Comfort Me: Chikuzen-Ni, Friendly and Delicious

Posted on Feb 9, 2016 in Hiroko's Blog, Recipes

ChikzenSo many uncertain things are circulating around us at the age when everything became trashy, reality show quality. Food…….quality food always comfort us and push our spirit high. This is only me speaking.

Recently ramen has become a culinary star in America, but not soba or udon noodle soup bowls. All of these dishes are comfort food in Japan. So, why only ramen? Ramen is packed with punching, rich meaty flavor, which Americans love to taste in a hot noodle soup bowl. Soba and udon noodle soup bowls, which use traditional, clean tasting dashi stock as a base, lack the richness. The predecessor of ramen is, by the way, a Chinese hot noodle soup. The use of chicken or meat stock in noodle dish preparations were unheard of at the time of adopting this foreign noodle soup bowl in the Japanese Kitchen.

Here is another American friendly Japanese comfort dish for us which we can enjoy especially at this time of the year. This dish also has foreign influence. If you own a Japanese cookbook, look for Chikuzen-ni recipe. It is a very popular dish prepared at every home across the country in Japan. You can find my Chikuzen-ni recipe in the The Japanese Kitchen: 250 Recipes with a traditional spirit (Harvard Common Press). It is page 420-421.

Here is an excerpt from my book. “Chikuzen was the name given to present Fukuoka Prefecture on the southern island of Kyushu during the Edo Era (1600-1868). [Did Fukuoka ring you something up? Fukuoka is the birth place of your favorite Tonkotsu ramen.] This is the region where Chinese, Dutch, and other European influence first reached Japan and remained strongest over the years. In the Chikuzen-ni preparation, chicken and seasonal vegetables are cooked in oil (not traditional Japanese way); then simmered in a Japanese broth. The vegetables used in this dish are mostly root vegetables, which can endure long cooking without changing much of their color and losing their texture.”

Root vegetables used in traditional Chikuzen-Ni preparation are burdock, satoimo taro, carrot, konnyaku jelly cake and lotus root. If you have an access to these exotic items, use them and enjoy the true authentic flavor of Chikuzen-Ni. If not, don’t be panicked. I use local winter vegetables such as rutabagas, kohlrabi, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrot, fennel bulb. The result is beyond great.

Chikuzen plateHere are some adjustment in my recipe in The Japanese Kitchen: 1. I no longer cut up chicken -with bones and skin attached- into chunks any more. (One of the reason is that I lost my cleaver in the taxi.) I leave them in thigh and drum stick pieces. (So, I serve this Japanese dish with fork and knife.) 2. Instead of tossing chicken with shoyu before browning, I salt the chicken liberally. I cut out the flour as well. 3. Cook the vegetables with pinches sea salt. 4. Cook the chicken and vegetables with little dashi stock (not water) for 25-30 minutes (since chicken pieces are large, cooking time is longer than the one in my book). 5. Removed mirin from the recipe (I no longer use mirin in my kitchen. There is no point of adding hyfructose corn syrup in any of preparations.). 6. Even though I omitted mirin (the source of sweetness) I do not increase the volume of sugar. Today I am using less or no sugar in my Japanese dish preparations. 7. The sugar amount stays the same in the recipe. Replace white sugar with brown sugar for more complex and less sweet flavor in the final dish. 8. Shoyu is added at the end of cooking. Use a good quality shoyu (soy sauce). I mean it. Inexpensive, poor quality shoyu does not have any flavor, but is just salty. Unhealthy, as well. Good quality shoyu, on the other hand, has depth of good flavor with noted umami. It requires little amount of such a quality shoyu to flavor our final dish perfect.