by Veronica Chan
Last Friday night, I got the opportunity to attend a Japanese Spring Cooking class taught by my friend Hiroko Shimbo. Our mutual friend Matt introduced us, inviting us both for a night of tapas, which eventually led to lengthy discussions about Barcelona, debates about short grain vs. long grain rice, and ultimately an invitation for me to attend Hiroko’s class at the French Culinary Institute’s International Culinary Center.
Having left straight after work to attend Hiroko’s class, I joined the rest of the class, which had already started. I immediately recognized Hiroko’s signature bob and distinctively blunt bangs behind the prep table upon entering the kitchen. Hiroko teaches her classes using traditional Japanese methods and recipes while using local and seasonal ingredients. Donning blue aprons and chef hats, all the students gathered around the demonstration table as Hiroko led us through each recipe, explaining each ingredient and technique. We started with the basics, making kombu dashi (kelp stock), then advanced to more difficult dishes with tasks such as poaching fish and frying tempura. Charged with glutamate, which produces a deep Umami flavor, kombu dashi plays a central role in Japanese cuisine and was a key component in multiple dishes for our Japanese Spring dinner.
After Hiroko’s demonstration was over, we split off into pairs to make our choice of appetizer and entree dishes. My partner and I tackled the fava bean soup and the poached fish with kimizu sauce, which I thought were two of the harder dishes to execute. Without a food processor, we skipped the puree part of the procedure and went straight to manually pushing the beans through a fine mesh to create a thick, green puree, which we then stirred into the stock and water mixture. To accompany our soup, we mixed water with the shiratamako flour (rice flour) to make tiny little rice balls that were to float atop the chilled soup.
The most difficult dish we made for the night, which incidentally was my favorite dish too, was poached branzino with kimizu sauce topped with spring vegetable tempura. After filleting the branzino and salting it, we cut a circular disk shaped parchment paper with a hole in the center to place on top of the poaching fish, to allow for the fish to be cooked evenly, without having the liquid evaporate off. Frying tempure proved to be more dangerous that anticipated. The stovetop at the frying station was set to 500 degrees, causing our ramp tempure to shrivel immediately on impact. The ramp tempura then proceeded to dance furiously in the pot, hissing and spitting oil. Thankfully, a student chef who was assisting the class noticed our look of trepidation, and lowered the tempuratire, setting us up to finish our tempura with less trepidation. The kimizu sauce added a contrasting dimension to the other subtle flavors of the dish. Prepared like a zabayon, it is a mixture consisting of egg yolk, rice vinegar, sugar, and mustard powder. Over a pot of boiling water, I stirred vigorously as the yolky liquid mixture congealed into a thick, creamy yellow sauce. Preparing this delicate sauce requires great patience and attention, as monitoring the temperature is crucial so the sauce doesn’t curdle into mustardy scrambled eggs.
What I loved most about the branzino dish was the different textures and flavors that melded together so harmoniously. While the fish was mild and flaky, the kimizu sauce provided a pungent punch of vinegar and mustard, while the tempure on the top was crunchy, a nice contrast with the mellow and tender fish.
Finishing the meals we had tediously prepared for two hours, Hiroko presented us with fruit salad for dessert. Mixed into the medley of fruits were rice balls, larger than the tiny ones we had made ourselves. These rice balls were unlike any I have tasted, sweet and with a crunchy chunk of apple in the middle. Hiroko revealed to us the trick to making this dessert, substituting water with grapefruit juice to make a citrusy, fruity taste that cleanses the palette.
And now, Hiroko’s poached fish and fava bean soup recipes for you to try for yourselves:
Fava Bean Soup
Soramame No Surinagashi
Yield: 4 servings
10 ounces fava beans, pods and skin detached
4-5 cups kombu dashi (kelp stock)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon usukuchi shoyu (light colored shoyu)
Pinch of sugar
2 teaspoons potato starch, dissolved in 1 tablespoon of water
1 ounce shiratamako flour (rice flour)
1. Remove fava beans from their pods and cook them in salt added water for 3 to 4 minutes. Drain and cool them in cold water. Once they are cool, peel the outside skin of the fava beans.
2. Put fava beans in a food processor and process until it becomes a puree. The fava beans might become thick, so to help make the texture more smooth, add some kombu dashi to the puree. When smooth, press beans through sieve.
3. Bring 4 cups of kombu dashi to a boil. Add the pureed fava beans and mix thoroughly. Add remaining kombu dashi if necessary to get the proper consistency. Add salt and light colored shoyu.
4. Turn the heat to low and add the potato starch water. Stir. Maek sure to cook the mixture long enough to rid of the raw starch flavor.
5. Place shiratamako flour in a bowl and add 2 tablespoons of water. Add water in intervals of ½ tablespoons until it starts to have the texture of bread dough. Roll dough into 15 balls. Add the balls to boiling water to cook for 2 minutes then place them in ice water.
6. Serve the soup hot or cold with shiratama dumplings
Note: You can enjoy this soup with green peas, edamame beans, and asparagus.
Fish poached in Kombu Dashi served with Kimizu Sauce
Mushi-zakana No Kimizu-ae
Yield: 4 servings
1 whole Branzino (small)
½ cup sake (rice wine)
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2/3 tablespoon sugar
2 pinches of sea salt
½ teaspoon Colman mustard powder
2 cups dashi
¼ cup usukuchi shoyu (light colored shoyu)
¼ cup mirin (sweet cooking wine)
4 stalks asparagus
4 small donko shiitake mushrooms
1. Clean the fish and fillet it. Sprinkle salt on the fish and leave it for 30 minutes. Rinse the fillet thoroughly to remove salt. Wipe the fish and score the skin side of the fillets.
2. In a bowl, combine egg yolk, rice vinegar, sugar, salt and mustard powder. Cook the egg mixture in a double boiler until egg is lightly set. Make sure not to overcook the egg or it will curdle. Cool the egg sauce over a bowl of cold water.
3. In a pot, place 2 cups of kombu dashi, usukuchi shoyu, and mirin and bring it to a boil. Transfer the liquid to a bowl and set aside.
4. Prepare tempura batter by mixing tempura flour with water until the batter is the consistency of loose pancake batter.
5. Dredge the vegetables in tempura flour and then dip them in the tempura batter. Fry the vegetables in canola oil at 350 degrees F until cripy and light golden brown.
6. In a shallow pot, place sake and kombu dashi and bring it to a boil. You want to add enough kombu dashi so the liquid is halfway up the sides of the fish fillets. Add the fish to the boiling liquid and turn down the heat. Sprinkle a little salt over the fish and cook it covered with parchment paper over medium heat for 3-5 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. Remove the fish from the pot and transfer them to an individual plate. Top the fish with Kimizu sauce, garnish the plate with vegetable tempura, and pour Happoji sauce onto the plate.
International Culinary Center at French Culinary Institute: