Miso Grilling Sauce: Dengaku


The Farmers’ Market had lovely eggplants to remind me of this tasty grilling sauce called dengaku, made with miso, saké, mmirin, and sugar, and in this recipe, thickened with eggs. It’s a traditional Japanese grilling sauce for tofu, with roots in agricultural festivals such as during new year celebrations or during the rice planting season. Apparently, the word dengaku is a sort of pun on several levels. The characters of the word “dengaku” (田楽) mean rice paddy plus harmony or music or play. The performers, who cavorted on single short stilts at these celebrations were called dengaku hoshi. During the festivities, small cakes of tofu were grilled with sweetened miso, on short flat skewers shaped somewhat like the stilts. The tofu dish took its name from the stilts.

stilt-dancers“Dengaku is a set of dances during the planting season to call the deities to attention. Since the Heian period it is performed in spring. Developed into sarugaku 猿楽(さるがく) “monkey performances” of artistic circus tricks.
One of the performances, “dance on high legs” 高足の舞”, represents a dancer on poles which are placed into the field.
Other sources quote the dancers on one or two stilts and performing with poles, stepping hard on the ground to wake it up.
Their costumes where of the color of white and brown, like tofu and miso.
When tofu or konnyaku are put on skewers, they look like they are on stilts, hence the name.「北斎漫画」九巻、「田楽法師」
Hokusai, dengaku hooshi performers
They represent the marriage of heaven and earth, of thunder and the rice plants (kaminari and inari 雷と稲), therefore when eating eggplant dengaku (nasu dengaku), the word NARI turned NASU and this is still auspicious food.”
from Dengaku dance and food

So then another almost pun: nari to nasu! I used the dengaku sauce to grill eggplants, but one can use this grilling sauce with other vegetables, seafood, and fish. This style of grilling is very popular with home cooks. It’s easy to make, and with soup, rice, and pickles makes a filling meal.

dengaku miso sauce for grillingDengaku White Miso Topping
From: Japanese Cooking A Simple Art
by Shizuo Tsuji

about 1 ½ cups
page 191

  • ¾ cup less 1 Tablespoon white miso
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 Tablespoons saké
  • 2 Tablespoons mirin
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 7 Tablespoons dashi
    • fragrant seasonings (choose one):
    • ground toasted sesame seeds
    • grated rind of yusu citron (or lime or lemon)
    • motar-ground kinome leaves
    • fresh ginger juice

Start water simmering in the bottom of a double boiler. Put the miso into the top of a the double boiler, and before putting it over the hot water, blend in egg yolks, saké, mirin, and sugar. Place over simmering water and gradually add dashi. Stir until thick. At the last, stir in one of the fragrant seasonings. Cool to room temperature.

The various vegetables that are grilled with dengaku sauce include sliced eggplant, large mushrooms, green pepper strips, and sliced sweet potatoes. More modern variations include scallops or small fish such as sardines, smelt, ayu, or trout. Some recipes include deep-frying the food before grilling and caramelizing the sauce. Simpler recipes use charcoal broiling, oven broiling, or pan-frying.

Eggplant Dengaku
Nasu Dengaku
From: Japanese Cooking A Simple Art
by Shizuo Tsuji

4 servings
Nasu-Dengaku-skewerspage 194

  • 4-6 small Japanese eggplants,
  • or 2 medium eggplants
  • vegetable oil
  • red and/or white dengaku miso topping
  • garnishes:
  • white poppy seeds
  • kinome springs
  • toasted white sesame seeds
  • toasted black sesame seeds

Wash and dry small eggplants. Leave stems on if eggplants are really tiny, but remove calyx and stem if regular small size and cut in half lengthwise. Cross-score cut surface to keep topping from slipping off. If using larger American eggplant, cut crosswise into rounds ¾ inch (2 cm) thick.
Brush both flesh and skin of eggplant halves lightly with oil to keep vegetable from becoming hard and tough over heat. Pierce each half eggplant cross-wise with two skewers, if grilling. The eggplant may also be pan-fried in scant oil over high heat or deep-fried.
Grill, broil, pan-fry, or deep-fry until tender, turning once. Apply topping to cut side; add garnish. Serve immediately. If grilling, you may return miso-topped eggplant to heat for toasting.


2 thoughts on “Miso Grilling Sauce: Dengaku

  1. Hi Tess,
    Looks like you have a really amazing farmer’s market near you! The shabu shabu looked delectable, and so do these nasu. I love dengaku! I haven’t made this sauce in many years. I first tried it on nasu in Japan. Here in LA, there used to be a great little restaurant called Shaab. And as the name implies, their specialty was shabu shabu served at a shabu shabu bar. The also did killer dinner boxes. Really traditional and beautiful with each compartment with it’s own amazing little dish of goodness inside. One of the delights was a grilled black cod piece with dengaku on it. It was superb. After many years, the restaurant has changed owners, name, and completely gone LA fusion. Although very good, I really miss Shaab.
    Thanks as always for the wonderful posts. The story behind dengaku was so much fun. I love the way that you always incorporate such interesting stuff in them.

    • Yes we have several good Farmers’ Markets between these two neighboring towns. Satudays are big with lots of vendors selling crafts, baked goods, jam, meat, plants, fruits, vegetables… Even tamales! Tuesdays and Thursdays there are smaller markets in neighborhoods. Last Tuesday it was 90° plus but Friday brought us frost warnings. I’m so not ready to say good-bye to the summer corn, tomatoes, fruit; everything was late getting ripe here because the summer was so cool so it just feels too soon…

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