Welcome to the wonderful world of the Dancing Mushroom, better known as Maitake, Hen of the Woods or Ram’s Head. Enjoy the powerful, intense and nutty flavours and be intrigued by the aroma. No wonder it’s a much loved culinary mushroom!
Legend has it that maitake got its name because foragers danced with happiness when finding it. Nowadays maitake can be wild or cultivated. Both are fine; we actually prefer the cultivated ones. Make sure you cook maitake through and through, otherwise you may upset your stomach (and other parts of your body).
Maitake combines very well with beef and thyme. It is also great when combined with shrimps, crab, coquilles St Jacques, coriander, dill and parsley; a salad created by Antonio Carluccio and published in 2003 in the Complete Mushroom Book. The book has a wealth of wonderful, simple recipes.
Our soup is perhaps a bit odd, because it’s a thickened soup, something you would perhaps not expect given dashi is the base of the soup. It’s a gentle soup, with some umami and bitterness. The fried maitake amplifies the flavours.
What You Need
For the Dashi
500 ml Water
10 grams Konbu
10 grams Katsuobushi
150 grams of Maitake
5 cm Fresh Ginger
Tablespoon of Cooked Plain Rice
What You Do
Prepare the dashi. Remove the base of the maitake. Set a few ‘leaves’ aside (to be fried later). Peel and quarter the ginger. Add the remaining ‘leaves’ of the maitake, the ginger and the cooked rice to the dashi. Leave for 20 minutes on low heat. Remove the ginger and use a blender to create a smooth mixture. You will notice that the maitake doesn’t thicken the soup, as a classic Champignon de Paris would do. The rice should do the trick. Pass through a sieve. Keep on low heat for another 10 minutes. Add a tablespoon of sake, some soy sauce and mirin. Taste and adjust if necessary. The quanities very much depend on the flavour of the maitake and your personal taste. You’re looking for umami, bitterness and depth. Leave for another 10 minutes on low heat. Add olive oil to a small heavy iron skillet and fry the remaining maitake; initially on medium heat, later on low heat. This may take 5 minutes. Use the blender for the second time to make sure the soup is perfectly smooth. Serve in a miso bowl.
Nameko (or Pholiota Nameko) is a very popular, cultivated mushroom in Japan. It’s used in stir-fries and miso soup. The taste is nutty, the color amber brown and the texture is firm, also after cooking. The flavor combines very well with (home-made) dashi and shrimps. The kamaboko (made from processed seafood) and the mitsuba (Japanese parsley) add colour and extra flavour to the dish. Light, delicate and refreshing: a memorable starter.
If you want to serve a drink with the soup, then serve taru sake. This dry sake is characterized by its refreshing taste and the aroma of Yoshino cedar. The sake was stored in a barrel (taru) made of cedar. Taru sake is about skills, history, dedication and refinement. Yes, you guessed right, we simply love it. Our choice? The one made by Kiku-Masamune.
What You Need
For the Dashi
500 ml Water
10 gram Konbu
10 gram Katsuobushi
100 gram Nameko
2 large Shrimps
Light Soy Sauce
What You Do
Clean the shrimps and cut lengthwise in two. Let the shrimps marinade in two tablespoons of sake and transfer to the refrigerator for an hour. Clean the mushrooms with kitchen paper if necessary. Prepare the dashi; add a small tablespoon of sake and a similar quantity (or less) of soy sauce. Add the mushrooms to the soup. After a few minutes (depending on the size of the mushrooms) add four slices of kamaboko and the shrimps. Taste and add some more soy sauce and or perhaps yuzu if necessary. Serve immediately when the shrimps are ready. If possible add some mitsuba.
Tamagoyaki is best described as a Japanese rolled omelette and it is often served for breakfast or included in a bento box. It’s made by rolling multiple thin layers of egg; let’s say the concept of a Swiss roll but with much thinner layers. Making Tamagoyaki requires years of practice and a special rectangular pan (a makiyakinabe) using chopsticks only. But we, as western cooks with little patience, we use a round small, non-stick pan and two spatulas. The result is very tasty and it will make you think of a real Tamagoyaki.
The ingredients are a bit of a puzzle. Eggs, soy sauce and mirin for sure. Other ingredients include sugar (for a sweet version), sake and dashi (for a savoury version called Dashimaki Tamago).
The technique of rolling thin layers of egg is a great way of making an omelette. Feel free to replace the Japanese ingredients with some chicken stock and finely grated Parmesan cheese. You will love it!
Tamagoyaki comes with some umami thanks to the dashi and a touch of sweetness. Enjoy with a sparkling wine, for instance a Crémant de Bourgogne. Our choice was a glass of Blanc de Blanc Brut made by Vitteaut Alberti. Its aromas are fresh and flowery; the flavours suggest honey and pear. You could also serve a dry Riesling or Sylvaner. Serving sake is also a good idea; our choice would be a Ginjo-Shu because of its delicate and light flavour.
Heat a small non-stick pan (10 -15 centimetre) until warm but not hot. Whisk the eggs, add dashi and mirin. Use kitchen paper soaked with oil to coat the pan. Use a (small) sauce spoon to add a bit of the mixture. Make sure you can repeat this as often as possible, so it has to be a really thin layer of egg. When nearly set, roll it up and move to the side. Coat the pan with oil. Add some of the mixture, make sure it connects to the roll, wait until nearly set and roll it up. Repeat until the mixture is used up. The tamagoyaki should be yellow with perhaps a touch of golden brown. When done, feel free to shape the tamagoyaki by rolling it in a bamboo sushi mat. Slice and serve, perhaps with some grated daikon on the side.
Serving food prepared in a coddler is always good fun. Turn of the lid and be surprised! In this case it’s a light and elegant starter; one that you can prepare the day before. The ginger and spring onion bring spiciness and freshness, the dashi brings umami and the flan a velvety, rich feeling. Making the dish comes with two challenges: the flan should be smooth and the gel not too firm.
Sake is best with this dish. The taste of the flan is subtle with a nice fresh touch because of the ginger and spring onion. The gel is a bit salty, given the dish a nice edge. The sake should be straight and crisp (and cold of course).
In a bowl mix the egg and the egg yolk. Use a blender to smoothen the tofu. After blendering it should look like yoghurt. In a second bowl mix the tofu, 50 ml dashi, a touch of soy sauce and mirin. Now combine the content of the two bowls and mix gently. Pass through a sieve. It’s important that the mixture is very smooth, so no lumps or bits of white from the egg. And no bubbles. If not, pass through a finer sieve. Apply a very thin layer of butter to the coddler, just enough to cover the inside. Pour the mixture in the coddlers, but nor more than 2/3. The mixture will set but not raise (or only a little bit). Close the coddlers, but not too tight. You want to test one during the cooking process and you don’t want to burn your fingers. Set your oven to ‘classic’ and to 170° Celsius or 340° Fahrenheit. Put the coddlers in a large oven tray and add boiling water. The water should reach ¾ of the coddler, leaving ¼ free. Once in the oven reduce the temperature to 120° Celsius or 250° Fahrenheit and cook for 25 to 30 minutes. The coddlers are done when a metal pin comes out clean. Remove the coddlers from the oven and allow to cool. You can do this by putting them in cold water, but you can also give it a bit of time. Make sure you dry the inside of the metal lid (condense). Reduce the dashi. The taste should be relatively strong because the cornstarch will soften it. Better to use agar agar, but cornstarch is perfectly fine in this case. Thicken the sauce with the starch and let it cool. It should work as a gel on top of the flan. Grate the ginger and very thinly slice both white and green of the spring onion. Put a bit of ginger in the middle of the flan; sprinkle the onion over the top of the flan and finish by pouring a bit of the gel. Ideally this will cover the top (and the ginger and spring onion) and flow between the coddler and the flan. Put the coddlers in the refrigerator and let cool. Half an hour before serving take them out of the refrigerator, remove the lid, dry it and put it back on again. Decorate with dill.
This year seems to be an exceptionally good year for Matsutake. Antonio Carluccio once described it is a much-overrated mushroom but we dare to disagree. Just smell it! Pine, pine, pine. A unique mushroom. We tried making this soup with shiitake, but the result is not as refined, delicate and well-balanced. The key elements are of course the (home-made) dashi, the matsutake and the shrimps. Kamaboko (made from processed seafood) and Mitsuba (Japanese parsley) add colour (and some extra flavour) to the dish.
