Photo/Illutration“Nishime” simmered dish (Photo by Masahiro Gohda)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

Simmered vegetables such as burdock root and carrot take on an appetizing glaze in “nishime,” a dish valued by Takashi Tamura, proprietor of the Japanese cuisine restaurant Tsukiji Tamura in Tokyo.

The saying, “A cook becomes full-fledged only after perfecting the nishime,” has prevailed in the kitchen of the restaurant since the time it was managed by Heiji, Tamura’s late grandfather.

Tsukiji Tamura’s version consists of 14 ingredients and is even served as a festive New Year’s dish.

The delicate cooking process involves cutting, cooking and seasoning each ingredient differently.

The week required to prepare the simmered dish is an occasion to hand down the cooking skills.

“We use a generous amount of dashi stock and time to cook even small potatoes,” the 60-year-old chef says. “The labor may not be visible, but the ingredients turn out delicious. This is what we call a delicacy.”

For home cooking, Tamura came up with a way to cook all ingredients in one pot. The addition of chicken makes it a filling dish.

He uses a frying pan and aluminum foil as a drop lid. “I want people to free themselves from a fixed notion of how Japanese dishes should be prepared,” Tamura says.

He even says the amount of vegetables is up to us.

“Nishime is a dish where the water content of the ingredients and the ‘umami’ element of the stock are exchanged. Let’s just keep this basic point in mind,” he says.

The key to simmering is letting the stock circulate broadly in the pot with the help of the foil lid. The ingredients are simmered for a short time, cooled without the lid, then simmered again. The process is repeated.

“The time when the ingredients are not simmered makes them tastier,” he says.

Even when the pot is unheated, the flavor seeps into the ingredients. The flavor that seeps out into the stock from each ingredient blends together and seeps back into the ingredients. This process brings harmony to the flavor.

The frying pan with a large surface area makes it easier to reduce the stock and mix the ingredients by shaking at the end to give them a glaze.

Tamura believes that his mission is to “show how easy it is to cook and how tasty the dishes are” through television and cooking lessons.

“I bet you feel like trying,” an amused-looking Tamura says while holding the pan with nishime.

INGREDIENTS

(Serves four)

1 chicken thigh

250 grams carrot

200 grams lotus root (renkon)

150 grams burdock root (gobo)

80 grams shiitake mushroom

200 grams konjac (konnyaku)

20 young flat peas (kinusaya)

3 to 4 cups dashi stock made of dried bonito flakes and dried kombu kelp

METHOD

Peel lotus root and parboil. Parboil konjac. Peel carrot. Wash burdock.

Cut carrot, burdock and lotus root into bite-size pieces while rotating on cutting board. Cut off root end of shiitake, slice in half lengthwise. Tear konjac into bite-size pieces using rim of cup held downward. Cut chicken into bite-size pieces.

Have frying pan with large surface area ready. Heat 2 Tbsp cooking oil and add chicken. When its surface color has changed, add carrot, burdock, lotus root and konjac and mix.

Pour dashi stock so tip of ingredients show. Cover with aluminum foil to let stock circulate over slightly high medium heat. When it comes to a boil, add 3 Tbsp sugar and 2 Tbsp soy sauce.

Simmer for seven to eight minutes until meat is done. Take pan from heat, remove foil and cool.

Cover with foil again and place on heat. Simmer for seven to eight minutes and cool. Repeat process two more times. Stock will be gradually reduced. Boil peas for garnish in hot water with salt.

Place over high heat without lid in the final step. When the contents appear glazed, shake pan to mix. Check taste. Add about 1/2 Tbsp soy sauce and mix. Serve and garnish with peas.

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From The Asahi Shimbun’s Watashi no Ryori column