Monday, 15 December 2008

Cooking class 7: Osechi traditional Japanese New Year's treats

In Just Over 24 Hours, I'll be jetting my way back to Australia for the first time in 2 years. Ostensibly it's to spend time with the parents and do the Christmas thing like a good daughter, but it will be so much more than that this time, what with graduations and ruby wedding anniversaries and who knows all what!

But Christmas, as always, is going to be the big one. With all the preparations in the mad trip lead up, you'd probably think I was mad trying to squeeze in one more cooking class at ABC before we leave. I mean I've not even done half the Christmas shopping yet!

Fortunately or unfortunately, the stomach just about always rules the mind in my case, so it was off to learn some more morsels of Osechi ryori, the traditional foods eaten for luck and wealth in Japan at the New Year.

Last year (technically the beginning of this year (g)), I had my first go at Osechi, choosing bites that most appealed to me. It turns out that I chose mainly from the 1st layer of the 2-tier festive box. As luck would have it, ABC was offering selections from the 2nd layer! (They've cleverly set it up so that you need to go two years in order to get the full compliment of recipes (g).)

From bottom left we have tori no matsukaze-yaki, baked seasoned chicken mince cut in the shape of a hagoita, the wooden paddle used to play the Japanese New Year's game of hanetsuki. We topped ours with white poppy seeds and aonori or green laver.

Next is datemaki, a fish-enriched egg pancake that is rolled on a special mat to give it a distinctive zig-zag pattern.

The white and pink ovals are kamaboko, a kind of steamed fish paste. This is eaten year round, but it's red and white colouring makes it an auspicious addition to the New Year's spread.

Crustaceans of all kinds are used in Osechi and the particular one chosen often depends on what the budget is. At ABC, we opened the bellies of some large prawns, sprinkled them with salt and sake, topped them with white and black sesame seeds and cooked them in the frying pan. Ebi no onisudare-yaki, easy and delicious.

The white "blob" in the front right of the top photo is not a bun but a small Japanese turnip called kabu. We cut into the flesh to make the petals of a chrysanthemum, then marinated the whole lot in citron juice and vinegar. I thought the flavour could have been stronger, but it turns out that these are usually left to marinate for a day or two, rather than the 20 or so minutes our lesson permitted. I also thought it would be nice to have yellow chrysanthemums, maybe painted with some gardenia (kuchinashi) dye, perhaps.

Accompanying all this was a different version of Ozoni to the one I made last year. In Eastern Japan, this soup is made with a clear soy-based broth and grilled square-shaped pounded rice cakes (mochi). The filling recipe offered by ABC was in the Western Japan style, which is miso-based, and contains round mochi that is heated in hot water.

Traditionally, Osechi is made over the last few days of the year (in the midst of a top-to-bottom "spring" clean of the house, no less), and eaten cold over the first few days of the year. Having a hot soup would be essential to stave off the cold in the old days.

As it was we, too, did not finally sit down to eat until after 9:40 pm, so we were all starving. Surprisingly, despite the late hour, each one of us was well contented after finishing what we'd made.


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