What You Need
0,5 l of Water
10 gram of Konbu
10 gram of Katsuobushi
75 gram of Matsutake
Light Soy Sauce
If you want to serve a drink with the soup, then serve taru sake. This is a dry sake characterized by its refreshing taste and the wooden aroma of Yoshino cedar. A wonderful link to the matsutake. And if you bought a bottle of taru sake, then please use this sake for marinating the shrimps.
What You Do
With a damp cloth clean the matsutake. Be careful not to remove the skin. The root should be cut like a pencil. Clean the shrimps and cut lengthwise in two. Let marinade in two tablespoons of sake and transfer to the refrigerator for an hour. Gently warm the dashi, add a small tablespoon of sake and a similar quantity (or less) of soy sauce. Cut the matsutake in 8 similar slices and add to the soup. After a few minutes (depending on the size of the matsutake) add four slices of kamaboko and the shrimps. Taste and add some more soy sauce and or yuzu if needed. Serve immediately when the shrimps are ready. If available add some mitsuba.
If we say ‘Japanese food’, you will probably think ‘sushi’, ‘sashimi’, ‘yakitori’, perhaps ‘udon’. But Oden? Probably not. Such a shame because Oden is a really wonderful dish. Oden for lunch or as a course in a typical Japanese menu: tasty, light and full of surprises. Oden is a stew that requires a bit more work than you would expect and of course time. It also requires some shopping, given some of the ingredients are not easy to find. We are not from Japan so we humbly present our version of this (wintery) classic. We hope it inspires you to cook Oden and enjoy it as much as we did.
Wine and Sake pairing
We preferred a glass of Chardonnay with the Oden during our dinner; others preferred a glass of cold sake. The stew is rich in flavours, umami of course, but not spicy, so we would not suggest a Gewurztraminer of a Sauvignon Blanc. A Chardonnay (with a touch of oak perhaps) will be a good choice.
What You Need
For the Dashi
20 grams of Dashi Kombu (Rishiri Kombu)
25 grams of Katsuobushi (Bonito Flakes)
For the Stew
Chikuwa Fish Cakes
One Pack Konnyaku
One Pack of Gobo Maki Burdockroot Fish Cakes
1 sheet of Hayani Kombu
2 boiled eggs
Abura Age Fried Tofu
Mochi (Sticky Rice Cake)
Soy Sauce (preferably one with less salt)
What You Do
Start by making one litre of dashi. This seems simple but requires precision. Clean the kombu with a wet cloth and put into one litre of cold water. Gently raise the temperature to 80° Celsius or 176° Fahrenheit. Remove and discard the kombu. Bring the liquid to a boil, add the katsuobushi, bring to a boil and immediately set heat to zero. Wait 5 minutes or so. The katsuobushi will sink to the bottom of the pan. Now very gently pass the liquid through a wet towel. Do not squeeze, just give it time. The result will be a great, clean dashi. Cool and set aside. Next step is to peel the daikon and slice it (2 centimeters is best). Now use a sharp knife to plane of the edge of the daikon. This improves the presentation and it is supposed to stop the daikon from falling apart. Cook the daikon for one hour in water. Drain and set aside. Step three is to cut the konnyaku in triangles and cook these in water for 15 minutes. Konnyaku is made from the konjac plant and is specific for the Japanese cuisine. Step four is to cook the sheet of Hayani Kombu for 5 minutes. This is young kombu and edible, different for the one you used when preparing dashi. Let cool a bit, slice and knot ribbons. Not sure why, but is looks great when you serve it. Now it’s time to add the dashi to the pan (should be a clay pot, but we stick to our Le Creuset), add one tablespoon of mirin, one (or two, depending on your taste) of soy sauce, add the daikon, the konnyaku and the fish cakes. We served our oden as a course during dinner, so we limited the number of ingredients. If served for lunch add boiled eggs, fried tofu and mochi. The last two ingredients have to be combined by putting the mochi into the tofu. Allow to simmer for at least 2 hours. Best is, as always, to serve it the next day. Serve with some karashi (Japanese mustard, which is different from wasabi by the way).