Japanese cuisine: bland, unadorned, monotonous. All it takes to dispel this common misconception is a survey of Japanese condiments. Often adopted from Chinese or European culinary traditions, Japanese condiments are a diverse and flavorful lot. There is shōyu, ginger, and wasabi, of course, but also sōsu, teriyaki sauce, kabayaki sauce, ika sauce vinegar, egg, mentaiko, mentaiko mayonnaise, ponzu, tsuyu, umeboshi, shiso, umeshiso, katsuobushi, katsuoume, yakitori tare, hot mustard, miso, aonori, hijiki, shichimi, ichimi, sansho, ajishio, furikake, tekka, tsukemono, takana, sesame seeds, garlic, etc., etc., etc.
One of my favorites is a substance called yuzu-koshō 柚子胡椒, made from the fragrant peel of the yuzu ground with salt, sugar, spicy green chilies and often MSG into a fine, evil wasabi-looking forest-green paste. Its aroma is warm, peppery, and citric with a top note of pine needles; its flavor is thorny and permeating with heat, acidity, and salt. It is delicious, and an absolute must for Japanese hotpot (nabe 鍋) dishes. To me, it is the flavor of Japanese winter.
It isn’t winter yet, but it’s getting there. Please enjoy this warm and aromatic risotto on a cool autumn evening.
Yuzu-koshō Risotto with Japanese Mushrooms
3/4 cup short-grain rice
4 cups katsuo dashi or seafood stock
3/4 cup dry sake
1 package nattō, minced
1 leek, thinly sliced
2 large eringi mushrooms, sliced into small pieces
1 bunch maitake mushrooms, torn into small pieces
4 small shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, sliced into small pieces
3/4 tablespoon yuzu-koshō
2 tablespoons mirin
white sesame seeds, to taste
Notes: Since yuzu-koshō is typically very salty, prepare a weak concentration of dashi to minimize the risotto’s overall saltiness. The nattō acts as substitute the texture and aroma of cheese; it can be replaced with a small amount of cheese and butter.
- In a deep frying pan, heat equal parts sesame oil and vegetable oil over medium heat.
- When hot, add leek and rice to pan and stir well to coat with oil. Increase heat and keep stirring to toast rice.
- When rice starts to turn opaque, add sake to deglaze. Cook until liquid is almost gone.
- Add dashi, ladleful by ladleful, and cook, stirring often, until rice is almost al dente.
- Add mushrooms and more dashi and cook until mushrooms are tender and rice is finished.
- Add nattō, yuzu-koshō, and mirin and cook until risotto is thick and creamy.