Dishes including shiitake mushrooms grown on logs is what the former Towa village, now located in Shimanto in Kochi Prefecture that is known for the clear Shimanto River, takes pride in.

Although the cooking procedure differs, this week’s recipe is named after the renowned dish of Tosa called “katsuo no tataki,” a type of bonito sashimi, which is broiled and served with garlic and other seasonings.

To prepare “shiitake no tataki,” thick shiitake are cut into bite-size pieces, dusted with “katakuriko” starch and deep-fried. Fresh from the pot, the pieces are crisp outside yet fluffy inside and simply enticing. But here one has to show restraint. After the pieces are immersed in sweet sauce for 30 minutes, they absorb the sauce and turn out quite delectable.

“The shiitake, which tends to be used on the side, takes center stage here,” proudly announces 70-year-old Nobuko Ichohara, president of a company called Towa Okamisan-ichi.

Shiitake is a specialty of the town of Shimanto. But according to Ichohara, the farmers have faced competition from inexpensive Chinese shiitake for the past 30 years, and some have decided to stop growing it. Throughout the years, the tataki dish has been handed down as a way to enjoy the local shiitake.

Ichohara and her team have been introducing dishes that incorporate local farm produce.

The predecessor of Towa Okamisan-ichi was a group formed in 2001 by about 100 women living in the former Towa village and its vicinity with the aim of boosting the development of the area. Not only were they active in the neighborhood, they also traveled to about 10 supermarkets in Kochi city, about 100 kilometers away, to sell the farm produce of Towa.

They then decided “it is no fun to just stand there and do nothing” and began making and selling dishes such as vegetable “kakiage” (round tempura of vegetable strips) and rice with chestnuts on the spot to the delight of the customers.

The company is also an official memory keeper of Tosa cuisine, chosen by Kochi Prefecture to hand down the local dishes to the next generation. About 40 percent of Shimanto residents are age 65 or above, and most of the members of the Towa Okamisan-ichi are in their 60s and 70s.

“If we don’t leave the local recipes now, they will fade out. We simply have to hand them over to the young people,” stresses Ichohara.

INGREDIENTS

(Serves four)

16 medium-size fresh shiitake

Some katakuriko starch

1/2 onion

1 carrot

3 shiso leaves

METHOD

Rinse shiitake, cut off stem. Cut into bite-size pieces and squeeze out water. Place shiitake in bowl, sprinkle bit of salt and mix, then dust thoroughly but lightly with katakuriko starch.

Heat oil on high heat to 180 degrees and fry shiitake for 3 to 4 minutes until crisp. Lower heat to medium heat 2 minutes and 30 seconds after starting to fry.

Finely slice onion. Cut carrot and shiso leaves into strips. Immerse the latter in water, pat dry. Serve shiitake on dish, sprinkle vegetables on top.

To make sauce, mix equal amount of sugar, soy sauce and vinegar. Prepare dashi stock that is 30 percent of the sauce in amount. Add to sauce and mix. Pour on shiitake about 30 minutes before eating.

* * *

From The Asahi Shimbun's Watashi no Ryori column