Photo/Illutration “Jibuni” simmered duck stew (Photo by Atsuko Shimamura)

Editor’s note: In the Taste of Life series, cooking experts, chefs and others involved in the field of food introduce their special recipes intertwined with their paths in life.

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Etsuko Aoki’s cooking school is located near where the samurai residences in Kanazawa in Ishikawa Prefecture still remain.

Two bus stops from the school stands the Omicho Market, known as the “kitchen” for Kanazawa residents.

“Jibuni” simmered duck stew, which is derived from a dish that was served at samurai households and features ingredients of the season, reflects the essence of Kanazawa.

Aoki learned the dish from her parents-in-law.

“We work hard at expressing hospitality through the elegant bowl and presentation,” she said. “I saw the town’s history and pride in it.”

In the dish, “sudare-fu” (square wheat gluten cake formed on small bamboo screens that leave marks on the surface and give it a texture) accompanies the smooth duck meat in a thick and rich salty-sweet sauce. While it is popular with tourists, fewer families make the dish at home these days.

“I came up with an easy rice bowl dish where jibuni is placed on rice,” she said. “The people of Kanazawa seek new elements from the traditional. The new dish is a way to keep the taste of jibuni alive.”

Aoki has come to believe in the magnetic field-like power of regional cuisine while teaching cooking over the years. For example, there was a woman who had moved from Tokyo when her family was transferred to Kanazawa.

She had grown depressed by the gray winter sky of the northern prefecture, so when she saw the signboard of Aoki’s cooking school, she signed up right away.

“As she learned the dishes from winter through spring, she became quite cheerful,” said Aoki.

Eating leads to living.

“Some people come to learn how to cook dishes they ate when they were little because no one they know makes them anymore,” she said. “Even in a small way, I wish to hand down the memories of the real thing.”

A key to cooking good jibuni is to ensure that the duck becomes tender. After generously dusting the slices with flour, follow the idea of “60 percent in the pot, 80 percent in the bowl,” where the slices are removed from the pot when they are 60 percent cooked and cooked further in a lidded bowl with the residual heat.

The lacquer bowl Aoki uses, which is local craftwork, is beautiful while excelling in its heat-retaining properties.

You could use chicken breast or even fish or oysters instead of duck. Although the green can be replaced with water celery (“seri”) or others of your choice, make sure to top the dish with wasabi for a refreshing touch.

Hoping to impart regional cooking, Etsuko Aoki gives a demonstration at a department store in Tokyo. (Photo from around 1988 provided by Etsuko Aoki)

Etsuko Aoki: Born in 1933, Aoki is a cooking expert focusing on regional cuisine. She is the director of the Aoki Cooking School. She opened Shiki no Teburu, a restaurant that serves regional dishes, in the school building. She has written books that include “Kanazawa Ryori” (Kanazawa cuisine).


Main Ingredients (Serves 4)

120 grams duck (aigamo) breast, 1 sheet sudare-fu, 4 pieces fresh wheat gluten cake (nama-fu), 4 flower-shaped wheat gluten cakes (hana-fu), 4 shiitake mushrooms, 1/4 bunch of spinach, 5 Tbsp flour, 500 ml dashi stock, some wasabi

Generously dust both sides of the duck slices with flour. (Photo by Atsuko Shimamura)

1. Cut duck breast into 12 bite-size slices at an angle. Dust generously with flour. Cut sudare-fu into four equal pieces. Cut each in half at an angle and lightly boil. Cut off hard end of shiitake and cut out star on cap for decoration. Boil spinach, align pieces and cut into lengths of 3 cm.

2. Add dashi stock, 4 Tbsp soy sauce, 2 Tbsp each of sweet mirin sake and sake, 1 Tbsp sugar in pot and place on heat. Once it comes to a boil, add sudare-fu, nama-fu, hana-fu and shiitake and cook on low heat. When ingredients are cooked, serve in bowl.

Add duck slices to simmering liquid and lightly cook. (Photo by Atsuko Shimamura)

3. Dust duck slices with flour again. Add to pot that has been heated again. When meat is cooked, serve with spinach.

Mix remaining flour with small amount of water and add mixture to simmering liquid. (Photo by Atsuko Shimamura)

4. Mix remaining flour with small amount of water. Add mixture to simmering liquid left in (3) and thicken. Pour generous amount on ingredients. Top with wasabi.

About 280 kcal and 2.9 grams salt per portion
(Nutrient calculation by the Nutrition Clinic of Kagawa Nutrition University)

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From The Asahi Shimbun’s Jinsei Reshipi (Life Recipe) column