In Kyoto, as in the rest of Japan, seasonality is fundamental to cuisine. The year is traditionally divided not just into the familiar four seasons, but into 24 seasons, which is further broken down to 72 mini-seasons of about 5 days each. This is a translation from Chef Iida’s book about the 72 seasons of the year and the foods that he recommends to accompany those seasons.
Kiji-hajimete-naku occurs between January 15th and 19th and refers to the season when the call of the pheasant is first heard.
On January 18th, at Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine in the city of Yawata in Kyoto prefecture, they celebrate the festival Aoyamasai, and on January 19th, they celebrate Shōnōsai. Aoyamasai, in the Heian era, was an event to prevent the demon Ekijin from entering Kyoto. Prayers are chanted in front of the kami altar which is adorned with sakaki branches from Aoyama, in order to trap the demon. Because the ritual is held late at night, it is also known as Kurayamisai – Festival of Darkness. In the Shōnōsai ritual, the supplicants write their name and age onto a stick that is then burned in the sacred fire, in order to pray for protection from illness and maintain good health in the coming year as well as purification from all defilement.
My recommendation for this season is “steamed duck.” At first, the degree of steaming required is difficult to calculate, but don’t be afraid to try this at home.
Firstly, purchase fresh duck breast meat. Because wild mallard ducks have an unpleasant aroma, it is best to buy aigamo, which is a cross between a mallard and domestic duck. Trim the excess meat and fat from the breasts and remove the thin skin. Holding about 10 bamboo skewers in a bunch in your fist, prick the skin surface of the duck multiple times with the skewers. Next, place the duck, skin side down in a fry pan and fry just until the skin turns golden brown. Quickly rinse the duck with boiling water to remove the excess fat, then place the duck into a pot or baking dish.
Mix sake and mirin in a saucepan and boil to reduce, add shoyu to season. Pour this mixture over the duck, add chopped shinbu (davalia fern) and slices of ginger, seal with a lid, then place the dish in a steamer and steam for 15~18 minutes. Because the amount of steaming required depends on the thickness of the duck meat and the intensity of the steam, push the meat with your fingertip and if it still feels soft like raw meat in the middle, then steam it a little longer. But be careful not to cook it too long or else the meat will be too tough.
When you’ve steamed the duck, take it out of the broth and pierce the edge of the duck with a skewer and some blood should still come out. Return the duck to the broth and let it cool overnight in the refridgerator. The flavour of the meat will permeate the broth and a layer of fat will form on the surface. Carefully remove this layer of fat.
Duck that has been steamed exactly right will be deliciously tender with a beautiful rose pink colour. Some people prefer not to eat the skin of the duck; however, because duck fat actually lowers cholesterol, please don’t hesitate to eat the skin. Serve garnished with plain or seeded mustard.
Source: 『京都料理七十に候』 by 飯田 知史, page 14
Before the Meiji era, at which time Japan adopted the Western calendar, the old calendar was based on the phases of the moon. The full moon always fell on the 15th day of the lunar month, and the full moon of the first month of the year was celebrated as Koshogatsu 小正月. Today in Japan, this festival is often celebrated on the 15th day of the 1st month, i.e. January 15th, although this now has no connection to the full moon (what a pity!). Since the Heian era, on the morning of Koshogatsu, a special rice porridge made with red azuki beans and mochi is eaten: In Japanese, this special dish is called azuki-kayu 小豆粥, but in Kyoto it is called azuki-no-okaisan.
At Torin-in, a sub-temple within the Myoshinji temple complex, from the 15th Jan to 31st Jan, you can enjoy visit Torin-in and receive the azuki rice porridge with a beautiful tray of shojin (vegetarian) cuisine, as well as an amulet to take home that is for protection from illness and for the prosperity of the family. (Torin-in is the home of Genbo Nishikawa, about whom I have written before. Details about how to participate in this even are given at the bottom of this post.)
At Torin-in there is a special Buddhist ritual performed on the morning of January 15th, which the public are welcome to join, where a little bit of the azuki-kayu is offered to all the trees in the garden of Torin-in, while sutras are being chanted.
Here is the recipe for azuki-no-okaisan from Kyokarashi, a website dedicated to Kyoto obanzai (home-style cooking)
