My Citizens, few things please the Imperial palate of the Citizen Prime – YOUR TFD! – more than the subtleties of Japanese cuisine! As you all know, I am also extremely fond of the cold, wintry weather of the frozen North – and that includes the northernmost Japanese island of Hokkaido!
Hokkaido (北海道 Hokkaidō, literally “Northern Sea Circuit”), formerly known as Ezo, Yezo, Yeso, or Yesso, is the second largest island of Japan, and the largest and northernmost prefecture. The Tsugaru Strait separates Hokkaido from Honshu.
The two islands are connected by the undersea railway Seikan Tunnel. The largest city on Hokkaido is its capital, Sapporo (yes, the home of the beer!), which is also its only ordinance-designated city. About 43 km north of Hokkaido lies Sakhalin Island, Russia. To its east and north-east are the disputed Kuril Islands.
Hokkaido is one of the places in Japan that’s known for their food. Often times, when people think of food in Hokkaido, fresh seafood (especially salmon!) and dairy products come to mind. Salmon grow fat and delicious in the icy-cold river waters of Hokkaido, as you can see in this video:
One of the special treats of Northern Japan is its special winter soup, Kasu Jiru. In its most simple form, Daikon radish is cut into quarter-rounds and simmered in soup mixed with sake lees, and then salted salmon is added for the rich taste. As the pronunciation of ‘kasu’ also means ‘to lend’ in Japanese, Kasu Jiru is considered to be a dish to bring good fortune, as people hope to be fortune enough to lend, rather than having to borrow.
The harmonious flavors of aromatic sake lees and rich salmon make this soup a perfect dish to warm your body from inside out on cold winter days. What is sake “lees” you ask? Read on, dear reader!
Sake kasu (酒粕) are the rice-base left over from sake production. It can be used as a pickling agent or the main ingredient of amazake, a cooking paste to add flavor to food and as a marinade.
As noted on en.sake-times.com:
Sake Kasu is Japanese for the left-over lees which are separated from the liquid during the pressing stage after fermentation. The sake mash is made up of roughly 25% sake kasu; the remaining 75% becomes the sake in the glass that we all used to drinking. Sake kasu contains about 8% alcohol and is highly nutritious, making it a popular cooking ingredient that gets sold to the local people and visitors to the brewery at the end of the brewing season.
Left-over lees might not sounds like the most appealing thing in the world, but Sake Kasu is not without value — nutritional value that is. It is jam-packed with nutrients like protein, carbohydrates, fibre, vitamins, organic acids and minerals. All of which have very worthwhile health benefits that help people suffering from ailments like Diabetes, high blood pressure — not to mention the fact that it makes your skin beautiful. This is one by-product of sake that shouldn’t be taken lightly!
Store it in a cool and dark space such as the refrigerator. If you notice a white powder appearing on the surface, it is just crystallized tyrosine, an amino acid. This is not a problem. For large quantities of sakekasu, it’s a good idea to freeze it in small portions soon after purchase.
Citizens, I love this recipe for many reasons, not the least of which is that this soup calls for several techniques and ingredients that are fundamental to real Japanese cuisine – master them, and you will be amazed what new dishes you can offer! Is there an initial investment to making Japanese stews and soups? Yes, as you need a special implement – a Japanese pot called a Donabe. It will get much use, I promise – you can buy an exceptional handmade one here.
Dashi, the fundamental broth of Japanese cuisine, is not hard to make as it only has two ingredients. That said, you REALLY want them to be the best quality – a fantastic recipe for Dashi may be found here. The proper konbu seaweed and dried bonito shavings – katsuo bushi – may be found here and here.
Sake kasu is obviously an integral ingredient in this dish – it can be hard to find unless you live in the SF Bay Area, where you can get free sake lees from Sequoia Sake in San Francisco or very inexpensive sake lees from Takara Sake in Berkeley. Failing that, if you have an Asian supermarket (or a Japanese market like Mitsuwa), they will usually carry it. Rakuten also carries it for shipping straight from Japan!
Another ingredient that can be a bit difficult to find is Konnyaku, a gelatinous ingredient made from the starch of a Japanese yam – it can be found in those “zero calorie noodles” in many supermarkets, but you really want to use it cake form for this recipe for its unique texture. You can buy it here.
My version of this recipe – of course – gilds the lily and elevates it from humble peasant fare to worthy of the palate of the Shōgun himself and looks/tastes almost French! My tweaks are all optional, of course – starting first with a hint of heavy cream as it is a staple of Hokkaido and adds to the velvety texture of the soup. I choose to garnish my version with both ikura (salmon roe) and wasabi-flavored tobiko (flying fish roe) for flavor, color and texture. You can get top-quality ikura here and wasabi tobiko here.
I choose to decoratively cut my daikon and carrot into geometric shapes for visual appeal and of course, the salmon is at the heart of the dish! It is imperative you choose only the freshest, WILD salmon – either Chinook/King on the West Coast and Atlantic on the East Coast. I have – heretically – added smoked salmon as well, as I find it really ups the flavor quotient! My favorite brand of wild, not farmed smoked salmon is this one.
Sansho, the Japanese “pepper” is actually far more closely related to the Sichuan peppercorn and has a similar numbing effect on the tongue. I use only top-quality sansho from here.
Lastly, I have also added an optional garnish of beautiful blue borage flowers, with their delicate cucumber taste that beautifully complements this recipe, as well as julienned shiso leaves, with their combined flavor of basil and mint. You can buy fresh borage flowers here. If you can’t find shiso leaves, either leave them out altogether or julienne a few mint and basil leaves instead.
This gorgeous and delicious soup/stew will blow you away, my Citizens – a perfect Winter dish that while pricey to make properly, is one of the best things you will ever try, I promise! 🙂
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