I have been using a Chinese bamboo steamer for years, and I prefer it to a metal steamer. The woven bamboo lid allows some steam to escape during cooking, so the ideal amount of steam is retained. Also, the bamboo body doesn’t heat up as much as the body of a metal steamer, which tends to distribute heat unevenly.
To steam foods, put plenty of water into a deep steamer pot, and bring the water to rolling boil over high heat, for maximum steam production, before putting any food into the steamer. Bring more water to a boil in another pot, so if additional water is required in the steamer pot you can add boiling water, not cold water. If you are using a metal steamer, cover the underside of the lid with a tightly woven thin cotton cloth to prevent condensed steam from dripping onto the steaming foods. When you open the steamer lid, be careful not to burn yourself in the very hot condensed steam.
Fish, rice, and dumplings are always steamed at high heat. To steam egg mixtures, though, the proper temperature is about 195 degrees F. Toobtain this temperature, use high heat for about 2 minutes and then reduce the heat to medium. If the temperature is higher, the egg protein coagulates before steam condensed in the cool liquid egg evaporates. This produces a rough-textured custard.
Vegetables, chicken, and fish are often simmered in the Japanese kitchen. Except for small fish, which are simmered whole, these ingredients are always cut into pieces that are man ageable with chopsticks before they are simmered. The base of the broth can be dashi (fish stock), kombu dashi (kelp stock), water, or sake (rice wine). After simmering, the broth is flavored with sweet and salty condiments such as sugar, mirin (sweet cooking wine), and shoyu (soy sauce).
To cut a carrot into floral shapes, take a short length of carrot, about 2 inches, and cut five small wedges, equally spaced, from the outside. Cut the carrot piece into half-inch slices crosswise. Slope each “petal” by trimming it diagonally. Trim the corners to round them.
Daikon, cucumber, and carrot are prepared using this technique. First cut the vegetable crosswise into cylinders about 3 inches long, and peel off the skin by holding the knife along the length of each cylinder and rotating the cylinder. Then, in the same way, cut the flesh into a continuous paper-thin sheet. Usually a sheet of katsura muki is later cut into thin strips. The julienned daikon on which Sashimi traditionally rests is prepared in this way.
To do sengiri with root vegetables, first cut them into 2- to 3-inch lengths crosswise. Then cut each piece into very thin lengthwise slices. Make a small pile of these slices, and cut them lengthwise into very thin, narrow strips.
For celery or fennel, cut thin slices with the grain.
Before cutting a plump cucumber seng/r/’-style, scrape out the seed cavity. This isn’t necessary for Japanese cucumbers.
Vinegared Water to Prevent Discoloration
Because gobo (burdock) immediately discolors when it is peeled and comes in contact with air, this vegetable is always soaked in vinegared water (1 teaspoon vinegar to 1 cup water) from the time it is peeled or cut until it is cooked. Burdock can also be cooked in vinegared water to whiten it. Lotus root undergoes a slower and milder discoloration, but the same technique is advised.
Grilling and Broiling
In teriyaki grilling or broiling, fish or fowl Is basted frequently while it cooks. Before applying basting sauce, remove the food from the grill or broiler. The hot fish or fowl will be covered with oil and juice exuded during cooking; if you were to apply basting sauce over these liquids it would simply run off.
Blanching and Parboiling
Water for blanching or parboiling—or yuderu, in Japanese—is salted (using 2 percent salt by volume, or IV3 tablespoons per quart) to raise the boiling point of the water. This reduces the cooking time and thus helps to preserve both color and nutrients. After the vegetables are parboiled or blanched, they should be drained quickly and
bathed in ice water to stop the cooking. Change the cooling water several times, until it remains cool. Then quickly drain the vegetables, and squeeze excess water from them. Do not let the cooked vegetables soak in water for longer than 2 minutes, lest they absorb water and their texture become soggy.