I have always loved Japanese food - the fragrance, the presentation, and most especially the taste. I was delighted, recently, when I received an invitation to attend a very special Japanese cooking class.
Fukiko Miyazaki - chef and caterer - is fluent in the art of Japanese cooking. Ms. Miyazaki owns Studio Nihon, here in Santa Barbara. Studio Nihon is a creative endeavor - an opportunity to bring the flavor of Japanese culture right to your home.
On Saturday, Fukiko met our group of eight in Margaret's kitchen. She had planned the menu with Margaret's help, focusing on two favorite homestyle-Japanese dishes: katsudon (pork cutlet and rice) and korroke (potato croquette).
Fukiko arrived with her rice cooker, menu ingredients, and even a beautiful vase filled with stalks of fresh bamboo to beautify the table - she thought of everything! We were ready to spend an afternoon learning more about the art of Japanese cooking.
Each member of our group was given a task - to chop onions, peel potatoes, crack fresh eggs....
prepare the pork cutlets, make the dashi, set the table - it was a real team effort....although some of us worked harder than others....(hey, the game was on and he was checkin' the scores).
When all the ingredients were prepared, we brought all the disparate parts together and created a wonderful meal. I learned that Japanese cooking is not mysterious or difficult. It requires a bit of planning and preparation before the cooking begins, but by taking it step by step with the help of Fukiko - I realized that this is something I can do at home, too.
We talked and laughed as we worked. The results of our efforts were beautiful and fragrant.
The recipes were simple - and so delicious. I asked the group why, it seemed to me, that Japanese food is so inherently satisfying. It's deeply flavorful, yes, and beautiful when prepared in the Japanese tradition - but there is something...more...
Several members of our group are of Japanese descent. They joined Fukiko in explaining umami - the "fifth taste". In addition to the four flavors familiar to Westerners - salty, sweet, bitter, and pungent - for many decades, the Japanese have recognized a fifth flavor - umami - "savory" . This special richness, this complex, mellow, satisfying flavor is also able to enhance the quality of other foods.
Umami is introduced into Japanese cooking by using special ingredients - alone or in combination - as flavoring, or for broth or marinades. The key ingredients are konbu (kelp), dried bonito, dried sardines, and hoshi-shiitake (shiitake mushrooms).
Eventually - modern science had to concur with what the Japanese had claimed all along - that the fifth flavor was real, identifiable, measurable, and something very special. (To learn more about umami, go to the Kikkoman website)
And that day, in Margaret's kitchen, I had an epiphany, a moment of enlightenment that will change the way I view life from here on out.
I learned to cook Japanese-style rice - properly.
- Measure dry rice into a bowl. Fill the bowl with water. Rinse the rice throughly; pour off the cloudy water, fill the vessle with fresh water; and again, pour off cloudy water, fill with clear water - and repeat until water remains clear. Drain rice in colander and place the rice in the rice cooker. Let the rice "rest" for five minutes
- Add the appropriate amount of water to the rice cooker - and let rice sit, submersed, for 15 minutes before cooking.
- Set timer, and steam until done.
- Let rice "rest" for a few minutes before serving
So on Saturday, among friends old and new, in the kitchen and at the dining room table, we combined laughter and learning and cultural lessons with great food. Complex, rich, sweet, savory, salty, mellow, fragrant.....together, each of us was enriched - enhanced - by the contribution of the others.
Then I realized: I'm livin' umami.
Fukiko Miyazaki is a very good cook, excellent instructor - and all-around charming person. We felt as though we had invited an old friend to join us in the kitchen....and at the table when we were ready to sample our own cooking.
Fukiko is an expert at creating authentic Japanese cuisine, including sushi (she was a sushi chef at Ahi Sushi in Santa Barbara). She is a certified chef
with extensive experience in creating gourmet Japanese cuisine and she is the only sake sommalier between Los Angeles and San Francisco, having received special training in Japan. You can hold a sushi-making class, devise your favorite menu and cook your own Japanese-style meal, have an event catered, or even learn to pair this sushi with that sake.
If you are planning a small gathering, a fun holiday event, a birthday celebration - don't hesitate to contact Studio Nihon
You will have the opportunity to sample various sushi treats created by Ms. Miyazaki at an upcoming event hosted by the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation: Sharing Our Common Ground: Asian American History in Santa Barbara County.
The event will take place at El Presidio de Santa Barbara on September 11, 2010, from 10:00am - 2:00pm.
Plan to attend this wonderful day learning about Asian American history, while sampling sushi created by Ms. Miyazaki. You might be inspired to bring the beauty of Asian culture and the spirit of umami to your home or to your special event, with Ms. Miyazaki as your hostess.