Level-up your Japanese Cooking
“Practical Japanese Cooking” is a sequel of sorts to Shizuo Tsuji’s phenomenal cooking bible Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art. Assembled from his notes by an assistant after Tsuji’s death, unlike “Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art” this is mainly a recipe book, packed with beautiful photos and all in Tsuji’s authentic style. The recipes are in several categories, like “Appetizers,” “Fish,” “Soup,” “Beef and Pork,” “Tofu,” “Rice” and “Noodles,” There are fourteen categories in all, and each category has between three to twenty recipes.
I loved this book, although I feel the name is somewhat misleading. Far from being “Easy and Elegant” most of the recipes in here are very complex, requiring considerable preparation and a variety of techniques. These are the kind of Japanese dishes that look so simple on the plate, but that simplicity is backed by hours of manipulation of ingredients and subtle infusions of flavor. Most of the dishes are small-plate style, like one would find in an upscale Japanese restaurant featuring several servings of a variety of dishes rather than a “main course.”
These are authentic recipes, which means that the ingredients are probably not going to be available at your local supermarket. If you don’t have mirin, dashi and a few varieties of soy sauce and miso already in your pantry you might want to consider doing some shopping before picking up this book. Many recipes call for “ginger juice,” which was a first for me, but Tsuji doesn’t leave you stranded and has a short recipe on how to juice ginger. I definitely recommend that you you pick up a few basic Japanese cook books, like Tsuji’s first triumph or Japanese Kitchen Knives: Essential Techniques and Recipes before you try these recipes.
If recipes like “Sake-Simmered Lobster” and “Deep Fried and Simmered Acorn Squash” get your mouth drooling, and you don’t mind cooking that requires a lot of prep work, than “Practical Japanese Cooking” is going to be a treasure trove for you. Many of the recipe titles are so deceptively simple, like “Sauteed Duck Breast with Sauce,” and look so plain on the plate, you will almost feel compelled to explain how much work went into the dish when you are serving it!
On a personal note, “Practical Japanese Cooking” gave me one of my greatest kitchen triumphs. My wife, who is Japanese, was convinced that no American could properly prepare on of her favorite dishes “Simmered Mackerel in Miso” (again, don’t be deceived by the simple name of the dish) and challenged me to make it. I have cooked professionally in an izakaya in Japan, but never was faced with those kind of multiple-technique preparation dishes. After working through the recipe a few times, I have proved her wrong and she is still amazed that I can create something that tastes so authentically Japanese. Thanks Shizuo Tsuji!