Monday, February 6, 2012

Osechi 2012: Tier 1 Subasu and Tatsukuri

The top tier of the 3-tiered box traditionally contains foods that represent wishes for the family's health and prosperity (e.g. tatsukuri (seasoned young anchovies) and kazunoko (preserved herring roe)), and celebratory red-and-white items (e.g. red & white kamaboko (steamed fish paste) and cooked prawns).

This year, I made (clockwise from the left) green-and-gold Matcha-iri Kurikinton (sweet potato and chestnut paste with matcha), Subasu (spicy pickled lotus root), Koh Kentetsu's Pirikara Tatsukuri (Korean-style spicy dried young anchovies in gochujang-sake dressing) and Kuromame  (black soy beans in soy sauce caramel).

I ventured into new culinary territory with lotus root. I don't know why, but I'd just never got round to cooking anything with this crunchy mid-winter staple. I'm very glad I did, and this super easy Osechi item is very satisfying. "Carving" petals into the root was a bit fiddly, but that step can be omitted if time is tight. This needs to be made at least a day in advance to ensure full flavour. (Note: I messed up! This pickle should have been in the 2nd tier. Live and learn ; ))

It is best to use Japanese rice vinegar, which is more mellow than other vinegars. You will need a small amount of dashi stock for this recipe.

Subasu (spicy pickled lotus root)
Symbolizes the ability to foresee the future
Time/Effort: ** Cost: * Flavour: ***

1 section of lotus root (approx. 15 cm long)
splash of Japanese rice vinegar

For the amazu sweet vinegar pickling liquid
5 tbsp dashi stock
3 tbsp Japanese rice vinegar
2 tbsp sugar
pinch of salt

1 dried Japanese red chilli, sliced finely
2 cups boiling water
3 tbsp Japanese rice vinegar
pinch of salt

1 Peel lotus root with a vegetable peeler. Cut away sections of flesh between the holes of the root to create a flower shape (it may be easier to cut the lotus root in half around the middle and repeat this process on the two halves). Slice the root into rounds 5-6 mm thick. Soak in water with a splash of Japanese rice vinegar added to it.

2 Make the amazu pickling liquid. In a small pot, heat the dashi stock, rice vinegar, sugar and salt. When the sugar has dissolved, remove from the heat, add the sliced dried chilli and allow to cool.

3 Bring the water to the boil, add the rice vinegar and salt. Boil the lotus root for 1-2 min, or until slightly transparent, and drain immediately. Take care not to overcook or the texture will become unpleasant.

4 Place the cooked lotus root and the pickling liquid in a zip-topped bag and leave to marinate for a day. Keeps for around 1 week.

(Adapted from the recipe in Kihon no Osechi to Shogatsu no omotenashi 2010 (Basic Osechi and special occasion food for the New Year) (Gakken))

I've made several versions of tatsukuri, dressed dried young anchovies, over the years, but was never quite satisfied that this was the one. I think I've finally found what I've been looking for with this recipe from Koh Kentetsu, the ever-smiling Korean-Japanese darling of Japanese food TV and publishing. The son of a renowned Korean cooking expert and sibling of another food personality, he is the real deal.

With spicy gojujang Korean miso, garlic and ginger, this moreish riff on tatsukuri fairly pops in the mouth. I'll be making this often as a nibble for drinks.

Dried young anchovies (niboshi) and kochujan/gojujang are available at Japanese and Korean grocers, respectively. Choose the smallest niboshi you can find.

Koh Kentetsu's Pirikara Tatsukuri
Symbolizes an abundant harvest
Time/Effort: * Cost: * Flavour: ***

30 g niboshi (dried young anchovies)
1/4 cup sake
1 tbsp kochujan (gojujang spicy Korean miso)
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp honey (or to taste)
1/2 clove garlic, crushed
piece of ginger half the size of your thumb, pulped on a Japanese grater
1 tsp toasted white sesame seeds

1 Mix the sake, kochuujan, sugar, honey, garlic and ginger in a small bowl to make the dressing.

2 Toast the niboshi in a dry frying pan over medium-low heat, stirring gently,  for 2 min or until crispy and fragrant. Add the blended dressing and continue to cook, stirring gently, until thickened. Remove from the heat and cool. Keeps for around 1 week.

(Adapted from a recipe in (no longer available for purchase))

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