A perfect Japanese cookbook
I have always held Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art to be the finest book available on Japanese cooking, but now I have to hold up “Washoku” as a strong contender. This book, written by American Elizabeth Andoh, who first learned Japanese cooking from her mother-in-law, and then from the Yanagihara school of classical cuisine in Tokyo, is equally comprehensive and even easier to use.
Andoh begins with a comprehensive study of Japanese ingredients and cooking styles. The first section of the book, “The Washoku Pantry,” gives an in-depth description of the spices and seasonings, vegetables, fish and meat, rice and noodles, seeds and nuts, and all other ingredients necessary to achieve authentic flavor. Because this is real Japanese cooking, not all of these ingredients will be readily available at your local grocery store (unless you are very luck, or live in Japan!), however many of them can be ordered over the internet and are available in specialty Asian grocers. Next is “In the Washoku Kitchen,” where various techniques are discussed, such as broiling, grilling and pan searing, removing bitterness, cutting and grating. Having cooked at an izakaya in Japan, I learned most of these techniques first hand, but I found Andoh’s descriptions to be a nice refresher course and easy to follow.
From there, of course, we get to the good stuff. The recipes begin with the basic stocks and condiments that are the foundation of Japanese food. Many of these can be purchased in pre-made form, but they are no match for freshly made stock using quality ingredients. She uses mostly English names for the foods throughout the book, such as “Basic Sea Stock” for dashi, which can be a bit awkward for those used to Japanese food, but she does include the Japanese name underneath the English name. Her stock and sauce recipes are fantastic, with really nice ponzu (smoky citrus-soy sauce) recipe and a few different miso bases.
There are sections on soups, rice dishes, noodles, vegetables, fish, meat and poultry, tofu and eggs and deserts. Most of her recipes are quite subtle in flavor, and comparing them to recipes in other Japanese cookbooks, such as Quick & Easy Japanese Cuisine for Everyone, I found that Andoh eliminates several of the non-authentic ingredients such as sugar. Pictures for the recipes are few, for which I am thankful because I would rather have more recipes than more pictures, but each chapter has a few to entice and delight.
A few recipes I have particularly enjoyed: “Simmered Snapper, Autumn Rain Style” was poetry on a plate, and one that I have made several times for myself as well as guests. “Citrus-and-Soy Glazed Swordfish” is a nice arrangement of a classic pairing. I have made this recipe with salmon before, but was surprised to find how well it went with swordfish. “Green Beans Tossed in Creamy Sesame-Miso Sauce” was also a hit, as was “Dark Miso Soup with Sweet Potato.” A really fun recipe was the “Soy Glazed Beef Burger,” which takes an American classic and blends it with dark miso, panko and soy sauce.
I haven’t had “Washoku” for too long, but already it is a well-worn book with food stains, the way any cookbook should be. This has replaced several lesser books in my cookbook collection, and anyone looking to make fantastic, authentic Japanese food won’t need much more than this.