When I worked on a story on dashi last fall, I searched mightily for all the English-language information I could find on kombu and katsuobushi (dried kelp and dried, shaved bonito), the elements that make up a classic Japanese stock. I wish Dashi and Umami was available when I was writing my article.
I came across this outstanding Japanese food book at last month's Tokyo Taste event (see post). Published in London and just released, it offers the most in-depth look at the role of dashi and umami in Japanese cuisine that I've ever found in English. The book begins with four legendary Japanese chefs talking about how they cook with dashi through the seasons, then offers an excellent practical guide to ingredients and methods. The book also contains outstanding recipes and fascinating insight into Japanese cooking and the philosophies behind it. If you're as curious about Japanese cooking as I am, you have to buy this book (try Amazon UK, too).
I want to share one of the beautiful recipes I just cooked from the book, for Fukagawa Meshi, Fukagawa-style miso clams over rice. Fukagawa is an old part of Tokyo that sits alongside Tokyo Bay. For hundreds of years it was a fishing port whose catch was distributed via canals that radiated through the city. Tadashi Ono and I visited there last year and include a mouthwatering Fukagawa clam hot pot recipe in our upcoming Japanese Hot Pots cookbook. The dish, from a renowned restaurant called Tsukiji Tamura, is more sophisticated than a hot pot, as flavor is pulled out of the clams three times to produce a deeply savory clam stock that's poured over rice.
One of my favorite passages in the book, on page 14, reads: "If much of Western cooking is an attempt to improve on nature through addition, then Japanese cooking is an attempt to bring out the best in nature through subtraction." The method here is a perfect evocation of this idea. Utterly simple to prepare with just four ingredients and rice, and yet the dish has such a nuanced flavor. Incredible.
Adapted from "Dashi and Umami," page 45:Ingredients:
- 2 dozen littleneck clams
- 2 cups water, plus more for soaking
- Sea salt as needed
- 1 piece (6 inches) kombu
- 2 teaspoons Shinshu miso
- Cooked rice
- Asatsuki (Japanese chives)
- Pinch of shichimi togarashi
Soak the clams in lightly salted water for at least 1 hour so they release sand and dirt (see this post). Change the water once or twice if necessary.
Place water and kombu in a pan and add a third of the clams. Bring to a boil. As soon as the clams open, turn off the heat. Scum the liquid and remove the clams. Reserve the liquid. Cool the clams in an ice bath and remove the meat from the shells. Set aside.
Add the second third of the clams to the reserved liquid and bring to a boil again. As soon as the clams open, turn off the heat. Scum the liquid and remove the clams. Reserve the liquid again. Cool the clams in an ice bath and remove the meat from the shells. Set aside.
Add the final third of the clams to the reserved liquid and bring to a boil once more. As soon as the clams open, turn off the heat. Scum the liquid and remove the clams. Strain the liquid through a cheesecloth to remove any grit, and return it to the pan, reserving a final time. Cool the clams in an ice bath and remove the meat from the shells. Set aside.
Add the shinshu miso to the reserved liquid (you want a light miso taste, so don't go overboard), and add all the reserved clam meat. Heat until the just before it boils. Pour over bowls of rice. Garnish with the chives and accent with shichimi togarashi.
(In the picture you don't see chives - didn't have any - so I just used the shichimi)