Spices and Seasonings
Japanese cuisine uses the following five basic flavours; salt, sugar, vinegar, soya sauce and miso. However, as with any other cuisine there is also a range of herbs, spices and other ingredients used to enhance the flavours present in the dish.
Beni-shouga is red, salt-pickled ginger used to add flavour to okonomiyaki (a Japanese style tortilla), itame-gohan (fried rice mixed with other ingredients) and yakisoba (stir-fried noodles). The red colour is derived from red perilla or shiso.
Root ginger is used ground in Japanese cuisine and mixed with soya to marinate pork prior to sautéing it, as the flavours of pork and ginger complement one another well. It is also served on top of a pyramid of daikon (Japanese white radish) to put in the tempura dipping sauce. Shouga is also used in okayu (rice porridge) which is eaten particularly in the winter due to its warming properties, and drunk in an infusion with honey as a medicine to alleviate high body temperatures.
Commonly known for its role in accompanying sushi, this is the thinly sliced root ginger which is pickled in vinegar and naturally turns red if it is fresh when it is pickled. Gari is used as a palette refresher between pieces of sushi but its original role in accompanying sushi was the result of its use as an antibacterial agent which helped raw fish to be eaten safely when there were no refrigeration techniques. It can also be chopped up and mixed in with sushi rice for chirashi-zushi.
Together with the typical root ginger which originates in China and is used in many different cuisines, Japanese cuisine uses this young ginger shoot, which looks similar to a spring onion with a white bulb graduating to green leaves. It can be eaten raw, or pickled in vinegar, the white bulb turning pink when pickled.
One of the most distinctive flavours in Japanese cuisine, this very attractive bud is also used as a decoration. If blanched in salted, boiling water and then placed in vinegar it becomes an attractive red colour. It can then be used as a garnish or as a sushi topping. However, it is also used as a raw ingredient for tempura, as sunomono (food pickled in vinegar), as a spice in sauces or with cold soba or somen noodles in the summer when it is in season.
The root of a plant in the cabbage family which is similar to horseradish but with more of a pungent aroma. The natural, unprocessed form of wasabi is made by grinding the root on shark skin, the natural spice and fragrance being brought out to the full when it is then mashed with the back of a knife. Wasabi is sold in various forms in the United Kingdom; powdered, frozen and as a paste. Frozen wasabi solely consists of the wasabi root, but the powdered and paste wasabi contains horse radish amongst other ingredients. Its main use in Japanese cuisine is as an accompaniment to sushi and sashimi. However, at Matsuri restaurants we mix it with double cream and soya sauce to make a delicious dip for teppan-yaki dishes.
Kiyuzu (literally “Yellow yuzu”) is a yellow citrus fruit originating in China which is ripe throughout autumn and winter. The fruit is at its best when it is yellow but can also be used when it is green (and unripe), however, it does not have such a strong aroma in its green state.
This fruit is valued for the strong flavour of its rind (and it is usually only the rind which is used as the juice has little flavour). It is utilised in soya sauce as a dressing, in nabe (Japanese stew), or for sushi, sashimi and fish dishes (where the fish is marinated in a yuzu and soya sauce mix and grilled). Yuzu is also used to give an extra dimension of flavour to pepper, soya sauce, miso and vinegar. It has recently become so popular that it is now the main flavour in a wide range of sweets.