You may have noticed that I’ve changed the title of my blog. I hadn’t raved or ranted in quite a while (not on my blog, anyway), Little Kitchen Miracles not only reflects the content of this blog better, it is the “brand” that I’ve finally decided upon. Let me know what you think of it, if you even noticed.
This post started out to be a quickie about dashi, Japan’s ubiquitous all-purpose broth. Then I thought “what is dashi used for, mostly?” The answer that comes to mind, of course, is miso soup, although dashi is used in so many more recipes. And while miso soup is usually present at every Japanese meal, I’ve come to find it very satisfying as a hot breakfast liquid, light and refreshing. So there you go. Instead of a short, sweet post on dashi, you’re getting a long, involved, many times edited post about asa gohan, literally “morning rice.” I hope it inspires you to try a Japanese breakfast yourself!
I really couldn’t speak to what they’re eating for breakfast in Japan these days; I left in ’98. And people don’t generally go out for breakfast, unless they’re busy “salary men” who stop at a coffee shop for some butter jam toast and a cup of coffee. The really best place to get breakfast in Japan though, is at the high end hotels. Most of them serve a spread that Caesar’s Palace would envy, and the buffet is usually split; one side is everything you need for a Japanese breakfast. You’ll find the sausages, bacon scrambles, and breads and cheeses on the European side.
It took me a while to get used to dejeuner aux japonais. I think the salt fish was the most off-putting at first, even though I’m quite used to bagels with cream cheese and lox in the morning. And I missed bread; rice was somehow just lacking (it took a while for me to realize the rice was meant to be eaten with something). Soup in the morning was a bit odd, too, especially salty miso soup. But I found myself coming to enjoy it more and more, and one day, I was at one of those high end hotels and found myself going more to the Japanese side than the European side!
The sparsest breakfast in Japan will consist of white rice, with perhaps a cherry red, very tart pickled plum (they say it’s good for digestion). Pickles to go with the rice, and a bowl of miso soup. That’s the bare minimum. There’s usually a piece of shiosake, grilled or broiled salt fish. More elaborate breakfasts might include a little baby salad with lettuce and thinly sliced onions dressed with a simple rice wine vinaigrette, or Japanese macaroni salad, and if you’re feeling extravagant, a few pieces of seasonal fruit. Tamagoyaki, a rolled omelette, is a nice addition too, but I was never able to master the skill, so I settle for a soft boiled egg.
Finally, a cup of Japanese tea, ocha, to round out the meal. Coffee seems a bit heavy-handed for such a light breakfast, and fruit juices don’t enjoy the same popularity in Japan as they do in the States and Europe. We’ll investigate tea a bit at the end of breakfast, er, the post.
So, are you ready? Let’s make another small kitchen miracle, and start the day off right!
Dashi is Japanese soup base, like a stock or a broth, but it’s more delicate in flavor, and makes a clear, subtly nuanced broth that’s gets its earth flavors from dried shiitake mushrooms, and the ocean accents come from kombu, dried kelp, and katsuobushi, dried and shaved bonito flakes. When I say “ocean accents,” I mean ocean, not fishy. When I smell a good dashi, I’m transported to the seaside, not the fish market. Dashi is the perfect foil for miso soup and Japanese egg drop soup, or mix a bit onto your scrambled eggs, and top them with a bit of nori. It can be used in okonomiyaki, for a really authentic potato pancake. And it’s a great poaching liquid for seafood.
- 4 cups filtered or spring water, plus more as needed.
- 1 3 – 5″ square of kombu.
- 1/4 ounce katsuobushi (omit for vegan version)
- 1 leek, dry outer leaves removed. Remove the root tip, and cut about 2″ from the stem.
- 4 or 5 dried shiitake mushrooms, whole is best, but sliced is fine.
You can add to this list. Or delete from it. You can even either omit the katsuobushi or the kombu, but not both! Shiitake is not a traditional ingredient in dashi, but not unheard of. Sometimes, I like to add lemon rind, a slice of ginger, a halved garlic clove, maybe a few Szechuan peppercorns, any or all of the above. Lemongrass is very nice, sometimes. In some regions in Japan, they’ll add a bit of meat to the broth. And if you’d like to enhance the ocean-like aroma and flavor, throw in some shrimp shells if you have any saved. (You don’t? Tsk tsk.) Traditionalists may frown on you; NO SOUP FOR THEM!
- Add all of the ingredients except the katsuobushi a medium sauce pan
- Bring to a gentle simmer over medium low heat.
- Cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for thirty minutes. Add more water at intervals if necessary.
- Remove the broth from the heat and add the katsuobushi. Stir, re- cover, and allow to steep for 5 minutes.
- Strain through a fine mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth, pressing on the solids to get all the liquid, and discard the solids. I use a cheap white men’s handkerchief. I get ’em two for a dollar at the drugstore dollar aisle. Then Mark throws them in the garbage, thinking they’re paper towels!
