Sanma – Autumn Knife Fish


Sanma is the Japanese name for the fish known as Pacific Suary as well as Mackerel Pike. The name written in Japanese literally translates to autumn sword fish. September is considered the peak season for sanma in Japan as this is the time when the fish are fattest. The northern stocks, being the fattest of them all, command the highest price. Sanma is, however, a relatively inexpensive fish.

Thanks to improvements in fishing and distribution, sanma is now sometimes served as sashimi or sushi. One typical method is to briefly pickle the sanma in vinegar and soy sauce and make pressed sushi.

Simple Fried Sanma served with Soy Sauce and Lime

Simple Fried Sanma

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Shaping Onigiri

Wow! It’s been sometime since the last post. A little follow up to the onigiri post from a month ago or so. A  short video demonstrating  secret onigiri techniques by Koshiki Yonemura from Tanpopo  (see the about page). This is definitely something that is not easily put into words, so it seemed appropriate to make a simple video.

Thanks to Vimeo for making this post really easy to do.

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Tsukemono – Quick Pickled Cucumbers


An easy recipe for refrigerator pickles. This recipe works best if you can find smaller cucumbers. These are the kind sold at farmers markets and grocery stores for making dill pickles.


cucumbers – smaller, young cucumbers are best

Pickling Sauce
Chili garlic sauce….. 1/4 teaspoon
Sesame Oil……. 2 tablespoons
Soy Sauce ….. 3 tablespoons
Sugar ….. 1/2 teaspoon
Sake …… 3 tablespoons

cucumbers for pickling

cucumbers for pickling

1. Wash cucumbers.

cutting cucumbers

cutting cucumbers

2. Cut cucumbers. In this recipe, the pickles are quickly cut into small wedge shapes by cutting the cucumber at angle and then straight across  and then repeat.

3. Lightly sprinkle with salt and then apply pressure for several hours to draw water out of the cucumbers.  I used a plastic pickling container with a screw top that will apply pressure to your vegetables. If you don’t have that, place the pickles in a plastic bag, lightly salt and then place a weight, like a heavy plate,  on the bag.

make sauce

make sauce

4. Mix together ingredients for the sauce.  You can find Chinese  chili garlic, tobanjiang,  sauce in any Asian food stores. This is what I used in this recipe to add a little heat.

5. Rinse cucumbers with water to remove excess salt and then gently squeeze your cut cucumber to remove excess water.

6. Add sauce to pickles and let sit for a few hours before serving. Quick pickles like these are best eaten withing a week.

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If you have some leftover rice and are looking to make a quick snack, try making some onigiri.  It’s a very popular food in Japan that is found in almost every convenience store. It’s basically a ball of rice with a filling in the center that is usually wrapped in nori.  The filling is most often  a preserved food like salted fish or pickled vegetables.

In the version above, crushed bonito flakes are mixed with soy sauce and then this is mixed together with hot rice. There is no center filling, so it’s a little easier to make.  However, the hard part is getting the proper shape. You’ll need to form a nice lightly packed triangle with your hands. Be sure to wet your hands first, otherwise you’ll just have hot rice stuck all over your fingers. Gombatte!

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A few Links

1. Not Everyone is Lovin Japan’s New McDonald’s Mascot | Time

2. Food Penetrates All Aspects of Life In Japan | The Japan Times

3. Ike-Jime 4 : How-To Pointers | Cooking Issues Blog
Avoid this link if you’d rather not see the insides of fish.

4. Strange Flavors in White Pepper | Curious Cook

5. Epic Sushi! Kyoto-Style  Sushi Lesson at Kichisen | Kyoto Foodie

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Lemon Tart with Fresh Raspberries


Here’s a recipe for a lemon tart with fresh fruit. I usually garnish this with either blueberries, strawberries or raspberries. It all depends on whatever is in season or looks the best at the store.

There are really two parts to making a tart. One is the dough and shell. The other is the filling -  in this case it’s lemon curd.  For the dough, I stumbled upon a good, simple recipe on the Martha Stewart Show. I wish I could remember who was the guest that day, but I just happened write down the recipe and it works great. Thank you.

I initially started with a basic lemon curd recipe but in this version we will add some agar to thicken it.  Agar is made from kelp and is sort of a vegetarian gelatin with a few special properties.  It is a common ingredient in Japanese confections.  I got the idea to use agar in lemon curd from an online cookbook edited by Norwegian gastro-food blogger Martin Lersch. Thank you.

Ingredients (makes about 8 , 3 1/8 inch tartlets)

flour…….  1 1/2 cups
confectioner’s sugar……. 1/3 cup
butter …….. 13 tablespoons
egg yolk…… 1
heavy cream……. 1 tablespoon

Lemon Curd:
fresh lemon juice …..  3/4 cup
sugar …… 1/2 cup
confectioners sugar …..  1/4 cup
eggs…….. 3 medium sized
butter ……  6 tablespoons
agar …. 4 grams


1.  Make the dough.  Combine flour and confectioners sugar in a mixing bowl. Cut butter into small cubes and add gradually to flour-sugar mixture while mixing with a pastry cutter or fork until butter, flour and sugar are evenly mixed.

