Mr. Tess has become expert at preparing Japanese yuan yaki fish. Usually he uses swordish, but the other day he bought some tuna. It was juicy, tender, and delicious! He’s learned to cook fish without drying it out, and the tuna was great. As always, his pan-fried potatoes were the work of a master. Crispy on the outside, soft and creamy inside: how does he do that?
Because we’ve used this recipe quite a bit, I got to wondering what “yuan yaki” means in Japanese cuisine.
First, the “yaki” part of “yuan yaki”:
Yaki (yakimono) is a method of Japanese cooking that includes baking, grilling, toasting, broiling, roasting and pan-frying. OH! And don’t forget tappenyaki. Tappenyaki restaurants are popular in the U.S. Meats and vegetables are flash-cooked on a very hot steel table grill (with gigantic overhead exhaust fans), often paired with theatrics of a cook tossing food into the air and slicing it as it falls. I’ve come across blog-posts about cooking food on hot stones in Japan, so perhaps tappenyaki is a commercial method of doing a traditional Japanese cooking method? At any rate, the yaki cooking method could be generalized as high and dry heat. It can get confusing because sometimes there is oil involved. But oil is not “wet!”
Second, the “yuan” part of “yuan yaki”:
The name Yuan in any recipe indicates the use of a marinade before grilling. The marinade is made with soy, sake, and mirin. Citron (yuzu), ginger or long onion are sometimes added for more flavor.
In Japan, fresh yuzu are available from November to March, but in the rest of the world we can substitute lime, orange, grapefruit, or lemon juice. Bottled yuzu juice is sometimes available, but it’s expensive and I’m not sure of the quality. Think how bottle lemon juice does not taste as good as fresh.
Note to self: try the recipe in Washoku: Recipes from the Japanese Home Kitchen for Citrus and Soy Glazed Swordfish, page 227. A yuan yaki recipe using chicken thighs: Japanese Cooking A Simple Art by Shizuo Tsuji, page 187
Here is a link with a bit of history of Japanese cuisine. Scroll down to page 6 for information about yuan yaki:
In the 18th century, a new variety of seasoning, mirin (sweet sake), emerged to dramatically change and enrich the cuisine of the time. A tea ceremony master named Katata Yuan marinated slices of fish in an original blend of soy sauce, sake, and mirin. Even today, dishes seasoned with this combination and then grilled are known as yuan-yaki. During the Edo period, mirin was not considered a seasoning for cooking, but rather an extravagant alcoholic drink.
My note: Mirin available in most groceries today is not the authentic brewed drink, but a sweetened concoction. I’ve not succeeded in finding a high quality drinkable version, but I don’t hang out in wine stores…
Yuan yaki is NOT yakitori! Yakitori is grilled chicken. The chicken is usually cut into bite-sized pieces and skewered. It is brushed with a sauce as it cooks. To make this more confusing, I’ll be posting soon about “teriyaki.” Stay tuned…
This recipe is great served as a remodeled leftover. I made a pasta salad with wilted chard from our garden, cubed fresh tomatoes, and mini-pasta bow-ties. I mixed that with a little lemon juice and olive oil. Top the salad with avocado chunks and the tuna. Serve cold or at room temperature. This salad also made a delicious lunch.
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