Essential Japanese ingredients
Every good chef must have a number of key ingredients at their disposal to create wonderful food as easily as possible. Be that olive oil or salt and pepper for French cooking, or spices for Indian cooking, Japanese cooking also requires a number of ingredients at hand.
These are the 10 essential ingredients for Japanese cooking. They are all cheap and available. They all also last for a long time, so it’s worth stocking your cupboards with them so they are always on hand.
1. Japanese Rice
This may be self evident, but it is essential that you use Japanese rice in Japanese cooking. Some will attempt to cook using Jasmin rice or Thai rice, but it just doesn’t work. Japanese rice is totally scentless and is sticky enough to hold together which is essential for dishes such as sushi.
2. Japanese Soya Sauce
There are several countries which produce soy sauce so it may not be immediately evident that you are not buying Japanese soy sauce. Recommendations- the one that you’re most likely to find at western supermarkets is Kikoman. Sometimes you may find two types – Koikuchi (black, deep colour) and Usukuchi (lighter colour but saltier).
Soy sauces produced by various soy-sauce-using countries do differ. For Japanese food, use Japanese soy sauce, rather than Chinese, etc. A good, widely available and not too expensive brand is Yamasa. Kikkoman is okay, and generally not expensive since the company produces it worldwide rather than shipping it from Japan. You can spend a lot for good soy sauce, an there is a difference in flavor, but it's not totally necessary to do so for most everyday needs.
Sake“>Saké (Japanese alcohol) is often used in Japanese cooking much like white wine is used in western cooking. You can actually substitute white wine if you have no ne, but make sure it isn’t a sweet white. Any brand is fine.
Mirin is is an essential condiment used in Japanese cuisine, consisting of around 50% sugar. It is a kind of rice wine similar to Saké, but with a lower alcohol content. It is used to sweeten dishes (but less than sugar), reduce the smell of certain fish dishes and give vegetables and other food a shiny appearance.
5. Fish stock powder (hon dashi)
Normally the stock is made from swordfish, but it doesn’t have a fishy taste at all – it is used as chicken stock would be in western food, but is far more common. It is hard to describe exactly what it tastes like or what it does to the dish, but if you imagine the fantastic taste of miso soup, this is created from miso, water and fish stock alone!
6. Japanese Mayonaise
Japanese are very fussy about mayonnaise. They cannot understand the popularity of western egg mayonnaise since their mayonnaise is so different in flavour. Most recommended brand is Aji no Moto. Perhaps you can find it in any grocery shop, but if not, Kewpie is a good alternative.
Make sure you use Japanese rice vinegar in all the recipes features on this site, not any other type of vinegar even Chinese rice vinegar which is readily available in the west. It is used for dressings and sauce. Harusame saladis a delicious and refreshing salad using rice vinegar.
Ponzu is a citrus based sauce used in many delicious Japanese sauces, in dishes such as Japanese hotpot, Chijimi (Korean pancakes) and hamburgers.
8. Potato starch (kata kuri ko)
This is used when you want to make sauce a little thicker and stickier like flour may be used in western cooking. It is often used when frying to make the sauce stick to the meat, (as in this Chinese and pepper stirfry) or in deep frying to make the meat super crisy. It creates more crisp than flour would.
9. Pan ko
These are bread crumbs, but softer and fluffier than western alternatives. They are used to make deep fried dishes light and crispy. If you can’t get hold of it, you can just shred white bread into tiny pieces and use it in the same way. J