2.  Add cream and egg yolk and lightly knead dough.  When the dough reaches an even consistency, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour.

line tart shell with dough

line tart shell with dough

3. Remove dough from the refrigerator and roll out dough to about 1/8 inch thickness. Lightly press dough into a  lightly oiled tart pan and place back in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes. You can also freeze the shell at this point for use on a later date. Doughs freeze very well.

bake tart shells

bake tart shells

4.  Now place shells on a baking tray and bake for about 15 minutes at 350 F or until golden brown. For best results, I recomend using pie weights like the ones shown above. This will help maintain the shape of the tart shell while baking.

5. Remove shells from the oven and set aside to cool for several minutes and then remove shells from tart pans.

5.  Make the lemon curd using a double boiler. If you don’t have one, don’t buy one,  just use a metal bowl over a sauce pan filled with water.  Heat lemon juice and sugar until sugar is dissolved.

6. Lightly beat egg yolks and confectioners sugar together.

7.  Bring lemon juice to a near boil and add agar powder, stir until dissolved.

8. Slowly add egg yolks while mixing. Cook lemon over medium heat  for several minutes until mixture is near boiling.

9. Slowly add butter and stir.

10. Remove from heat and cool over ice and then chill in the refrigerator.

11. Once the lemon curd chilled, fill tart shells and garnish with fruit and enjoy.

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Burdock – Gobo


Burdock is a root vegetable that is easily  found in the wild  and is a cultivated vegetable in Japan.  Besides  its culinary uses, it is also used in traditional Chinese medicine, and it’s sticky seeds became  an inspiration for a new, breakthrough technology – Velcro.

The roots of  young burdock plants are used in cooking , since it becomes overly fibrous when grown too large. Look for burdock roots that are firm and are between 18 – 24 inches in length and about 3/4 to 1 inch in diameter. The burdock pictured above was grown organically from a small producer, Harmony Valley, in Wisconsin.

Burdock has a crunchy texture and an earthy, nutty flavor. Its thin skin can be removed with a light scrubbing or scraping.  It is rich in phenolic (anti-oxidants) compounds and will easily  turn grayish-brown when sliced.  To prevent this,  place freshly cut burcok in cold water with a little vinegar or lemon juice.

Burdock is most famously used in Kinpira – a dish of sliced carrots and burdcok simmered in dashi, soy sauce and mirin. It also found in soups, braised dishes (e.g. chicken and vegetables) and mixed with rice.


Soy Marinated Spare Ribs


This recipe is an adaptation from the book,  Izakaya: The Japanese Pub Cookbook (amazon link). It is a good book.  It is organized around several Izakaya restaurants in Japan the author writes about and showcases a few of their recipes.  Each Izakaya is a little bit different – some are more modern and others more traditional – and that is reflected by the owners, the food being served and the atmosphere of the restaurant.  After all, cooking is really about the people making it and the people who are eating it.

The recipe in the book only called for a cooking time of 30 minutes. This is going to produce some tough ribs. Meat near the bones that has connective tissues and collagen will benefit from a longer cooking time at a lower temperature. So I changed the cooking time, added caramelized onions and some extra sesame oil for more flavor.  One could also add orange zest for more citrus flavors. Orange and sesame are a good pairing.


Soy Sauce…… 3 tablespoons
Sake…… 2 tablespoons
Mirin…….2 tablespoons
Sesame Oil….. 2 tablespoons
Caramelized Onion…… 1/2 large yellow onion
Garlic…… 1 glove, crushed and chopped


1. In a medium sauce pan  add about 1 tablespoons oil plus 1/2  of a sliced, large yellow onion. Cook at low heat while stirring occasionally for about 30 minutes until caramelized.

marinate ribs

marinate ribs

2.  Mix the ingredients for the marinade together in  shallow pan. Add the ribs and marinate ribs in the refrigerate overnight  (minimum of 6 hours).



3. Remove ribs from refrigerator about 30 minutes before you plan to bake them.  Pre-heat oven to 225 F and place ribs back side up (the more white side) on a baking tray lined with foil.  Bake in oven for about 2 hours at 225 F.  Be sure to save the marinade to finish the ribs.

4. Flip ribs and turn the temperature up to 325 F.  Bake for another another 45 minutes.

5. Take out the ribs out of the oven and  pour/brush ribs with  about 1/2 cup of the remaining  marinade and bake for another 15 – 2o  minutes.

6. Remove from oven and arrange on a serving plate. For extra presentation, garnish with parsley and/or orange slice.

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