This week’s recipe is for a dish that is popular among patients and staff at Weisshorn, a restaurant located in Maruko Central Hospital in Ueda, Nagano Prefecture.

The restaurant’s exclusive chef is Koji Yamada, 52, whose family has run a mountain hut on Mount Jonendake in the Northern Alps.

The influence of his father, who welcomed the climbers, and his mother, who was a good cook, led Yamada to start cooking at a young age. He would cook beef stew and bake cakes on family birthdays, and his ambition to become a chef one day began to develop.

Although he was encouraged to enter university, he told his parents about his wish to choose a career in cooking when he turned 20. They introduced him to a chief editor of a cooking magazine, hoping to make him understand the rigors of a culinary career so that he would decide to finish college.

But their plan backfired. The chief editor introduced Yamada to Yutaka Ishinabe, chef and owner of the French restaurant Queen Alice, who told Yamada, “French cuisine may appear upscale and glamorous. But it is meaningless if it lacks the warmth of a mother calling out, ‘Dinner’s ready’ and serving it to her children.”

Impressed with his words, Yamada decided to train under Ishinabe. He left university and began working the following month. The restaurant was popular, and he continued to work late. He hardly had days off, but looking back, Yamada says he was able to learn the basics of cooking extensively during that period.

After polishing his skills at various restaurants for 26 years, Yamada made a career move and became a chef working for a hospital. He did so thinking that he could make a contribution through food.

Although there are limits on salt and calories when cooking hospital meals, Yamada says, “If you cook in a way that draws out the flavors of the ingredients, the meals will turn out delicious in full measure.”

Chicken thigh broiled with Shinshu miso-based sauce contains less salt than when the sauce is soy-sauce based. The browned miso is fragrant and quite appetizing.

INGREDIENTS

(Serves two)

1 chicken thigh

1 tsp soy sauce

100 grams “shimeji” mushroom

Seasoning A (100 grams Shinshu miso or miso you regularly use, 50 grams sugar, 30 cc sake) ※This is an easy-to-make amount. (About one-fifth is used in this recipe.)

1 Tbsp store-bought dried yuzu zest

1 bunch green asparagus

METHOD

Pat surface of chicken dry with kitchen paper. Coat with 1 tsp soy sauce. Remove hard end from shimeji and separate stalks.

Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Lay baking paper on baking tray and lay shimeji. Place chicken on top, skin-side up. Cook for about 20 minutes until done.

Place dried yuzu zest in plastic bag, pulverize by pressing down with rolling pin or other tools. Mix with Seasoning A. Paste about 2 Tbsp of mixture on chicken and cook for another 5 minutes.

Cut asparagus in half and cook in frying pan.

When fresh yuzu is seasonably available, use grated zest. If yuzu zest is not available, chopped shiso leaves, “sansho” (Japanese pepper) or “shiso-no-mi” (shiso seed) may be used instead. The miso mixture may be used to make Saikyo-style grilled fish. Sprinkle salt on fish then coat with mixture and grill.

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From The Asahi Shimbun’s Watashi no Ryori column