Updated: Sep 19
Our Partner Culinaire Magazine looks at some terrific summer inspired Japanese dishes from some of Alberta's top chefs
When it comes to Japanese cuisine, food isn’t just food. It’s a tradition, an art form, a way of life.
And with restaurants in Japan holding more Michelin stars than the other top 10 Michelin-rated cities combined (Tokyo has 230 stars, almost double the number in Paris, which holds the No. 2 spot ), there are reasons why Japanese cuisine is so revered.
Japanese food has taken Alberta by storm, with restaurants, ramen shops, and sushi spots popping up all over the province. So for our special summer issue, we learned all about Japan’s food culture from local chefs, and picked up some tips and tricks for making Japanese food at home!
At the Sukiyaki House in Calgary, head chef Koji Kobayashi gives customers a glimpse of authentic Japanese dining, a cuisine that goes far beyond dishes we’ve grown accustomed to in North America, like sushi and tempura.
“Back home, there are so many authentic ingredients we use, like yuzu, bonito (dried, smoked fish flakes), sake, soy, and mirin,” he says. “Incorporating those into your everyday cooking can add a different dimension to your cooking.”
Used in almost all of Kobayashi’s dishes is dashi, a traditional Japanese broth. Made with a combination of dried seaweed, bonito flakes, dried anchovies, and shiitake mushrooms, dashi is easy to prepare and is what gives Japanese food such a rich, savory flavour.
Come summer, Kobayashi says he likes to cook with white fish like sea bass or red snapper, which can be served grilled or sashimi-style with a miso vinaigrette and pickled seaweed.
Perfect to accompany grilled meat or fish, try making Kobayashi’s Yuzu Miso Carpaccio, and he’s also let us have his recipe for his most popular (and healthy) summer side dishes: Japanese spinach salad with sesame dressing!
Yuzu Miso Carpaccio
3 fillets of your favourite fish (note: use a white fish, like sea bass, red snapper, or yellowtail)
125 g miso paste (soybean paste)
40 g sugar
½ cup + 1 tsp (130 mL) rice vinegar
6 tbs (90 mL) sesame oil
2 tsp (10 mL) of yuzu or lemon juice
Microgreens to top
Mix miso paste, sugar, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and yuzu juice in a bowl.
Slice fish thinly and place fan out on a flat dish.
Top with microgreens.
Pour sauce over fish.
*Tip: for an extra touch, add garlic chips and a bit of olive oil.
Goma-ae (Japanese spinach salad)
2 Tbs sesame seeds
2 Tbs sugar
1 tsp (5 mL) mirin (Japanese rice wine)
2 tsp (10 mL) soy sauce
1 cup spinach
*Tip: toast sesame seeds for extra nutty flavour!
Blend sesame seeds, sugar, mirin, and soy sauce. Set aside.
Boil spinach in a small pot.
Drain and press all the water out of the spinach.
Mix spinach and goma-ae sauce together. Serve in a small bowl, and pair with your favourite Japanese dish.
Tomoya Mutaguchi, owner and chef of Japanese tapas bar Izakaya Tomo in Edmonton, wanted to recreate his relished dining experiences in Japan at izakaya (thus the name), also known as sake houses.
Izakaya are cozy informal pubs that are pretty much everywhere in Japan, and serve as a spot for the after-work crowd to wind down with some sake and small plates to share; Mutaguchi classifies izakaya as “a type of rest.”
Especially in Alberta, Mutaguchi says there aren’t many izakaya around, and he hoped to get people excited about other types of Japanese cuisine beyond popular dishes, like ramen and sushi.
“I want to let customers know Japanese food isn’t only sushi, teriyaki, and rolls,” he says. “Typical traditional foods are any kind of vegetable, meat or fish simmered in broth until there’s almost no liquid left. Very simple to make, with a very nice taste.”
Broths and sauces are the crux of most dishes, and incorporate a variation of just a few simple ingredients – the sweet, tangy teriyaki sauce we all know and love is just sugar, salt, soy sauce, sweet sake, and mirin (rice wine).
In summer, Mutaguchi likes to keep things light and fresh, using citrus fruits like yuzu to add a nice sourness to dishes.
If you’re a bit intimidated by making Japanese food at home, don’t be. Here’s Mutaguchi’s recipe for a traditional home-cooked dish popular in Japan, marinated fried fish with veggies!
Nanbanzuke (fried fish in vinegar sauce)
2 mackerel fillets (or your choice of favourite fish)
1/3 cup + 4 tsp (100 mL) mirin (Japanese rice wine)
100 g sugar
2 cups (500 mL) soy sauce
3 L water
½ medium onion
Flour and oil for frying
2 carrots, sliced thinly
2 green onions, sliced thinly
Combine mirin, sugar, soy sauce, water, lemon, and half a medium onion in a large pot.
Bring to a boil, and then remove from heat.
Sprinkle fish with salt, and remove excess moisture with a paper towel.
Cut fish fillets into bite-sized pieces. Cover in flour and deep fry until crispy (if you don’t have a deep fryer, you can also pan fry fish in oil).
While still hot, add fish to the marinade until fully coated. Add carrots and green onion, and marinate overnight.
Serve cold or at room temperature!
At Bar Bincho in Calgary, chef Owen Wong is all about creating an authentic Japanese dining experience. Half the menu is kushiyaki, skewers of grilled food for sharing, like bacon wrapped Japanese rice cakes, whole scallops in garlic butter, and shishito peppers.
Wong says a shared experience is the most important aspect of Japanese cooking, so dishes are kept simple with just a few base ingredients.
“This is more how you eat in Japan, not doing something fancy or adding too many elements in food,” he says. “We want to create an atmosphere where people order plates to share, and have fun and talk with each other. That is how they do it in Japan.”
Whether you’re a master of Japanese cuisine or just starting out, Wong says even though most dishes are fairly simple to make, each has steps that must be followed in the right order – attention to detail is one of the reasons why Japanese food is so special.
If you’re ready to try it for yourself, Wong shares his recipe for salmon ochazuke, a traditional Japanese dish of steamed rice, grilled salmon, and tea!
For Hojicha dashi (tea broth):
20 g kombu (edible kelp)
30 g dried bonito flakes
4 cups (1 L) water
½ tsp soy sauce
1 Tbs (15 mL) hojicha (Japanese green tea)
2 cups Japanese rice
Dash of salt
Salmon flakes (*can be replaced with grilled salmon, or salmon sashimi)
Green onion, chopped
Kizami nori (shredded seaweed)
Soak kombu in water for 2-3 hours. Bring to a boil on medium-heat. Remove kombu and turn off heat.
Add bonito flakes to pot, and leave for two minutes. Filter out bonito flakes, and you’re left with a Japanese broth called dashi.
Transfer 1 – 1½ cups (250-300 mL) of dashi to another pot. Add salt and soy sauce, and bring to a boil.
Once it starts boiling, turn off heat right away and add hojicha leaves.
Prepare four bowls of steamed rice.
Add whichever style of salmon you’re using, and pour the dashi tea broth overtop into each bowl.
Top with nori, green onions, sesame seeds, and a little bit of wasabi.
Courtesy of Culinaire Magazine