1. Soak the azuki beans overnight and then rinse.
2. Fill a pot with plenty of water and simmer the beans
3. While the mixture is still hot, transfer it to a thermos flask and leave it overnight
4. Make okayu with the rice.
5. Add boiled mochi to the okayu, then add a suitable quantity of the now-softened azuki beans from the thermos.
6. Add salt to taste
With the leftover beans and water remaining in the flask you can make ozenzai by adding sugar, salt, and grilled mochi
*Not giving clear measurements is very typical of Japanese recipes: there is always leeway given for you to experiment and decide how much of an ingredient is to your own taste. Also, where you live affects the ingredients, especially the quality of your water, so the quantity of ingredients will vary according to where it is grown, how old it is, where you live, etc. It is up to you to refine your own sense of taste. However, that’s all well and good if you are an experienced cook! But if you would like a recipe with more concrete details, you can read about how to make red bean okayu (in English) at Just Bento
Location: Torin-in東林院, within the grounds of Myoshinji
Dates: 15th – 31st January
Time: 11am – 3pm
Cost: 3800 yen (reservations not necessary)
Nearest station: Hanazono on the JR line to Arashiyama
Shōgoin daikon 聖護院大根 is one of the traditional vegetables of Kyoto and is sometimes referred to as Kyo-daikon. It is said that during the early 19th century, a farmer moved to Kyoto from Owari province (present-day Aichi-ken) and started cultivating ordinary long daikon radishes in the vicinity of the temple Shōgoin. It seems that some of the daikon seeds produced a mutant round daikon, but the farmer was so intrigued with this new vegetable that he continued to cultivate the variation instead of the regular-shaped daikon. Since then it has become one of Kyoto’s unique vegetables, valued for its shape and its very fine white flesh with a mild flavour, much suited to the delicacy of Kyoto cuisine. When boiled it keeps its firm texture and doesn’t break apart like regular daikon.
The shōgoin daikon is mostly now grown in the northern part of Kyoto prefecture in the Tango area, where the heavy snowfalls in winter produce the best flavour. It is also dried and shipped all over Japan. It is sometimes called vegetarian dried squid because of its resemblance to the squid which are cut and dried on racks in a similar way.
Shōgoin daikon can be prepared in much the same ways as standard daikon, but the flavour is milder and slightly sweeter, with a firmer texture; however, it is rarely used as “oroshi” (finely grated).
Kunio Tokuoka, owner-chef of the famous Kitcho restaurant, has this to say about daikon:
“Even though daikon is most well known as an accompaniment to other foods, such as finely grated and served with whitebait or grated with a dash of shoyu (soy sauce) served with mackerel and so on, at Kitcho we like to serve our customers something with a little element of surprise, so daikon is prepared in a more unpredictable way such as grilled or as tempura. Unlike turnips, in which all parts can be used, only the very middle part of the daikon is used, where the flavour is at its best.”
Here is Chef Tokuoka’s recipe for Furofuki Daikon – Simmered Daikon with Miso
First lot of rinse water that was used to clean the rice for dinner (this water contains rice starch that keeps the daikon from discolouring and maintains a bright whiteness)
Awase-miso (miso sauce):
100 gms hatcho-miso: the most highly regarded miso, a rich dark brown, made only from soybeans
135 mls sake
100 gms sugar
Yoke of one small egg
How to make the awase-miso:
Firstly, mix the egg yolk and sugar well, then blend in the sake. Warm the hatcho miso in bain marie. When it’s cooled, add it to the egg and sake. Keep aside.
1. Under the skin of the daikon is rather tough layer that should be removed. If you don’t peel it enough then the daikon won’t have soft texture and will be too hard. So peel the skin quite thickly – up to 2 cms deep (alternatively, cut the daikon into slices and then cut around each slice). Using the water that has been left after first rinsing the rice for dinner, parboil the daikon. Parboiling in this way takes away the bitterness of the daikon and helps bring out its sweetness.
2. Using a good amount of konbu dashi, lightly simmer the daikon until tender; in this way, the umami of the konbu gradually penetrates the daikon. The key point here is that in order for the heat to draw out the daikon’s natural sweetness, the deciding factor is the quality of the konbu dashi that you use. And in order to make the most effective dashi, please use the best quality konbu that is marketed for use in dashi.
3. Place the daikon in a bowl, spoon a little of the awase-miso over the daikon, and garnish with grated yuzu zest (or other citrus zest) and pinch of togarashi or shichimi (or similar types of chilli powder).
In my last post I translated a piece by Keiko Matsunaga about Gion and Chrysanthemums. Here, Matsunaga-sensei gives her recipe and technique for making turnips look like chrysanthemums, which is not only a delicious seasonal recipe but also provides practice in perfecting the skills of knife-handling. Following the recipe I have added a video to demonstrate the technique. You can also read more about “chysanthemum turnip” pickles at Kyoto Foodie.
Matsunaga-sensei’s Kikka-kabura (Chrysanthemum Turnips)
1 large turnip
3 pieces of konbu, each about 3cms square
2-3 small dried chillies
Sweetened rice vinegar, made by adding 35gm of sugar per 100ml of rice vinegar
Preparing the turnip:
1. Cut the greens off the top of the turnip, and after washing the turnip thoroughly, peel it and then cut it in half lengthways.
2. Cut a slice about 2.5cm from the top end.
3. About 5mm inside the skin side, you’ll see a ring line. No matter how long you boil the turnip, this fibrous outer ring won’t soften, so cut back to that line (don’t discard this outer cutting though – you can use it in other recipes).
4. Place the turnip slice flat and make fine lengthways incisions close together all along the slice, cutting about 2/3 into the thickness, being careful not to cut all the way through.
5. Turn the turnip slice around 90° and do the same thing widthways.
6. Carefully turn the turnip up-side-down, with the cuts on the bottom, and then cut the turnip slice into 2cm wide squares
Directions for making Chrysanthemum Turnip pickles:
1. Take the turnip squares you’ve prepared as per above and weigh them. Calculate 2% of the weight and that is how much salt you are going to need to use. Cover the turnips with salt and put aside for 30 minutes to an hour, so that the turnips soften. Then drain off the excess moisture from the turnips.
