I had the Friday off and after collecting my new passport from ICA (took me all of 10 minutes – awesome!), I headed off to Parkway Parade to meet up with Miss Pink with Purple. Together with Miss Hobbes, we were off to Atelier Koinu for an afternoon of Japanese cooking.
I took a wrong turn on the expressway and we ended up slightly late for our class. Alamak! Arrived in a bit of a fluster and after numerous “sumimasen!” and intense bowing, we sat down for an introductory chat.
On the table were neatly placed clipboard with recipes for the day as well as an apron and a hand towel. Very neat, very Japanese!
There was also Japanese tea and a little snack for each student.
Sensei Aki is a lovely and young chef/baker (late 30s?) and she was really friendly. We chatted about random stuff and she also asked us about our cooking experience. I guess it’s for her to gauge how in-depth she needs to go with the instructions. She adopted a pretty casual stance which made us feel at ease at asking her questions.
Just behind the dining table (where we were seated) were rows and rows of cooking books in Japanese. Wow.
Before we stepped into the kitchen for the hands-on practical lesson, she introduced us to the various sauces that we will be using. Many of them were really new to me and I learnt loads.
Let’s start with miso: Did you know that there are different types of miso and they are used for different seasons?
Dark miso is saltier and is used during the hotter seasons, i.e summer.
Light miso is sweeter, less salty and is used for the cooler seasons.
Next up: The soy sauce. I always thought that soy sauce is soy sauce but apparently not! I learnt that Japanese soy sauce is different from the type we use in Chinese cooking and they actually contain alcohol. Ooooh.
Koikuchi soy sauce is similar to dark sauce while usukuchi sauce is light sauce. Here’s what Wikipedia says about the 2 types of sauces:
Koikuchi (“dark color”): Originating in the Kanto region, its usage eventually spread all over Japan. Over 80% of the Japanese domestic soy sauce production is of koikuchi, and can be considered the typical Japanese soy sauce. It is produced from roughly equal quantities of soybean and wheat. This variety is also called kijōyu or namashōyu when it is not pasturised.
Usukuchi (“light color”): Particularly popular in the Kansai region of Japan, it is both saltier and lighter in color than koikuchi. The lighter color arises from the usage of amazake, a sweet liquid made from fermented rice, that is used in its production.
Next up: Two of the most “must-haves” condiments in Japanese cooking – Mirin and Japanese cooking sake.
According to this useful site, Mirin is “a sweet, syrupy liquid, mirin is one of Japan’s principal condiments. It has an alcohol content of about 13-14%, which is often burnt off during cooking. Mirin has a subtle natural sweetness, and its balanced flavour make it a very versatile condiment. Mirin is used for dishes such as nimono (simmered dishes), for marinating and glazing, and in teriyaki sauce. As well as hon mirin or ‘real mirin’, cheaper mirin style condiments with salt or other ingredients added, and generally less alcohol, are also available.”
From the same site: “Ryorishu is a type of sake (rice wine) made especially for cooking. It is often used in marinades for meat and fish to make them more tender, as well as to mask their smell. In cooking, it is often used to add body and flavour to tsuyu (soup stock) and sauces, or to make nimono (simmered dishes) and yakimono (grilled dishes). To enable shops not licensed to sell alcohol to stock it, manufacturers are required by law to add salt (2-3%) to ryorishu to make it unfit for drinking.”
Last but not least, we have bonito flakes (for making dashi stock), jyohakuto sugar (fine sugar), mitsuba leaves (a type of Japanese herb for chawanmushi topping) and kombu kelp (used for dashi stock as well).
It was now time to get into the kitchen and start cooking! To recap, here’s the menu for the afternoon:
- Teriyaki chicken
- Agedashi tofu
- Miso soup
I shared with Sensei Aki that I can’t seem to get Japanese rice right – it was either too dry or too wet. And she said that maybe it’s the rice cooker. Apparently, the correct rice cooker makes all the difference! Ha.
First up: Making Japanese boiled rice.
These rice grains provided by Sensei Aki are organic ones from Japan. Ooooh. We had to wash them carefully to make sure that no grain went to waste.
