwich it between two digestive biscuits. You can freeze the sandwiches again to serve later if you wish.
Teriyaki chicken on rice
Everyone loves this dish, from kids to adults. Cook extra chicken as it is just as great in a lunchbox the next day.
4 boneless chicken thighs with skin on, about 200g each
90ml teriyaki sauce
1 quantity of steamed rice
4 spring onions, thinly sliced
2 nori sheets
a pinch of shichimi togarashi
1. Pierce the chicken skin with a fork; this will help the chicken to absorb the sauce and help to release any excess fat
2. Heat a frying pan over medium-low heat. Place the chicken in the pan, skin side down (no oil is needed). The chicken will release some of its fat. Cook for about nine to 10 minutes, until the chicken skin begins to crisp. Use paper towel to remove some of the fat if needed. Turn the chicken and cook for four to six minutes, until cooked through.
3. Pour teriyaki sauce into the pan. Toss the chicken in the sauce and cook for one minute. Remove the pan from the heat and slice the cooked chicken into strips.
4. Divide the steamed rice among four bowls. Crush the nori in between your fingers and sprinkle it over the rice. Top the rice with the sliced chicken and spring onion. Finish the dish with a pinch of shichimi togarashi.