Friday, January 11, 2013

Happy New Year 2013: Osechi

Osechi: Traditional cuisine for the Japanese New Year
Happy New Year!

What you see above is the fruits of (let's be honest) quite a lot of work at the end of 2012.

Osechi is the traditional New Year food of Japan. Made over the dying three to four days of the old year, the dishes are intended to tide families over the three-day New Year holiday, when, in days of old, all shops would be closed.

A jubako 3-tiered lacquer ware box

Osechi is typically served in a lidded three-tiered lacquer ware or china box called a jubako. I couldn't resist this one, with it's auspicious sho-chiku-bai (pine, bamboo and plum blossom) motif.

The plum trees have not usually blossomed in Yokohama by January 1, but as the first flowering tree to blossom, they are the harbingers of spring and the plum blossom is a classic New Year symbol in Japan (see table runner). Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find a plum blossom napkin fold, so we made do with roses, instead. In any case, the rose is the floral emblem of Yokohama, so it felt appropriate, somehow ; ).

With an amazing assortment of morsels with auspicious or virtuous meanings,  cooking the three-tiered goodie box can be a bit daunting, especially if also undertaking the mandatory Big Clean that the Japanese housewife is told is essential to starting the New Year on the correct footing. (Some cleaning product ads even exhort  "clean up this year's dirt before the end of this year!")

I don't go in for spring cleaning, and with the Young Man set to leave Japan for university in Australia later this year, I wanted to give Osechi my very best shot. I managed to double my previous best effort of 7 items to 15, with around 4 days of cooking.

Doing a spot of research, I discovered that the January 2012 edition of the glossy women's magazine Fujin Gaho  had a big Osechi recipe feature. That, various copies of its competing glossy Katei Gaho, the food bi-monthly Orange Page and two Osechi mooks I have picked up over the years provided the recipes for this spread.
Some of these dishes have become firm favourites over the years, others were new to me and may still need a bit of tweaking till I get them right. I'll be posting the recipes shortly.

Tier 1 (left; sweet delicacies)
Kuromame (black soybeans caramelized in sugar and soy sauce), pirikara tatsukuri (spicy dried young anchovies with ginger and garlic), kumquats in syrup, kurikinton (sweet potato and chestnuts) with matcha, plum-blossom-shaped apple jelly and yuzu (citron) jelly

Tier 2 (middle; savoury and pickled delicacies)
Matsukaze-yaki chicken terrine, namasu pickled daikon and carrot with apricots and mint, pickled subasu lotus root, datemaki fish and egg roll

Tier 3 (right; simmered stew)
Spicy chicken and root vegetable nishime stew, ninjin no ume-ni plum-blossom carrots simmered in dashi and umeboshi pickled plum, snow peas

I served this with my usual gochiso buri daikon yellowtail teriyaki with daikon and Edo-style Ozoni soup (minus the mochi rice cake this year).

More to come shortly...

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