While the rice sat in the rice cooker to soak up the water, we moved on to prepare the rest of the ingredients. Even the chopping board and knife were laid out for us. Awwww.
We each took on a task and went about chopping and slicing. For the record, Miss Hobbes took the easiest cucumber, Miss Pink with Purple took the spring onions while I did the cabbages.
Point to note: We were preparing all the dishes concurrently so I’d try and group steps for each dish together.
Dashi fish stock
This is one of the most important (if not the most!) stock in Japanese cooking. It can be used for many dishes such as miso soup, agedashi tofu and chawanmushi. Sensei Aki shared that we can make loads of it and store them in the fridge for later use, just like other stock that we make. Interestingly, dashi fish stock is pretty light on the palate. I’m used to heavy stocks such as chicken stock so when I tasted dashi fish stock, I was surprised at its ‘light-ness’. I guess that’s quite typical of Japanese food, light and delicate on the palate 🙂
It’s only made up of water, kombu kelp and bonito flakes. Easy peasy!
This egg custard dish requires quite a few ingredients, namely fishcake, ginko nut, chicken, mushroom and prawn. This means that we had to prepare every single one of ’em ingredient. Phew.
Let’s start with the fish cake.
This was the first time I’ve seen Japanese fish cake in its wrapping. Most of the time, I’d only see them in the finished product! Heh. This is known as kamaboko or fish paste/cake.
I had to take a picture of the english translation so that I can remember what they are and can spot them at the supermarkets! Heh.
First, we remove the fish cake from the wooden block it comes in:
We each popped a slice into our mouth to try. It had a slightly salty, slightly sweet taste. Nice!
Next up were the mushrooms…
Did you know that you have to slice off the sharp ends of the tail? This is for better presentation. I got reminded again through this small gesture that the Japanese are really particular about their food presentation.
Lastly, the mitsuba leaves were chopped up, ready to be used as the final touch for the chawanmushi.
The chicken bits and prawns had to be blanced first before being placed into the individual cups.
Finally, the eggs had to be strained. This is to ensure that the mixture would be ultra smooth.
Once that’s done, the assembly of each cup begins! First goes the ingredients (minus the prawn)…
Then the egg mixture…
And finally, topping it all with a single prawn for all cups. This is done apparently so that the overall presentation will look good. Bet you didn’t know that eh?
And finally, pop on the caps and they’re ready to be steamed. Yeay!
I’ve tried making teriyaki chicken using bottled sauce but never quite got it right. The colour of the chicken always looked too fair and it was never like the ones we find at restaurants. Boo. I was happy to know that Sensei Aki was going to teach us how to make teriyaki sauce from scratch. Say no to bottled sauce!
Just before frying, add salt and pepper.
‘Age’ (pronounced as ‘ar-gae) means deep-fried while ‘dashi’ refers to the stock it comes in. This is, simply, deep-fried tofu in dashi sauce 🙂 So simple yet so delightful.
Each pack of tofu makes 6 little pieces…
After lightly dusting each little tofu piece with potato starch, they go straight into the hot oil.
I also learnt from Miss Pink with Purple that while deep-frying them, you’d have to lift them out of the wok to ‘air’ them for a bit so that it’d be more crispy. Ah so-desu!
Am I the only who think that the little cubes of tofu look so kawaii (cute)? Hehe.
Here’s Miss Pink with Purple adding in the miso sauce for the miso soup. If you look carefully, the onions and wakame seaweed are already simmering away…
Finally, it was time to check if the chawanmushi’s ready for plating…
And the chicken’s ready for slicing…
After about 3.5 hours of slaving cooking in the kitchen, I present the individual dishes:
Presenting, the finished product!
After all that work, the 4 of us sat down and had a lovely dinner. I ate till my tummy was close to bursting! Sensei Aki even shared with us a piece of strawberry shortcake she made during a pastry class she taught during the day. Awwww.
It was light, fluffy and delicious. I loved that the cream was oh-so-light, unlike the usual heavy cream we are used to in cakes. I made a mental note to return for a cake-making class soon.
So if you’re interested to make Japanese food or pastry, check out Atelier Koinu 🙂