Friday, 17 October 2008

Cooking class 5: Tempura with bean & chestnut rice and tart octopus salad with Japanese egg "mayonnaise"

Tempura, deep-fried seafood and vegetable morsels served with a soy-based dipping sauce, is such a quintessentially Japanese dish it is easy to forget that it is actually a foreign import, brought by the Dutch.

Not one for the oily smell left after deep-frying at home, I was happy to do it in class at ABC, where it was teamed up with bean and chestnut rice and a show-stopping vinegared side dish.

The rice, which had a little "sticky" rice thrown in to give a little more texture, was flavourful and, with it's reddish hue, very autumnal. I wasn't able to pin down why the beans did not need pre-cooking and were merely cooked with the rice, but I suspect they were of a cooked and dried variety. Beans like that are eaten as a snack here in Japan, and are the beans of choice for throwing on Bean Throwing Day in February, when everyone expels "ogres" and welcomes good luck into their homes at the end of winter.

The octopus, cucumber and wakame side dish was superb. Particularly the kimizu (literally egg yolk-vinegar), essentially an oil-free mayonnaise. I learned a new cutting technique called snake's belly, where you make millimetre deep cuts on a slant on two sides along the length of a thin Japanese cucumber. This allows the cucumber to bend like a snake. It's not just for decoration, though: this helps the kimizu to penetrate into the cucumber. Ingenious! I am dying to make this again, but no one around me is game to try the octopus. Perhaps a little steamed chicken might substitute, but it definitely wants to be something slippery.


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