The Japanese have been keeping secret their passion for spaghetti! The affair began after the War, when the Americans introduced spaghetti with tomato sauce to Japan.
Yoshoku cuisine is the Japanese version of Western foods, and includes katsu, karei raisu, omuraisu, chikin raisu, a variety of korokke, hambaagaa, gyuudon, wafu bifu suteki and many others. Supagetti naporitan, where ketchup stood in for tomato sauce, was comfort food for a generation. It was eaten in homes and neighborhood cafés throughout the country, but never in restaurants frequented by tourists. Wafu spaghetti began to grow up in the 70’s when cooks began to mix ingredients usually served on or with rice with spaghetti. Today people around the world are discovering Japanese versions of spaghetti, and there are many restaurants specializing in the dish. Mentaiko spaghetti with spicy cod roe is a fine and tasty example.
Here is my version of Hijiki and Shiitake Spaghetti. I began with the classic hijiki gohan—rice with sea vegetable. I wanted to make a simple dish which could be made with pantry staples. I always have spaghetti, dried hijiki, dried shiitake, soy sauce, shichimi togarashi, and mirin. I also always have carrots and frozen peas. And I think this recipe would be tasty enough left at that.
But, the darn cats drank all the coffee (they only like the white part, of course), so I had to go to the grocery for half and half. While I was there, I noticed the enoki mushrooms looked especially fresh. It made sense: J. loves mushrooms! As I passed the seafood display, I noticed some very large shrimp for sale, much larger than I can usually find. I waited in line thinking how pretty, pink-orange they would look with the black, white, and green pallette I had in mind. I could forget the orange carrots and use these shrimp instead! As I neared the front of the cue, I read that these were prawns, not shrimp. Freshwater prawns at that! Naiive as I am, I’d never heard of that. When it was my turn, I could read the small print on the sign: product of Bangledesh. I’ve been reading about fish farming, including shrimp, and how some of farms in S.E. Asia are in polluted water; this doesn’t sound appetizing. But I did buy two prawns; they were a quarter pound! In the end, we thought these prawns were bland, and at least as expensive as lobster.
When I got home, I did a bit of reasearch about fresh water prawns. That reminded me of the snapping shrimp we heard in the mangrove restoration areas of West Lake Park near Hollywood, Fl.
Hijiki and Shiitake Spaghetti
a version of wafu pasta
2 to 3 servings
my own version
- 6 small, or 3 large dried shiitake
- 3 Tablespoons hijiki
- 12 ounces thin spaghetti
- 1 Tablespoon butter or vegetable oil
- ½ cup frozen or fresh peas
- 2 – 3 large prawns, or smaller shrimp,
about 1/4 pound (a number divisible by 2 or 3, depending how many you will serve)
- 3 oz enoki mushrooms
- ½ Tablespoon sesame oil
- ½ cup of the mushroom soaking water
- ½ Tablespoon sugar
- 1 Tablespoon mirin
- 2 Tbs shoyu usochuchi
- shichimi togarashi
Soak the shiitake in warm water for about 20 to 30 minutes. They float, and I find it’s best to weigh them down with a smaller bowl. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the soaking liquid. Cut away the stems and discard. Sliver the caps.
Soak the hijiki in warm water for about 20 minutes. Drain.
Cook the spaghetti in plenty of salted water. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the water. Do not rinse. Toss with butter or vegetable oil.
Parboil the peas for 3 minutes, and shock in cold water.
Peel the shrimp or prawns. Simmer gently until they change to pink.
Slice away the roots of the enoki mushrooms. Brush away soil, and rinse very quickly. Cut the bunch into 1 ½” lengths. Keep the caps separated from the stems.
Toss the peas, enoki caps, and prawns with the sesame oil.
In a small saucepan, combine the mushroom soaking water, sugar, mirin, and usochuchi soy sauce. Bring the liquid to a simmer. Add the slivered shiitake and cook for 2 minutes. Add the hiijiki and enoki stems, and cook for a minute.
Toss the cooked pasta with some of the hijiki mushroom mixture. Add some of the reserved pasta water if the spaghetti seems dry.
Serve the spaghetti on two or three plates. Arrange the remaining hijiki-mushroom mixture on top. Arrange the prawns, peas, and shrimp on the spaghetti. Sprinkle with shichimi togarashi.
I have another idea for hijiki spaghetti based on Ms. Shimbo’s stir-fried hijiki rice. It might include garlic, anchovies, parmesan, tamari, green onions…