Hirokos Blog

Hiroko’s Kitchen made it onto CulinaryPrograms.net’s recently completed list of 100 Magnificent Sites for Chefs.

CulinaryPrograms.net says, “We built the list for the next generation of chefs who will soon be entering culinary programs and will need to stay up to date on the latest trends in cuisine, and know how to leverage the internet and other forms of media to get their work noticed. We think your site is a great example of how culinary professionals can use the web to their advantage.”


Posted on 6:16 PM in Hiroko's Blog


Is there anyone out there who has cold feet, hands or body; anyone who desperately wants to warm up? Make this simple hot drink. You need only three items. They are fresh ginger, honey and hot water. Grate 1 teaspoon of peeled ginger and add to your coffee or tea mug; add 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of honey (if it is available get the locally produced honey); carefully pour in about 1 cup very hot water; stir the mixture; let it cool off a bit and then enjoy! