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A Traditional Japanese Family Meal

As Chieko Miyake, from Tokyo, Japan, taught Lindsay Sterling in Freeport Maine, January 24, 2011

Serves 4
Active Time: 2 hours

Hi. There were seven ingredients that were new to me in this dish. I live in Portland, Maine, and found all of them at Sun Oriental Market (626 Congress St.) I also found online retailers that'll ship you what you need. They're linked in the ingredients lists below. I learned something else - dishes really matter. She served the meal in Japanese bowls, which are taller and have higher sides than English bowls. Sun Oriental Market also had Japanese bowls, chopsticks, rice cookers, as did LaRoux Kitchen (161 Commercial Street Portland, ME, (207) 553-7665).

From Scratch Miso Soup

1 3x5" sheet of konbu seaweed
1 c. bonito flakes, called katsuobushi
3 Tbsp red miso
1 package Nasoya hard tofu, cut into cubes
2 Tbsp dried wakame seaweed
1 scallion, sliced into rounds at a diagonal

Rice Bowl with Chicken and Egg (Oyakodon)

3 c. short grain rice
1 large yellow onion, fine slices in half moons
2 chicken thighs
1 Tbsp cooking sake
3 Tbsp soba broth, sobatsuyu
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup mirin
1 tsp sugar
4 eggs
ground chili (S&B Nanami Togarashi)
1 scallion, sliced into rounds at a diagonal

1. Make the soba broth by cooking 1/4 cup soy sauce and 1/4 cup mirin until the alcohol burns off, 2-3 minutes. Then add bonito flakes and boil 1-2 minutes more. Turn off eat, cover and let steep 5-10 minutes, then strain, pressing the liquid out of the flakes. Reserve soba liquid for oyakodon.

2a. If you have a rice cooker: Chieko was very specific about washing the rice for at a least a minute under running water in a fine meshed strainer, moving the rice around with her hands so that the water eventually rinses off not-at-all cloudy, but completely clear. Then she shook of excess water and let the rice drip dry for 20 minutes before putting it in the rice cooker. She used 4 rice-cooker-scoops of rice and filled up to the 4 line with water. She made a shallow dip in the middle of the rice with her fingers - something her mother showed her to do, she doesn't know why. Add a pinch of salt and press the "cook."

2b. If you are not using a rice cooker: cook 3 regular cups rice how you normally would, bring rice with double the amount of water to boil in a small pan, reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 20 minutes.

3. Put a sheet of konbu seaweed in cold water for about 1/2 hour to soften. Then fill a medium pot halfway (about 5 cups) with new water, put the konbu sheet in it, and heat until just before boiling. Discard konbu. Add bonito flakes to the water, bring to a boil for 2 minutes, and then turn off heat, cover with lid slightly open for 10-15 minutes.

4. Saute onions in a little vegetable oil (just so they don't stick) over medium-low heat.

5. Cut chicken thigh meat into bite-sized pieces. Put in a bowl, and mix chicken pieces with sake and a pinch of salt. Wash cutting board and hands. Saute chicken with onions, stirring to keep from burning. When onions are translucent and meat is opaque on the outside (about 10 min), cover everything with water (about 2 c.) and turn heat to medium high.

6. Strain bonito flakes, reserving liquid, and squeeze out flakes by pressing the wad of them against the strainer. Discard the wad. Put liquid (which is the broth of the miso soup), back into medium pot. Add tofu and wakame seaweed (it's so cool to watch it expanding and turning from black to bright green!). Keep on low heat - boiling the miso ruins the flavor.

7. As chicken liquid heats up, remove any white bubbles or foam that appears on the surface by pressing a ladle or large sppon into the top of the liquid. The white foam slides into the spoon. Have a bowl on hand to discard the spoonfuls of white stuff. Repeat until foam stops appearing (about 10 minutes).

8. When the foam stops appearing on top of the chicken broth, add the soba sauce to the chicken broth. Taste the broth now. She added a tsp sugar here to smooth of a salty edge. Try it to see the effect. (The necessity for this step probably varies depending on what kind of soy sauce and mirin you use in the soba?).

9. Back to the miso soup. Instead of measuring tablespoons of miso paste, she did something cool. She just pressed her small whisk into the miso paste. Then she submerged a ladel into the miso broth, and whisked the paste into the broth inside the ladle, preventing chunks of miso from winging off (unmixed) into the broth. Add scallions and turn off heat. Miso's done.

10. Turn Oyakodon to medium heat at this point. In small side dish, scramble eggs until uniform. Pour in smallest stream possible through the tines of a fork into the chicken broth. (She does this to break stream into two, or just to make sure too much egg doesn't fall at once.) Cover surface area of chicken broth with the tiny stream. Don't stir! Just leave it. This process is called tamagotoji (translation: egg to pack everything together); the egg will turn the whole dish into a delicate yellow mass. When egg appears cooked about 3/4 through, and little bubbles start coming up, sprinkle scallions on top, turn off heat (She warned, you don't want the eggs to get all the way hard - otherwise water runs out of the eggs, ruining the delicate, smooth texture. Now, go ahead and should out: "I did it!"

11. Fluff rice in cooker. Put rice into bowls, and a large serving spoon of okayodon on top. Sprinkle with ground chili pepper (Nanami Togarashi). Serve with miso soup. Eat with chopsticks.

Copyright Lindsay Sterling 2011