The Ninja Baker, Kim Watkinson was raised in Japan and considers Tokyo her hometown. Here she shares her review of Mastering the Art of Japanese Home Cooking along with the Chef Morimoto’s recipe for the delicate but flavorful Dashi Simmered Rice with Vegetables.
Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto’s Mastering the Art of Japanese Home Cooking pays homage to the oba-san* (granny or auntie) in the Japanese home kitchen.
Morimoto: The New Art of Japanese Cooking (published in 2007) was a generous share of how to create exquisite Japanese cuisine with a multicultural flair. If you’ve seen Chef Morimoto on Iron Chef on TV in Japan and/or America, you know he’s a master of Japanese and French cooking. (Frankly, he seems to be well versed in the cuisine of almost every country!) Almost 10 years later, it seems the Iron Chef has returned home to his Hiroshima roots with his latest cookbook.
Mastering the Art of Japanese Home Cooking still has rebellious recipes such as potato chip-centric furikake (seasoned rice sprinkles.) The bulk of the Iron Chef’s recipes in his current cookbook, however, reverberate with Japan tradition. Chef Morimoto’s love for his mentors is also apparent. There are mentions of his time as an executive chef at Nobu in New York. (Thanks to his business partner, Robert De Niro, Nobuyuki Matsuhisa opened the door for foreigners craving an experience of Japanese flavors.)
But the spotlight shines brightly on Mrs. Oyama. She was the missus of Ichiban Zushi where 18-year-old Masaharu Morimoto began his apprenticeship. Chef Morimoto recalls, “It was under her tutelage that I made my first dashi. (Japanese soup stock) Every morning, she and her daughter-in-law made the stock from scratch, steeping kombu (dried kelp) in a pot of barely bubbling water before adding handfuls of the feathery katsuobushi (bonito) flakes.”
Wondering why Chef Morimoto’s mother didn’t teach her son? She couldn’t. His mother was raised in a household of great wealth. Servants took care of everything. WWII vanquished the lavish lifestyle. Chef Morimoto’s mother began working and turned to soy sauce for every culinary challenge. His father was a drinker. The budding chef’s primary sustenance was bowls of rice.
Chef Morimoto writes about his painful history with an even hand. There are no traces of regret, blame or sorrow. (Japanese often use the stoic expression – shikata ga arimasen – it can’t be helped.) Still, it seems Chef Morimoto suffered more than his fair share of injustices in his youth. His passion was baseball. He was heading to the pros. Injury interfered. His stellar culinary career was motivated by the rare and happy visits to the sushi bar with his family.
Chef Morimoto navigated the enormous pressures on the Iron Chef TV show like a surgeon in the operating room. Never shouting. Always calm and confident. Paul Snyder, the General Manager of Morimoto Asia in Disney Springs confirms that, “Who you see on TV is who you see in person.” He is a humble, surefooted warrior in and outside the kitchen.
Trying out the different recipes in Mastering the Art of Japanese Home Cooking, I felt a very steady hand was guiding mine. Chef Morimoto’s instructions are pitch perfect. Gorgeous photos grace nearly every page. Yet, it is his knowledge of the process of Japanese cooking to the minute details that is so impressive. (I hear you. That’s why he’s the Iron Chef!) Mastering the Art of Japanese Home Cooking recipes make me feel like Chef Morimoto is at my side. When preparing food of another culture, it’s comforting to have a maestro teacher in the kitchen.
In comparison, even in my beloved edition of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, there is a feeling of flying solo. By the way, Julia Child was instrumental in the naming of Chef Morimoto’s cookbook. He was inspired to make Japanese cooking accessible just as Julia Child had done for French cuisine. With Chef Morimoto’s “Magic Tricks” and “Grandmother Wisdom” sprinkled throughout the book he does make Japanese home cooking look easy…or less daunting.
Starting simple and with the basics, I made Chef Moritomoto’s dashi (Japanese soup stock) recipe. The soup stock was incorporated into his recipes for tamagoyaki (Japanese egg omelet) and takikomi gohan (dashi simmered rice with vegetables.) Dashi is also necessary for making miso soup.
Japanese egg omelet (tamagoyaki) has been in my repertoire for over a decade. (Thanks to my Japanese friends.) However, Chef Morimoto’s method was slightly different and new. Don’t tell. I’m adopting the Iron Chef’s way from now on! Truly Chef Morimoto has taken the pressure off of making Japanese egg omelet. My Japanese friends are able to whip out tamagoyaki with chopsticks. I always fumbled up until now. Click here for the how-to.
