Japanese-born chef Hiroko Shimbo shows making your own miso sauces and stocks with kelp and dashi is an easy, versatile way to bring her country's flavors to US homes in her third book, "Hiroko's American Kitchen."
She also consults food companies and US restaurants on her country's cuisine, including Iconic Hand Rolls in New York, which opened earlier this year.
Shimbo, who now lives in the Big Apple, spoke to Reuters about her approach to add Japanese flair with American ingredients and how she created her "super" sauce.
Q: Why did you come up with the approach of using sauces and stocks to introduce Japanese flavors for American home cooks?
A: "I came up with two stocks and four sauces in order to save time and simplify the process of my daily Japanese meal preparation in my own home kitchen. By having a batch of stocks and sauces stored in the freezer and refrigerator, I could prepare meals much faster.
"Also, by using these basic stocks and sauces my dishes became consistent flavor wise every time. I love that. And then I started using more readily available American ingredients to cook with my Japanese stocks and sauces. The result was the expansion of Japanese recipes that have the feel and appeal of traditional American cooking."
Q: How did you develop the idea of a super sauce?
A: "There are super sauce-like convenient sauces on the market, which have been produced and sold by Japanese food companies for a long time. These convenience sauce products usually play only one or two roles ... my super sauce plays multiple roles, producing a wide variety of dishes. My super sauce can be the base for hot or cold broth and sauce for Japanese noodles, for ponzu sauce, for tempura dipping sauce, for marinade, for flavoring base for simmering and braising vegetables, meat and fish."
Q: You recommend a quick rinse of the meat you brown, then braise. Most chefs would say you are washing out the flavor. Why?
A: "People always throw me this question when I show this technique to chefs and cooks. Quickly rinsing the browned meat only removes excess oil, charred bits and unpleasant blood mixed meat juice, which are on the surface of the meat. You have to do this rinsing process in the proper way.
A quick rinse is a very quick operation. After removing the meat from the skillet with your tongs, you submerge the meat quickly into the boiling water and do 'swish-swash' for two seconds or so. If you submerge is any longer, that is when you loose the flavor of the meat in the water. By going through this technique, the broth in which meat is braised later has a clean appearance and a clear flavor in the end. The meat also has cleaner flavor. In this way you can appreciate the true flavor of the meat.
Q: Compare modern home cooking in Japan and the modern home cooking in United States.
A: "Today in Japan, younger generation home cooks love to take the short-cut approach. Instead of making dashi from scratch, they use powdered dashi many of which has MSG (monosodium glutamate) added. There are natural types as well. The lengthy preparations of Grandma's dishes are long-gone, or they use shortened methods by using handy sauces. Younger generation home cooks in Japan love to cook diverse meals - Chinese, Korean, South East Asian, Italian, French, Middle Eastern, Indian...They are much more exposed to foreign foods than the generation before. And many of the ingredients to prepare these foreign cuisines are pretty readily available today in Japan. In American home cooking today I think the same trend is going on."
Q: Who inspired you to cook when you were growing up?
A: "My mother. My father was a surgeon and we lived in a clinic house, which had patient quarters. My father operated on patients frequently and they ended up staying in our patient quarters. My mother cooked breakfast, lunch and dinner, 365 days a year, for our family, the two nurses who stayed with us and my father's patients, except when there were no patients staying with us and we could go out to eat in restaurants. She was the daughter of a doctor and was brought up with a rich food culture. She is a very good cook. I grew up seeing my mother always in the kitchen. In the kitchen, while she was cooking and later, while eating together, she always shared with us her childhood food memories and stories related to the meal on the table at that particular time. Eating well and cooking food good for our health became a very important part of my life."
SAKE-BRAISED SHORT RIBS (Makes 6 servings)
7 tablespoons shoyu (soy sauce)
5 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
5 to 5-1/2 pounds bone-in short ribs (about 6 whole bones)
2 tablespoons canola oil or vegetable oil
1 cup sake (rice wine)
2 cups kelp stock (see below) or low-sodium vegetable stock
2 tablespoons sugar
1 bunch Swiss chard with white stems (about 1 pound)
6 cipollini onions, peeled
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
6 cherry tomatoes
Crusty bread, for serving
In a large bowl, combine 6 tablespoons of the soy sauce, the honey, Worcestershire sauce, and red pepper flakes. Add the short ribs to the sauce and marinate for 2 hours.
Heat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Remove the short ribs from the marinade and wipe them with paper towels, reserving the marinade. Place the canola oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add half the meat. Cook the ribs until all sides are golden brown, 4 to 6 minutes total. Transfer the browned short ribs to a sieve, and lower the ribs into the boiling water. Quickly swish the ribs in the water and remove them, discarding the water after both batches of ribs have been cooked and washed.
Combine the sake and stock in a large pot over medium heat and bring it to a simmer. Add the sugar and the ribs (in a single layer) and bring the mixture to a gentle boil. Cover the pot with a lid, transfer it to the oven, and cook the short ribs for 1 hour.
Cut the Swiss chard in half lengthwise along the center of the stems, and then crosswise into 2-inch slices. Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Add the Swiss chard and cook for 1 minute. With a slotted spoon, transfer the Swiss chard to a colander to drain and air-dry. Add the cipollini onions to the boiling water and cook for 2 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the onions to the colander with the Swiss chard.
Remove the pot of short ribs from the oven and transfer it to the stove top. Add the reserved marinade to the pot and cook, covered, over medium-low heat for 15 minutes. Add the prunes and cipollini onions and cook for 15 minutes longer. Toward the end of the cooking time, taste the cooking liquid and, if desired, add the remaining 1 tablespoon soy sauce.
Remove the beef, prunes, and onions from the cooking liquid and place them in a bowl. Transfer the cooking liquid into a gravy separator to remove the excess fat. Return the cooking liquid to the pot (you will have about 2 cups) and add the vinegar. Cook the liquid over medium heat, uncovered, until it is reduced to two-thirds of its previous volume. Return the short rib , prunes, and onions to the pot, and add the Swiss chard and tomatoes. Cook the short ribs and vegetables, covered, over low heat for 5 minutes, or until the ribs and vegetables are heated through. Divide the meat and vegetables among dinner plates and pour the remaining cooking liquid over them. Serve the dish with crusty bread.
KELP STOCK (Makes 8 cups)
1 ounce kelp (two 4 by 7-inch sheets)
8 cups cold water
Wipe the kelp with a moist, clean towel to remove any sand or impurities. Do not wipe off the white mannite powder.
Place the water and kelp in a large pot over medium heat. Heat the water until it reaches 140 degree Fahrenheit. Adjust the heat to carefully maintain the 140 degree F temperature and cook for 1 hour.
Remove the kelp from the water and reserve for a second stock preparation.