You can cook Japanese food with the ordinary equipment of a typical Western kitchen. Japanese implements, however, do some jobs more efficiently and better than Western substitutes. If you have the means and opportunity to obtain some of these utensils, I recommend that you do so. With your new tools, you may find that preparation times are shorter, cooking tasks are easier, and the dishes you produce look much better. You will find these tools very valuable for preparing non-Japanese foods, too.
DONABE • Earthenware Casserole
TETSUNABE • Iron Pot
These large pots are indispensable for nabemono—hot-pot—preparations, such as sukiyaki (beef and vegetables quickly braised in sweetened shoyu or soy sauce, broth), shabu-shabu (beef slices blanched in boiling water), and torinabe (chicken and vegetables cooked In flavored stock or water).
An earthenware casserole, the donabe, is made from special clay and fired at a high temperature so that it can withstand a direct flame. The casserole comes with a heavy earthenware lid with a tiny hole from which steam can escape during cooking. Adonabe is perfect for any type of hot-pot preparations except sukiyaki. The most frequently used size is about 12 inches in diameter and 3V2 inches in depth; a smaller casserole is available for preparing fewer servings.
Here are several tips for using a donabe: Heat it and cool it gradually, because sudden changes in temperature can cause it to crack. Never place it on a direct flame when the pot has no liquid in it. Atraditional donabe casserole should not be put intothe oven, although modern versions may be oven-safe (check the instructions). A heavy enameled pot can be substituted for a donabe.
The second type of large cooking pot is a tetsunabe, a heavy iron pot used for making sukiyaki. Round, shallow, flat-bottomed, and about 10 inches in diameter, a tetsunabe comes without a lid. Because iron rusts when not treated properly, the pot should be dried immediately and completely after each washing. Adeep iron skillet may be substituted for a tetsunabe.
FUKIN • Cotton Kitchen Cloth
Afukin is a thin, rectangular cotton cloth from 12 to 16 inches in length and about 10 inches in width. Like cheesecloth, a fukin is used for a variety of purposes, including wrapping and ,Q forming cooked rice into shapes, lining a colander before straining stock, and squeezing excess water from tofu. Cheesecloth is too looselywoven to substitute for a fukin, however, and a terrycloth towel is too thick. Tightly woven unbleached muslin makes a good substitute.
HANGIRI • Wooden Sushi Tub
Ahangiri is a flat-bottomed wooden tub, as large as 16 inches in diameter, that resembles a baby’s bathtub. This tub is used primarily in the preparation of sushi rice. In the tub, steaming piping-hot cooked rice is tossed with dressing—a mixture of rice vinegar, sugar, and salt. The wood quicklyabsorbs a portion of the moisture and, at the same time, retains some of the heat. Also, the large surface area of the tub helps moisture to evaporate quickly.
So the rice, which is very moist from cooking, does not become watery or lumpy when it is tossed with additional liquid and stored in the tub. Asubstitute for a hangiri is a large, deep, unfinished wooden salad bowl.
KUSHI Bamboo Skewers
Kushi, bamboo skewers, are used for preparing some grilled Japanese dishes, such as yakitori— chicken pieces threaded onto bamboo skewers and grilled while being frequently basted with sweet, rich soy sauce-based sauce. The cook continually turns the skewers so that the meat is evenly cooked and basted. For this reason, bamboo skewers are essential; steel skewers would become too hot to handle. The skewers are soaked in water for 30 minutes before use so that they won’t burn during cooking. Supermarkets as well as Japanese and Chinese food stores sell bamboo skewers.
MUSHIKI • Steamer
Two types of steamers are used in Japan, bamboo and metal. The bamboo steamer is of Chinese origin, and the metal steamer is Western. I prefer to use the Chinese type. I place it on top of a deep pot, which can hold sufficient water for producing copious steam. The steam escapes through the spaces in the woven bamboo lid instead of dripping on the steaming food. If you want to buy a bamboo steamer, choose one that will just fit over the rim of the
deep pot you plan to use with it.
OROSHIGANE • Steel Grater
OROSHIKI • Porcelain Grater
Oroshigane, a steel grater with very fine spikes, is useful for grating wasabi, ginger, and daikon radish. But graters called oroshiki, which are made of porcelain, are better than the metal type because they do not impart any metallic flavor to the food. They are also safer for your hands; you need not worry about scraping and injuring your skin, as can easily hap pen with sharp steel spikes.
There are two kinds of porcelain graters, one with larger spikes set widely apart on the grating surface and another with smaller, more closely spaced spikes. The former is good for coarsely grating daikon, lotus root, and mountain yam. The latter, for producing finer results, is good for grating shoga ginger, wasabi, and garlic. Western graters cannot perform these precision jobs satisfactorily, which is why so many students have asked me how to produce a teaspoon of grated ginger or ginger juice.
OSHIZUSHI NO KATA • Wooden Sushi Mold
Oshizushi no kata is a rectangular wooden mold used in the preparation of oshizushi, pressed or boxed sushi. This style of sushi is popular in the Kansai region, which includes Osaka and Kyoto. In Tokyo, the familiar handmade nigirizushi are more popular. But using the wooden sushi mold is a much easier way to make sushi. With it, the novice can pro duce perfect sushi every time. The mold is a rectangular wooden frame, about 4 by 7 inches and PA inches in depth, with a separate lid and bottom board. The lid is slightly smaller than the frame so it can slide down inside. To prepare oshizushi, first soak the frame and lid in cold water for 30 minutes. Fit the frame over the bottom board, and pack sushi rice in the mold. Laysliced fish over the rice.
Place the lid on top and firmly press down. Remove the lid and frame, and cut the sushi into bite-sized pieces. After using your oshizushi no kata, soak the mold in cold water for 20 minutes, and remove the rice residue with a hard brush. Dry the mold completely before storing it.