When a friend named Tomoko visited New York last week I quickly invited her over for dinner. The catch: She had to do all the cooking (Some bargain!). I heard that Tomoko was a great cook, schooled by her grandmother -- still going strong at age 97 -- when she was a girl. While Tomoko grew up in bustling Tokyo, her family hails from the rural Niigata Prefecture, an area of northern Japan known for its top-notch artisanal sake and Koshihikari rice (no surprise the two go together).
With a pink Ivy cap covering her pigtailed hair, Tomoko walked into my kitchen, hung a hand towel from the front pocket of her jeans, popped open a beer and got busy. She cooked a half dozen dishes, from tofu ohitashi with pickled daikon (a kind of salad) to steamed chives with a ponzu dipping sauce. I wanted to share one of them with you: Japanese mixed rice. I've been fascinated by this particular dish, which is so astonishingly versatile and seasonal. Tomoko prepared hers with dried shiitake mushrooms, soy sauce and abura age, thin deep friend sliced tofu. And she also added another ingredient -- sake. "My grandmother taught me to add sake to the rice," Tomoko explained. "It helps bring out the rice's natural flavors." Wisdom from the far north. Here's the recipe:
Ingredients & equipment
- 2 T sake
- 2 T soy sauce
- 2 large dried shiitake mushrooms soaked in water for one hour
- 1.5 oz of abura age (available at Japanese food stores like Sunrise Market in NYC)
- 2 C of Japanese short grain rice (I use Japanese-style rice grown in California)
- 2 inch piece of konbu (dried kelp)
- Rice cooker (I use a fancy Panasonic number with "fuzzy logic" - whatever that means)
- Wash rice in the rice cooker pot (I'll get into this alchemy in a future post with video, I promise)
- Reserving liquid, thinly slice reconstituted mushrooms
- Thinly slice abura age
- Add to the rice the mushroom liquid and water, if necessary to fill the rice cooker pot to the "2 cup" mark
- Add sake
- Add soy sauce a tablespoon at a time, and taste for saltiness (Tomoko dabbed a couple of drops on the back of her hand and tasted as she added). You can add less soy sauce if it feels too salty
- Add mushrooms, abura age and kelp
- Close rice cooker and let mixture sit so flavors can meld. An hour is preferable but if you're in a rush 20 minutes will do before turning it on.
- Once rice is cooked, about an hour, let it sit for 10 minutes before serving. Top with slivers of nori seaweed.
The oil from the abura age helps bind this rice mixture, which has a deep, satisfying woodsy shiitake flavor. By the way, Tomoko formed leftover rice into triangular onigiri the size of my palm, wrapped them and stuck them in my freezer. For another meal.