- Store in the fridge for up to a week in an airtight container, or freeze for up to three months. Freeze it in ice cube trays, transfer to freezer zip bag, and any time you need some, pop out a few cubes…
- 2/3 to 1 cup dashi per person
- 2 to 3 tsp white or yellow miso paste per serving
- sliced green onions optional
- Nori strips optional
- Firm silken tofu, pressed and cubed optional
- Agedofu, fried tofu strips optional
- Small steamed clams optional
Place the miso paste in the bottom of a soup bowl. Bring the dashi to a simmer over medium low heat. Do not boil. Stirring, slowly add the dashi to the soup bowl. Add your choice of toppings. Unused dashi can be kept warm on the lowest heat setting for seconds.
I mentioned above that I found rice for breakfast to be be odd. That’s because rice is basically tasteless. You’re supposed to eat the rice with something; a bite of pickles, a sliver of fish. You can top your rice with furikake too. It comes in little shaker jars in a variety of flavors. And I sometimes like to mix in a bit of krill marinated in soy. Krill are tiny little fish packed with calcium. I get them frozen at the Asian market.
You’ll need Japanese short-grain rice, the kind they use to make sushi. And water. That’s all. I use a small amount of rice, as I’m only cooking for two.
- 3/4 cup short-grain rice
- 1 cup spring or filtered water
Wash the rice several times with tap water until the water runs clear. You can do this right in your saucepan. Fill the saucepan with water and let the rice soak until the grains are opaque white, 5 to 10 minutes. Rinse. Add the filtered water to the saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Turn the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand covered for an additional 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve.
Pickles complete the triumvirate of a Japanese breakfast. Breakfast is not complete without the three. Even prisoners, who may only get dashi as a soup, will get pickles with their rice!If you’re lucky enough to live near an Asian supermarket, you have access to a nearly limitless variety of pickles. Buy the smallest bags of the ones that look the most interesting to you, and mix and match them. If you like a little heat in your breakfast, a bit of chopped kimchi, which has become widely available in national supermarkets.
Quick Pickled Cucumbers and Onions
These “pickles” are easy and fast, ready to eat in about a half hour. They’re not really pickled, but they’ll keep in the fridge for up to a week. These pickles also make a great addition to a ham and Swiss sandwich with Kewpie mayo! On rye, please!
- 1 English cucumber, halved, seeded, and thinly sliced
- 1/2 yellow onion, halved again and thinly sliced
- 1 tbsp kosher salt
- 1 3″ piece of dried kombu optional
- 1 or 2 dried red chili pepper optional
- 1/2 cup rice wine vinegar, unseasoned
- 1/2 cup filtered or spring water
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 tbsp kosher salt
- 1 tbsp sake optional
- 3 tsp grated ginger optional
- 5 or 6 Szechuan peppercorns optional
Place the sliced cucumber and onion in a colander over a bowl to catch the water. Sprinkle with about a tsp of the salt. Toss gently with your hands. Repeat 2 more times, and then set aside for 1/2 hour. Rinse under running water and empty the mix onto a clean dish towel or several layers of paper towel. Gently wring the excess water from the veggie mix, then spread the cucumber mix, the kombu, and chili pepper in a flat, shallow non reactive dish, like a glass cake pan. Place all the ingredients for the marinade in a 2 cup microwave safe bowl, and microwave at full power for 1 minute. Pour the hot liquid over the veggies. Let cool for 10 minutes, then cover with a clean towel or three layers of heavy duty paper towel. Place a dish on top to keep the veggies submerged. Let rest for 10 or 15 minutes, then transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate until ready for use. If you let these sit overnight, they’ll be delicious, but very different in flavor and texture from the freshly made product.
This is by no means difficult, but it is a bit time consuming, as the fish needs to cure at least overnight, and is much better after thirty six to forty eight hours.You really don’t need the best salmon for this, although really good salmon is always a treat. I buy a pound of frozen, wild-caught skin on Pacific fillets, usually two to a package, and thaw them in the fridge.
- 1 lb salmon fillets with skins on.
- 2 tsp Japanese sake.
- Salt equal to 5% of the weight of the salmon (550g x 5% = 27.5g).
Blot the fillets dry. Brush or sprinkle the sake on the flesh side of the fish and let stand for 10 minutes. Starting on the skin side, start spreading the salt. Turn and liberally salt the flesh side, and repeat on the skin side. Wrap the fillets tightly in 2 or 3 layers of paper towel and place flat in a covered container with a strainer on the bottom, to let the liquid drain (those refrigerator freshers are perfect). Place in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours, and no more than 48. Keep in mind that the longer the salmon cures, the saltier it’ll be. I like it salty!
At this point, it’s up to you how to cook it. Basically bake, broil, or grill. Don’t use much oil, if any. I prefer the broiler. Cook using your preferred method until the meat is solid pink and solid to the touch, about 135°F (after you take it out, there should be enough residual heat to finish the cooking). Whichever method you use, start cooking the salmon with the skin side facing the heat, to get it nice and crispy. Turn the fillets carefully when the skin begins to crisp.
