The art of cuisine is an integral part of Japanese culture. It expresses respect for tradition and nature, precision and celebration of each moment, so characteristic in all forms of art. In western world this cuisine is often associated with sushi, but the truth is that this country offers more flavors and dishes. Let’s check them out!
When we visit some Japanese market or restaurant we notice an extraordinarily gentle and accurate service. It’s almost a liturgy. In the land of bonsai, ikebana, origami, calligraphy or tea ritual, every form of expression has its rite and order. The divine energy is present in all kinds of things. Everything has to be cute, perfect and tidy. In the cuisine it is reflected in the concern for the natural environment and seasonal ingredients. In this sense, the four seasons weigh heavily on their plates.
Japan is a relatively small country, but the interesting thing is that each region, each island, has its own culinary seal. Historically it has received many influences from elsewhere. Noodles come from Chinese and Korean influences and Portuguese brought to Japan the emblematic tempura technique in the sixteenth century.
The flavors that we feel in our tongue with Japanese cuisine are: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and the mysterious umami. The latter is described by chefs as the richest and perfect taste, because it contains all the other flavors. You will feel it in seaweed, raw fish, soy products and katsuobushi, the base of the famous dashi broth, made from tuna which is dried up, fermented and smoked.
To understand Japanese cuisine not only we have to know the ingredients, but also the flavors from different preparation techniques. One of the best known ones is raw food, such as sashimi. Here the precision of the chef is reflected in the choice of ingredient and cuts. Sashimi is mainly made out seafood, but also beef and horse meat are used. Raw seafood has a very particular umami, salty and iodine flavor, and sea urchins are the best example.
Japanese also cook using other techniques, such as the mentioned tempura (vegetables or shrimps covered with-buttery dough usually fryied in sesame oil and then served with soy sauce). With a tempura do not forget uncork a rich and fresh white as Casillero del Diablo Sauvignon Blanc.
Various dishes are prepared in a deep frying pan, such as the tasty gyozas (dumplings stuffed with minced meat), which are delicious with a wine with a perfect balance of acidity and body, as Frontera Cabernet Blush. You can also fry ingredients in a small portion of oil. This technique is called stir fry. A rich example is yakisoba, a dish of fried noodles with pork and vegetables, seasoned with soy sauce and served with beni shoga (pickled ginger). Try it with Casillero del Diablo Pinot Noir.
If you choose different types of red meat, fish or vegetables, and you use a grill or teppan (a large steel plate where the chef cooks in front of the dinner guests); you will get other intense flavors. For example, awabi (abalones prepared in this plate) is an ideal dish to enjoy with Casillero del Diablo Chardonnay, while shimofuri (wagyu steak) is recommended with Casillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon.
Nimono or stewed, boiled or simmered dishes will require the selection of other wines. This cuisine is based on shiru (soy broth). Meats and vegetables are cooked in shiru until the liquid is absorbed by the base ingredient or simply evaporates. The most widely used ingredients are vegetables, seafood, tofu or a combination thereof. A rich representative of these dishes is nikujaga, a stew of potatoes and pork. Here we need a slightly sweet wine, like Frontera Moscato.
One of the most important features of this cuisine is balance. In several recipes they blend vegetables, mushrooms, seaweed, animal protein and seafood or river ingredients (like unagi, a river eel prepared over the charcoal grill and lacquered with a sweet barbecue sauce). It is very usual to mix flavors from land and sea. As a result of this philosophy, comes an optimally balanced meal in the content of protein, fiber and carbohydrates. It is certainly one of the healthiest cuisines in the world. Don’t forget that in Japan many people live until ninety or one hundred years.
The dishes that gather several products and the favorite flavors of Japan are suimono soups, like the famous ramen. It contains dashi, miso broth (it’s not the name of a soup, but a mass of fermented soybeans), soy sauce, Chinese style noodles, pieces of meat, seaweed and scallions. Almost all regions of Japan have their own variation of ramen. Try you favorite version with an older vintage of Trio Chardonnay.
If one day you travel to Japan and you have only a couple of hours to live a more complete experience of Japanese cuisine, do not hesitate to visit Kyoto. It is the culinary capital of the country with a huge market full of delights. It is also the capital of kaiseki, a ritual of food and style of cooking. It is a true work of art for its respect to the portions, flavors, ingredients, preparation and presentation, but also for its atmosphere and service. Kaiseki is the Japanese high cuisine, which was originated centuries ago along with the tea ceremony. There is no menu, but only a procession of small courses, meticulously arranged in exquisite dishes. They use only fresh ingredients and each dish is designed to evoke the current season.
In that market try another pillar of Japanese cuisine: tsukemono, sauteed fish, vegetables, fruits, spices and roots fermented and preserved in vinegar. Savor, for example, a wonderful shiioyaki, sautéed salmon, served with a mineral and sparkling wine as Subercaseaux Extra Brut.
Almost every dish in Japan contains rice (gohan white plain rice; okazu- some portions served with several small plates, and origiri -rice dumplings-), fresh or fried tofu, soy sauce, miso, edamame (prepared with immature soybean, steamed and served with salt), but also several other seasonings. Even the simplest preparation is enhanced if it is seasoned with wasabi (Japanese horse radish). For example, try a raw octopus with Trio Sauvignon Blanc. If your dressing is panzu, a citrus sauce, change the wine for Casillero del Diablo Devil’s Collection Brut.
I know that several Japanese recipes ask for special ingredients and above all, knowledge of their preparation techniques. But today I want to present you a simple and tasty recipe that will allow you to experience the rich flavors of the Country of Cherry Blossoms. Check out the delicious yakitori (grilled chicken skewers). I recommend you try them with Casillero del Diablo Shiraz Rosé and enjoy a world of exotic, mystical and tasty flavors with every bite.
Ingredients 4 people (12 skewers)
- Sticks for skewers
- Half kilo of boneless chicken breast
- A branch of chives
- Vegetable oil
- Half cup soy sauce
- Half cup mirin (sweet rice wine) or sake (rice alcohol). You can replace it with a white wine or rice vinegar mixed with a sweet component like a teaspoon of brown sugar, grape juice, plum juice or honey
- 50 ml of water
- Minced garlic
- Ginger (ground fresh or dried)
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- Prepare the sauce. Mix chieves, mirin, soy sauce, water, sugar, garlic and ginger. Boil on high heat. Then lower the heat and cook until the sauce is reduced by half. Remove from the heat and let it cool down.
- Cut the chicken into cubes.
- Put the cubes in the sticks (previously soaked in water). Lubricate each skewer with sauce.
- Place skewers on the grill. After 5-7 minutes turn and lubricate again with sauce using a brush. Cook until the meat is ready.
- Each time the brush touches the raw chicken wash it thoroughly with hot water.
- When your skewers are ready you can lubricate them with the remaining sauce and eat immediately.