In Japan: part 2. Adaptations
When you have a country of 127.8 million citizens and only 12.5% of your land is arable and you are crazy about food, then you need to learn to adapt. Take the famous Japanese Udon noodle: Slippery, thick, filling and bland the Udon noodle sops up flavour from its accompanying sauce like nothing else. I tracked down a Udon noodle joint at the edge of Osaka Castle Park on a chilly autumn day and I can tell you that the bowl of curry udon with thin slices of beef certainly hit the spot.
However, 85% of Japanese Udon noodles are made from Australian flour. The soft Australian wheat flour with a protein content of 10-11% is perfect for forming thick, porous Udon noodles. In a deal worth $300 million Western Australia exports 900,000 tonnes of it each year. The Udon noodle is proof you can champion a dish as your own, without referring to its provenance.
Traditionally Udon noodles are served with a thick, gravy-like curry sauce thickened with, I suspect, potato starch or possibly arrowroot or taro starch. Each Udon shop has its own closely guarded secret sauce recipe and the proprietors are not mad keen on enthusiastic tourists taking pictures of their kitchens.
Another adapted National Dish is the Gyoza, the Japanese pot-sticker dumpling that is clearly a version of Chinese wantons and dumplings. They are shaped a little like Cornish Pasties with the crimped side running along the dorsal portion of the dumpling, as opposed to the more spherical Chinese dumplings so they can be finished in the shallow Japanese skillets rather than steamed. Served in almost every non-specialty restaurant as an appetiser, these dumplings are cooked twice: fried in a hot skillet until the wheat flour and water wrappers start to turn brown and then again with a ladle full of water or dashi stock if you are lucky.They are covered and left to steam for 6-7 minutes. These combined techniques give a double texture to the wrapper; crunchy bottoms and gelatinised, supple sides while the filling inside is retains its juices.
Here’s how I made some recently.
ingredients for 24 gyoza
- Dumpling wrappers from your local oriental supermarket, not wanton wrappers
- 200g lean minced pork
- 30g dried shitake or porcini mushrooms, reconstituted in boiling water and sliced finely
- 100 g ordinary mushrooms finely chopped
- two cups of Chinese cabbage finely shredded
- two spring onions finely chopped
- tablespoon of fresh chives
- salt and pepper
- Japanese soy sauce
- vegetable oil for frying
- a heavy skillet with a close fitting lid
- hot water
- a tray lined with baking parchment
- Mix all ingredients but the oil and the wrappers and the hot water together in a large bowl
- take 24 wrappers out of the pack and cover with a damp teatowel. Have a dish of cold water nearby, you will be dipping your finger in this to wet the circumference of the wrappers before you close them.
- Take one wrapper off the pile and replace the teatowel. Put a spoonful of the filling in the centre of a wrapper, wet the edge lightly and do your level best to form them in to a gyoza shape. The first few will be ugly but you”ll get the hang of it and make something passable.
- Place each one on the baking parchment – if you put it on the kitchen counter you will never get it off in one piece.
- Serve 4 per person as a starter, so place what you won’t use today in the fridge, still on the baking parchment, and freeze them when completely chilled.
- Heat about half a centimetre of oil in the skillet and add the gyoza flat side down and cook for 3 or 4 minutes over a medium heat
- turn the heat up, splash on half a cup of water and put the lid on. Leave to steam for 6-7 minutes. Check the meat in the filling is piping hot and serve with this kind of sauce.
It seems everything is up for adaptation, even adjectives for sensory attributes. This hot sweet tea sold in vending machines. My good buddy Taka of Cook Me Japanese assures me it is very nice. I gave it a miss.
And this item was delicious. I got one bite of it, having myself ordered the Special Lobster Mornay Pattie, which turned out to be a Big McMistake.
And you can write your own caption for the Roots Coffee Cowboy.