The passing of Christmas Day usually marks the end of the year's business for Masahiro Kasahara, proprietor of the Japanese cuisine restaurant Sanpi-Ryoron in Tokyo's Ebisu district. But his work in the kitchen does not stop there.
Over five days, he makes about 120 "osechi-ryori," sets of traditional Japanese New Year's dishes that keep well. He presents them to people to convey his gratitude.
While immersing himself in cooking, the 45-year-old chef looks back on the past year and prepares for the new year.
His parents’ yakitori restaurant had also prepared large portions of osechi at the year’s end, when large flat containers were lined up in the tatami-matted room.
Since he was in third grade, young Kasahara would help out by washing the "satoimo" yam and preparing "tazuna konnyaku" by twisting slices of konjac into the shape of reins.
The regular customers of the yakitori place were mostly neighbors, and they would bring empty "jubako" boxes and fill them with what they liked.
Having grown up in such an environment, Kasahara has strong feelings for chicken dishes handed down from his father. The year’s first installment of this column is a simmered dish with chicken wings.
Chicken wings are sauteed until the surface browns. Root vegetables are then added and cooked further so the chicken fat coats all the ingredients. They are then simmered in water, water from reconstituted dried shiitake mushrooms, dried kelp and seasonings.
The rich dashi flavor that emerges from the bones of the chicken wings highlights the full flavor of the root vegetables. The "koya-dofu," or freeze-dried bean curd, that has absorbed the soup is superb.
Kasahara values not only cooking skills and taste but also a playful mind. He places the ingredients skillfully on a square flat plate and finishes by placing the "kinusaya" peas in the right place. The red Kyoto carrot and green kinusaya peas enhance the festive New Year’s mood.
Although simmered dishes may seem like a lot of trouble, Kasahara’s recipe does not take too long. When placed in an air-tight container, it will last in the fridge for about three days.
8 chicken wings
4 satoimo yam
4 freeze-dried bean curd (koya-dofu)
1 block konjac
1 Kyoto red carrot
8 dried shiitake mushrooms (Immerse in warm water, change water after 30 minutes. Reconstitute overnight. Cut off stem. Keep water.)
100 grams burdock root (gobo)
8 kinusaya peas
Bit of salt and sugar
2 Tbsp oil
Ingredient A (400 cc water, 5 grams dried kelp, 4 Tbsp soy sauce, 3 Tbsp each of sweet mirin sake and sugar)
Reconstitute freeze-dried bean curd in warm water, squeeze out water. Peel satoimo, cut into bite-size pieces and rinse off stickiness.
Slice konjac into rectangles; make incision just long enough to push one end in. Pull out so it becomes twisted. In advance, parboil from water.
Chop burdock root. Cut carrot into decorative "nejiri-ume" (twisted plum flower) shape. Parboil each from water in advance. Drain. Remove strings from peas. Boil and sprinkle with salt and sugar. Cut off chicken wing tip at joint.
Pour oil in pan, sautee chicken wings. Add burdock root, satoimo and konjac and cook further.
Add Ingredient A, 400 cc of water from reconstituted shiitake mushrooms and bring to a boil. Remove scum that rises and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes. Add shiitake mushroom, koya-dofu, Kyoto carrot and cook for another 20 minutes.
Turn off heat, cool and decorate with kinusaya peas.
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From The Asahi Shimbun’s Watashi no Ryori column. This column will next appear on Jan. 24.