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Miso Clams Over Rice, From "Dashi and Umami"

Miso Clams Over Rice, From "Dashi and Umami"

Learn about Japanese cuisine, dashi, umami, and cooking methods in this insightful article. It covers information on kombu, katsuobushi, and Fukagawa Meshi, a recipe for Fukagawa-style miso clams over rice, extracted from a comprehensive Japanese food book. The piece evokes the philosophy of Japanese cooking and emphasizes simplicity with only four ingredients.

When I worked on a story on dashi, 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 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:

Clams Over Rice with Miso and Chives


  • 2 dozen littleneck clams
  • 2 cups water (plus more for soaking)
  • Sea salt (as needed for soaking)
  • 1 piece kombu (6 inches)
  • 2 teaspoons Shinshu miso
  • Cooked rice (for serving)
  • Asatsuki (Japanese chives, for garnish)
  • Pinch of shichimi togarashi (for garnish)


  1. Soak the Clams: Place the clams in a large bowl and cover with lightly salted water. Soak for at least 1 hour to allow the clams to release sand and dirt. Change the soaking water once or twice during this time.

  2. Prepare the Broth: In a pan, combine 2 cups of water and the kombu. Add one-third of the clams and bring to a boil. As soon as the clams open, turn off the heat. Skim off any scum from the liquid and remove the clams. Cool the clams in an ice bath, then remove the meat from the shells. Set aside and reserve the cooking liquid.

  3. Repeat with Remaining Clams: Add the next third of the clams to the reserved liquid and repeat the process. Do the same with the final third of the clams, each time reserving the liquid and setting aside the clam meat.

  4. Finalize the Broth: After the last batch of clams, strain the reserved liquid through a cheesecloth to remove any remaining grit. Return the strained liquid to the pan.

  5. Add Miso: Stir the Shinshu miso into the reserved liquid. Be careful not to add too much; aim for a light miso flavor. Add all the reserved clam meat to the pan.

  6. Warm Through: Heat the mixture until just before it reaches a boil. Do not allow it to boil fully.

  7. Serve: Spoon the cooked rice into bowls. Pour the clam and miso mixture over the rice. Garnish each serving with chopped asatsuki chives and a pinch of shichimi togarashi.

Techniques and Their Purposes:

  • Soaking Clams: Soaking in salted water encourages clams to expel sand, ensuring grit-free eating.
  • Sequential Cooking: Cooking clams in thirds and reserving the liquid each time concentrates the flavors, creating a rich broth.
  • Cooling in Ice Bath: Stops the cooking process immediately, preserving the texture of the clams.
  • Straining the Broth: Ensures a clear, grit-free broth for the final dish.
  • Adjusting Miso: Adding miso to taste allows for a balanced broth that complements the natural clam flavor without overwhelming it.
  • Garnishing: Asatsuki chives add a fresh, oniony flavor, while shichimi togarashi introduces a spicy complexity to the dish.

(In the picture you don't see chives - didn't have any - so I just used the shichimi)