Pat, over at The Asian Grandmothers’ Cookbook, sent me another recipe to test for her upcoming book. This one was for nikujaga, a stew of beef and potatoes. This recipe, which uses the meat as a flavor, compares favorably to the more substantial version in my cookbook which I’ve previously posted about. Nikujaga is a yoshoku dish (western food adapted to Japanese tastes), made for more than 100 years by moms all over Japan. Fusion cooking, but with a history and there are many variations. There was an interesting article in The New York Times Dining section about yoshoku cooking (March 26, 2008).
The method of simmering food in liquid is called nimono. The liquid used for cooking can vary from lightly salted water and mild broths to stocks flavored with miso or fresh ginger. The most common seasonings (in the order they are usually added to the dashi) are sake, mirin, sometimes sugar, salt, soy sauce, and miso. Sake tenderizes the fish or meat. Mirin and sugar conteract bitterness or acidity. Some nimono recipes are cooked in two steps. Parboiling takes away rawness and harsh flavors. Foods do not cook on the inside at the same rate as the outside, so some foods are sauted or deep-fried before simmering.
The equipment needed for nimono dishes includes a heavy bottomed pot and a drop-lid (otoshi-buta). In Japan, the lids are made of wood and are slightly smaller than the inside of the pot. The lid floats on the simmering liquid and keeps the solid ingredients submerged. The lid also helps the food to retain its shape because the ingredients can’t tumble around even when the liquid is boiling. If you don’t have an otoshi-buta, you could use a smaller flat metal lid which fits inside your cooking pot. The most common substitute is to use a circle of parchment paper with a vent hole cut into the center. I use a bowl that fits inside the pot I usually use as a template to make otoshi-buta. Cut a square or rough circle larger than the bowl, put the bowl (or plate) upside down in the paper and fold up the extra paper, pleating all the way around. My method keeps the edges of the paper from becoming submerged or soggy. The standing edges make it easy to grab the lid out of the hot pot.
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