2. Rinse thoroughly in running water, then gently squeeze out the water, being careful not to disturb the fine cuts.
3. Add the konbu and the dried chillies to the sweetened vinegar and then put the turnips in the vinegar and leave them in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days to pickle.
4. To serve, separate out the little ‘petals’ so that it looks like a chrysanthemum, and add a thin slice of chilli in the middle for garnish.
In this video, the cook shows us a nifty trick to prevent the knife from cutting all the way through the turnip by using chopsticks.
Char-grilled sanma (Pacific saury) is a quintessential autumn dish in Kyoto and chefs all have their signature way of preparing this simple and delicious fish. You can learn more about sanma from Elizabeth Andoh (in English). The standard presentation is to char-grill the fish whole and serve it with grated daikon radish and wedge of sudachi (a small tart citrus). In this blog entry, I have translated the recipe for sanma rice as it is prepared by Chef Sasaki, of Gion Sasaki restaurant. The key to perfecting this dish is the donabe in which the rice and fish are cooked – a donabe is an earthenware pot traditionally used for steaming rice.
Sanma gohan (Pacific saury and rice)
Chef Sasaki: “Char-grilled sanma with fragrant rice: the perfect combination, with grated daikon and a squeeze of sudachi. This is what I want on those autumn nights!”
2 whole Pacific saury
A little salt
100g grated daikon radish
A dash of light shoyu [soy sauce]
2 or 3 sudachi
2 cups of rice [in Japan, a ‘cup’ of rice is called a gō 合 – it is equal to 180mls]
360mls dashi stock with 2 tsp light shoyu
1. Remove the heads and fillet the fish, then sprinkle the fillets with salt and leave for two hours.
2. Insert a fine-bladed knife under the skin of the fillets to loosen the skin a little.
3. Using a fish-griller, use a high heat to char-grill the fillets, but stop when the flesh is still half-raw.
4. Add the dashi and the light shoyu to the rice and cook in a donabe [a traditional clay cooking pot]. When the rice begins to steam, place the fillets on top of the rice and continue cooking.
5. When the rice has cooked, spread the grated daikon over the top and then sprinkle sudachi juice over it.
As Matsunaga-sensei mentioned in the last entry, during Obon people traditionally eat shōjin ryōri foods; that is, Buddhist vegetarian cuisine. One of the most popular ways to prepare vegetarian foods such as tofu, namafu (wheat gluten), kon’nyaku and deep fried kamonasu (one of Kyoto’s traditional vegetables known as kyoyasai, kamonasu is a lovely firm round eggplant), is to add a miso paste sauce called dengaku. There are many variations of this sauce which you can find even in English by googling “dengaku”. Here is Matsunaga-sensei’s dengaku recipe.
300g white miso
1 egg yolk
2 Tbs water
2 Tbs sake
1) Put the water and sake in a saucepan and heat; then add the sugar. When the sugar has dissolved, switch off the heat and leave to cool.
2) In an enamel saucepan, mix together the white miso and the egg yolk.
3) Gradually add the cooled liquid from (1), stirring well to mix.
4) Place on a low to medium heat and gently bring to the boil, stirring continuously until slightly thickened. From time to time, remove the pot from the heat and allow to cool slightly, then return the pot to the flame. Repeat this procedure, being careful not to scorch the sauce on the bottom of the pot, until you can see the bottom of the pot as you are stirring. This should take about five minutes. Chefs often use a double-boiler, or immerse a smaller pot in larger saucepan of hot water.
Here is a video featuring the dengaku sauce from Chef Ikai of the kaiseki restaurant Kinmata (who I will be introducing in an upcoming blog). Notice that he doesn’t use an egg, but adds ginger juice.
Here is an English-language video which shows how to make eggplant “nasu dengaku”.
This recipe, from Uosaburo Chef Araki, is a simple dish that shows that even the great ryotei chefs also enjoy plain comfort foods.
Chef Araki: “The fragrance of the sesame oil and spring onions mixes well with the grilled salmon and really whets the appetite”
4 bowls of warm cooked rice
2 fillets of fresh salmon
2 tbs negishio sauce
(Makes 1/2 cup)
1 spring onion finely sliced
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tbs white sesame seeds
1/2 cup sesame oil
1) Negishio sauce:
Rub the salt into the spring onions, until the salt is dissolved. Put the mixture into a frypan with the sesame seeds and oil on a low flame for about a minute, then allow to cool. Will keep in the fridge for about one week.
2) Preparing the salmon:
Season the salmon fillets with a little salt and pepper. Grill the salmon on one side, until just sealed, then grill the other side. Brush the surface of the salmon with the negishio and continue to grill until well done. Allow to cool.
Remove the skin and any bones, break into small pieces and place in a large bowl. Finely slice the skin and add. Add the rice and gently fold to mix. Place in individual bowls and sprinkle with black pepper.
Source: Negishio Salmon