Love your Japanese food? Planning to turn your culinary attention to experimenting with some yummy soups, salads and tempura at home? Japanese cuisine, like any other, needs some basic ingredients. Read on for the 10 essential items you must have in your kitchen cabinet if you want to whip up true Japanese style dishes. It’s time to go shopping, my friends!
The first and most important item to procure is Japanese rice. This may sound silly but Thai or Jasmine rice simply won’t do. Japanese rice is free of any distinctive aroma and just sticky enough to bind delicate dishes like sushi and others. California grows Japanese rice using the same seeds; it tastes exactly like Japan-produced rice and is much cheaper. Look for two brands – Akita Komachi and Koshi Hikari.
Japanese Soy Sauce
The brand to trust when buying soy sauce is Kikkoman. Easily available in the West, it comes in two flavors. Koikuchi is black and has a deeper color while Usukuchi is lighter and saltier.
This Japanese alcohol is brewed from fermented rice, koji (rice mould) and water. It is used in many Japanese dishes just as white wine is used in European cooking.
Mirin is a clear gold liquid which is like sake, except it has only about 14% alcohol. This condiment is essential to a number of Japanese dishes. It brings with it a mild sweetness and a lovely aroma which helps mask seafood odor and gives the dish a nice sheen. Takara and Mitsukan are popular labels.
Hon dashi or fish stock powder is made from sword fish but does not have the usual fishy smell. It used in almost all Japanese preparations, and is almost more common than chicken stock used in western dishes. It does not have any distinct flavor but the superb taste of Miso soup is hon dashi, miso and water. So you can imagine.
A lot of Japanese curries ask for the right mayo. Its distinctive flavor comes from the apple cider or rice vinegar and MSG. Kewpie is most widely found brand of Japanese mayonnaise.
When picking up rice vinegar, make doubly sure it is Japanese because it is much milder and mellower than any other, even the Chinese. It is made from rice or saké lees (residual yeast) and is colorless to pale yellow. It is used in sauces and dressings.
This is a light yellow citrus based sauce. It is thin and watery and is used in many delicious Japanese sauces.
This is originally starch extracted from the dogtooth violet plant which is now very rare; so it is substituted by potato starch. It is primarily used to thicken sauces but is also sprinkled on foodstuff before deep frying to add more crispiness.
Very fine bread crumbs are called panko and are used with batter to deep fry fish or meat. This makes fritters lighter and crispier. Japanese hamburgers are made with panko and milk.
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