|Basic Rules of Meal Planning
The Japanese do not divide their meals as we do into one main course preceded by soup and
accompanied by a salad and vegetables. The order of the Japanese formal meal often places soup near the end, and usually
includes both fish and meat, or several kinds of fish and numerous vegetables treated in different ways. In this sense,
the Japanese meal is similar to the Chinese, on which it was consciously patterned many centuries ago.
Westerners are likely to think of such menus as "a large number of small dishes".
So at first it may be wise to plan your Japanese meal much as you would a Western one, by selecting a main dish and
building around that. Most of the lunches and dinners listed on this page have, in fact, been planned around one main course.
While it will be understandably tempting to settle on one of the more familiar teriyaki, tempura or sukiyaki dishes as a main
course, you should not overlook the less familiar nabemono (one-pot) dishes, which are delicious and relatively simple to make.
A word here about salads and desserts. The Japanese do not eat salads in our sense of raw greens
tossed with a dressing. The aemono and sunomono dishes are roughly the equivalent of salad, and several of them appear in these
sample menus. They may be served as you would a salad, or could act as a vegetable course or even as a first course.
|Experimenting with Japanese Food
Since an all-Japanese meal requires a careful balance of foods, it might be a good idea to use
the recipes in "All Easy Recipes" least initially-to supplement a Western-style meal. There are many Japanese soups,
salads and main dishes that can substitute for equivalent Western courses. In this way, you can perfect your Japanese cooking
techniques one at a time.
One great advantage to experimenting with Japanese recipes is that so many of the dishes
may be served at room temperature; consequently they may be prepared at leisure, hours before serving.
|Planning an All Japanese Menu
Don't be afraid of trying multi-course meals. It's not really that much harder to prepare a
half dozen small courses than it is to make a few hefty ones -if you plan your cooking operation in advance. The trick is
not to be caught at the last minute with too many unfamiliar operations underway. This is true in all cooking, but it is
particularly so in Japanese cuisine. A dish like tempura will demand all your attention while you're frying the shrimp and
vegetables. The heat must be adjusted so that the temperature of the oil doesn't drop; the oil must be kept clean; the frying
time must be quite precise. Consequently, if tempura is to be the main course, it might be preceded and followed by dishes
that may be made hours in advance - leaving you free for a virtuoso performance as a tempura cook.
The various courses in a Japanese dinner are ordinarily brought to the table at the start of
the meal. If you wish to eat as the Japanese do, you can give each of your guests an individual tray containing the various
courses and accompany the meal with warm sake, which has about the same alcoholic content as most Western table wines.
If you are preparing a more elaborate dinner with live or seven courses, you'll probably find it easier to serve two courses
at a time. If the course is a big one, like zensai (Japanese hors d'oeuvre), it might be more convenient to serve it by itself.
|Japanese Type of Dish
Aemono and Sunomono (mixed foods and vinegared salads) - "Aemono" means mixed things: vegetables,
fish or poultry mixed and tossed with dressings and sauces. "Sunomono" means vinegared things: vegetables alone or with fish
in vinegared dressings. Both categories encompass small dishes meant to accompany main dishes and to complement them in taste,
texture and color. Westerners might experiment with them as first courses or salad courses.
Agemono (fried foods) - "Agemono," literally, "fried things." Japanese frying techniques are
similar to those of the West, but because of the close attention paid to the batter with which the food is often coated and
to the condition and temperature of the oil, Japanese fried foods are especially notable for their delicacy.
Bento and Zensai (picnic food and appetizers) - "Bento" - or Picnic food - and "zensai" -
Japanese appetizers. Because they are all small portions of delicate food, many of the recipes can be used for either purpose.
The main point of picnic food, however, is that it can be served at room temperature and stand on its own, without a sauce.
When used as "zensai," foods can, of course, be served hot, with a sauce.
Dashi and Owanrui (stocks and soups) - There are three basic types of soup in the Japanese
cuisine: the clear soup usually served at the beginning of a meal; the slightly thicker and sweeter "miso" soups, flavored with
red or white soybean paste, often served toward the end of a Japanese meal; and the more elaborate soups-almost ragouts-which
are substantial main courses at lunch or dinner.
Gohan (rice) - Rice is so essential to Japan - as it is to all of Asia - that it has come
to have a symbolic meaning: a bowl of steamed unadorned rice always appears at the end of even the most sumptuous dinner, so
that the host can ensure that the diner has indeed had enough to eat. Of course, rice is also served more elaborately-in a bowl
as a one-dish meal topped or mixed with fish, meat, poultry, eggs or vegetables.
Menrui (noodles) - Noodles - almost as important an element in the Japanese cuisine as
rice - are available as thin noodles, wide noodles and buckwheat noodles. They are served simply-with a dipping sauce-or are
combined with other ingredients in a broth as a one dish meal.
Mushimono (steamed foods) - "Mushimono" range from such simple combinations as
chicken and shrimp steamed in egg custard
to the elaborately constructed treasure-ship pumpkin.
Nabemono (one-pot cookery) - In all "nabe"-one-pot, do-it-yourself-cooking, the actual
cooking is done at the dinner table, although the uncooked food is sliced and arranged in advance. An electric skillet or
casserole is most effective in preparing "nabemono," but a heavy, shallow casserole or skillet set over an alcohol burner,
charcoal-burning hibachi, or gas table burner does almost as well.
Set the heating unit and its cooking pot in the center of
the dining table and preheat, or bring the specified liquid to a boil. Adjust the heat so that the liquid simmers throughout
the cooking. Provide each diner with a plate, a small dish of dipping sauce (where applicable) and chopsticks or a long-handled
fork with heatproof handle (such as a fondue fork). Traditionally, each diner selects his own food from the platter of
ingredients and cooks it himself in the simmering cooking liquid.
Nimono (foods cooked in seasoned liquids) - "Nimono" - foods simmered in liquids,
for the most part they are delicately seasoned small dishes, usually meant to accompany other courses in a meal.
Sashimi (sliced raw fish) -
Many westerners who are disconcerted by the Japanese delight in eating raw fish themselves think nothing of eating raw clams and oysters.
Interestingly, "sashimi" neither tastes nor smells "fishy" and moreover, certain types of "sashimi," notably tuna, have the texture and the flavor of tender, rare beef.
Sushi (vinegared rice dishes) - "Sushi"-vinegared rice dishes - appears in many forms.
All are based on vinegared rice, accompanied by slices of raw fish with or without omelet strips, sliced vegetables, "nori"
seaweed, and a variety of colorful garnishes. These Japanese "sandwiches" may be prepared simply, by topping an oblong of
vinegared rice with a dab of prepared horseradish and slice of fish, or elaborately, by topping the rice with a wide variety
of delicately seasoned ingredients, rolling them all in "nori," and cutting them into 1-inch-thick slices. Our easy "sushi"
recipes can make unusual hors d'oeuvre first courses, or satisfying lunches for a Westerner.
Yakimono (broiled foods) - "Yakimono" are literally "broiled things." The broiling
techniques are all familiar and simple, and the cooking times are short. The variations that occur between recipes are mainly
in seasonings and combinations of ingredients. Most of the our recipes are suitable for outdoor cooking-over a charcoal fire
or on the widely popular Japanese hibachi.