Chef Morimoto’s recipe for takikomi gohan simmers with rich yet subtle flavors of wholesome goodness. Burdock root brings out an earthy taste while carrots add sweetness. It took me back to sitting across the table from my Japanese nanny. The tantalizing tastes also brought flashbacks of munching takikomi onigiri (rice balls) in Tokyo as a teen.
Note: Chef Morimoto describes in detail several types of rice cooker. Unfortunately my ancient Japanese rice cooker did not fall into any of his categories. So I chose the “regular” setting over the “sushi” setting. Next time, I’ll choose sushi. For making rice balls, stiffer rice works better. Still, I managed to make takikomi rice balls.
Mastering the Art of Japanese Home Cooking is a process of learning. If you’re going to embark on a Japanese culinary adventure, why not take the journey with Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto at your side, starting with dashi simmered rice.
*Oba-san (お祖母さん) means grandmother in Japanese. It also means aunt (お小母さん). However, the kanji (Chinese characters) and pronunciations are different.
Do try this delicious takikomi gohan or dashi simmered rice with vegetables!
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- ½ ounce kombu dried kelp; an approximately 5 by 6-inch piece
- 8 cups water preferably filtered or spring water
- 1½ ounces bonito flakes katsuobushi about 3 cups lightly packed
- 1½ teaspoons vegetable oil
- 1½ teaspoons toasted sesame oil
- ¼ pound boneless chicken thigh trimmed and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
- ½ cup carrot sliced 1½ by ½ by 1/8 inch peeled
- ½ cup aburaage 1½ by ½ by 1/8 inch store-bought sliced
- fried tofu skins
- ½ cup burdock root 1½ by ½ by 1/8 inch (gobo) or parsnip peeled & sliced
- 1/3 cup gray konnyaku 1½ by ½ by 1/8 inch Japanese yam cake sliced
- 2¼ cups dashi see recipe above
- 2 tablespoons Japanese soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sake Japanese rice wine
- 1 tablespoon mirin sweet rice wine
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 cups short-grain white rice “sushi rice”, washed well and drained
Briefly and gently wipe the kombu with a damp towel to remove any dirt or grit, but do not scrub off the white stuff.
Combine the water and kombu in a medium pot, set over medium heat, and heat uncovered just until you see small bubbles break the surface of the water, 10 to 12 minutes. Take the pot off the heat.
Use tongs to remove and discard the kombu. Add the bonito flakes to the pot and stir gently to distribute the flakes throughout the liquid. Let the flakes steep for about 1 minute and use a spoon to skim off any white froth from the surface of the liquid. Let the flakes steep for 2 minutes more.
Line a sieve or strainer with a cheesecloth or sturdy paper towels, set the sieve over a large container, and pour in the dashi. Very gently press the flakes and discard them.
If you’re not using the dashi right away, let it cool to room temperature and store it in air-tight container in the fridge for up to 4 days, or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Pour the oils in a small pot, add the chicken, set the pot over medium heat, and wait for the chicken to sizzle. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is no longer pink on the outside, about 2 minutes.
Add the carrot, abura-age, burdock and konnyaku and stir well, then add the dashi, soy sauce, sake, mirin and salt. Raise the heat to medium-high; bring the liquid to a strong simmer, and cook until the carrots are tender with a slight bite, 5 to 8 minutes. Use a spoon to skim off any white scum from the surface. Strain the liquid through a sieve into a large heatproof measuring cup, reserving the solids. If necessary, pour off any excess liquid or add enough water or extra dashi to give you 2 cups of liquid.
Combine the liquid and rice in a rice cooker or a medium pot and stir briefly. If you’re using a rice cooker, use the white rice setting if there is one and press the “cook” button. If you’re using a pot, cover it, set it over medium-high heat, and bring the liquid to a boil. Immediately reduce the heat to very low to maintain a bare simmer and cook, doing your best not to peek under the lid, until the rice has absorbed the liquid and is tender, about 15 minutes. If you are using a rice cooker, wait until the rice has finished cooking completely and the timer goes off.
Add the reserved chicken mixture (but don’t stir just yet) and cover with the lid again. Remove from the heat and let the pot or rice cooker sit until the chicken mixture is hot and the rice is completely tender, at least 10 or up to 20 minutes. Stir gently but well, then serve right away.
- Small bits of tofu can be substituted for the chicken.
Editor’s note: This recipe is printed courtesy of the publisher. The author of this review received a copy of the cookbook, Mastering the Art of Japanese Home Cooking . No other compensation was received from the publisher. Links to the cookbook are affiliate links.