A director’s order of “cut” in a kitchen prompts the actors to move away and let the true star of a TV drama take over.

Takako Hirosato, who had been standing at the side, moves in, checks a pot on a stove and adjusts the position of a 5-centimeter-thick beef bone simmering inside.

The filming took place at a studio in NHK’s Osaka Broadcasting Station, located in the city’s Chuo Ward, for “Manpuku” (Full stomach), a television drama series that started airing in October.

They were shooting a scene of the characters trying to develop nutritional food.

Hirosato had spent more than six hours preparing the food at her office. She added the finishing touches in the “vanishing goods room” at the side of the studio.

The 42-year-old cooking expert’s task is to come up with the menu or actually cook the dishes that the actors use in the show.

She pictures the scene and thinks of the period, the season, whether it is in the city or in a farming village and who will be eating the food.

Ramen plays a crucial role in this drama. Hirosato tries to change the flavor and the look depending on the different eating establishments that serve the bowls of noodles.

She also decides on the vegetables and fish that are placed in the background of the kitchen.

Hirosato once hung some eggplants cut in rounds under the eaves. She had heard from an elderly woman in Higashi-Osaka that people used to dry eggplants and added them to miso soup and other dishes.

When many eggplants were harvested, they would dry those that could not be immediately consumed.

“I take such home-life situations into consideration, talk with the director and set designer, and then decide,” she says.

Also in charge of obtaining the ingredients, Hirosato says this summer’s scorching heat made her nervous.

Shooting for one scene, in which the main character, Fukuko, and others gather edible wild plants, was scheduled for July.

But the heat wave made the wild plants difficult to come by, even after Hirosato made numerous phone calls.

In the end, she managed to get a former classmate from culinary school who now lives in Gunma Prefecture to send “urui” and other plants from an acquaintance’s garden.

In the fourth episode of the drama, Fukuko talks with her mother and sister while cooking. The dish she happens to be cooking is this week’s sardines simmered with pickled plum.

“I hear that they used to have good catches of sardines in Osaka Bay,” Hirosato says.

It is a dish that she used in another drama series, “Gochisosan.”

It shows a refreshing way to enjoy sardines and embodies the good old style of home cooking.

INGREDIENTS

(Serves four)

12 sardines (total of about 480 grams)

10 grams dried kelp

500 cc water

1/4 cup each of sake and vinegar

2 Tbsp each of sugar and sweet mirin sake

3 Tbsp of light-colored soy sauce

1 pickled plum (umeboshi)

METHOD

Remove scales and head from sardines, slice stomach open and remove guts. Carefully rinse with weak salt water and pat dry thoroughly.

Place parchment paper in frying pan and lay sardines. Add sake, water, vinegar and kelp. Cover with drop lid, place over high heat and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to lower medium and keep pan simmering. After about 15 minutes, add sugar and mirin. When sauce has been reduced to about a half, add light-colored soy sauce and pickled plum.

Cook until bit of sauce remains at the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat and let flavor seep in. The vinegar softens the bone, and if the sardines are not large, they may be enjoyed whole.

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From The Asahi Shimbun’s Watashi no Ryori column