For those of you with an aversion to seafood in the morning (especially salted seafood), feel free to sub a small piece of teriyaki chicken breast.
As I mentioned, I’m no good at making tamagoyaki. Kind of embarrassing! So if I serve egg, I’ll fall on a soft-cooked egg, all runny in the center, scrambled eggs, or a one egg plain omelet. I sure I don’t need to give you any directions on how to cook the latter two, but a lot of people struggle with soft cooked eggs. I have a foolproof way to cook them, every time!
Soft cooked eggs
In saucepan big enough to hold as many eggs as you’d like to make (up to 4. If you make more, I’d suggest cooking them in batches) with 3/4″ of water. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Using a slotted spoon, place each egg carefully in the pan; the water won’t cover the eggs. Cover the pan and cook for exactly 6 1/2 minutes. Remove from the heat, drain, and cool under running cold water or with a quick ice bath. Peel carefully and slice lengthwise into quarters when ready to serve (if you want to keep them warm, place them, unpeeled, into a bath of warm water.
A sliced hard cooked egg works well, too. Add a drop or two of Tabasco or other hot sauce, or a light sprinkle of Japanese shichimi togarashi, a piquant and spicy blend of seven spices and herbs.
I really debated on whether to suggest a simple salad with lettuce and sliced onions, dressed with a simple rice vinegar vinaigrette. But that seemed too similar in its flavor profile to the quick pickled cukes and onions. So I opted for the less traditional “mac” salad, of which there are two varieties: the Japanese mac salad and the Hawaiian mac salad. The difference is that the latter contains milk and vinegar, and is a bit more flavorful than the Japanese version. This is not like your mom’s picnic mac salad. It’s creamy, almost unctuous, even served cold, and the vinegar gives it a pleasant tang. The allspice will give your salad a savory touch that no one will be able to guess at. Since Japanese breakfasts are typically very low fat, a little scoop of this rich salad is a nice contrast. Just don’t pile it on!
Hawaiian “Mac” Salad
- 1 cup elbow macaroni
- 2 tbsp cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise I like Kewpie, the Japanese mayonnaise, for its complex flavors. Best Foods or Hellman is fine though. Hawaiians are about evenly divided, but they all agree that Miracle Whip has no place near a Hawaiian mac salad!
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1 tsp brown sugar
- 3/4 tsp kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon allspice
- 1 tbsp grated yellow onion
- 2 scallions, white and light green parts thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup diced cooked ham substitute seafood, if you like
- 1 carrot, shredded
- 1 rib celery, diced
Bring a saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the macaroni, reduce heat slightly and cook for 15 minutes, or until very soft. Hawaiians call it “fat.” Drain the pasta, return it to the pan, add the vinegar and toss . Let rest while you make the dressing. Mix together the mayo, milk, sugar, salt, allspice, and grated onion, and whisk to combine. Pour half the dressing over the pasta and mix well. When the salad has cooled, add the rest of the dressing, the ham, carrots, and celery, and stir to combine. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.
There are as many varieties of tea in the Far East as there are coffee in the West. Maybe more. Tea is consumed at every meal, and in between. The Japanese tea ceremony is known worldwide as a delicate and refined ritual that people study years to master, although frankly, I never got the whole tea ceremony thing, and matcha, the neon green, thick, frothy tea that’s served reminds me of something a Klingon might take as a potion during a cleansing ritual for battle. The stuff tastes bitter and awful!If you’re gonna go for Japanese tea for your breakfast, I’d suggest one of these four varieties: My favorite is genmai cha, it’s got toasted rice and popcorn in it. Yes, popcorn. Hoji cha is darker and nutty. Sencha is pretty much the Earl Grey of Japan, and exactly what you’d expect to taste if offered a cup of green tea. There are many different grades of sencha. The king of Japanese teas is gyokuro cha. Chinese teas are tasty for breakfast, too. Try oolong or jasmine, one of my favorites! Several of these teas come in handy teabags, and many are available at national grocery stores. I’d also like to introduce you to a great website, should you like to purchase your teas online. The website is very well-designed, and the pricing is very reasonable. Visit The Tea Spot for a wide variety of teas, both Oriental and Occidental.
That basically means “thanks for the meal.” I don’t usually write about food with a “healthy” theme, although I do write about healthy food. I’m of the mindset that healthy eating is all in the portion control. “Enough is as good as a feast,” as Mary Poppins would say. But a Japanese breakfast is very healthy. Lean protein, a bit of veggies and a little starch. The variations are endless. And delicious.
All of the Japanese ingredients in these little recipes can be found in Asian markets, or on the Internet. Amazon has got it all! Many of them can also be found at your local supermarket.
Thank you for taking the time to stop by, dear readers. I’d truly like this to be a “live” blog, so if you have comments, questions, corrections, or even critiques (keep ’em civil), I not only welcome them, I encourage them! Let’s talk about food! Please do contact me, or leave a comment on the site!
So until our next kitchen adventure, I bid you adieu. Stop in anytime! And remember, dance like no one’s watching, sing like no one’s listening, but cook like everyone’s eating!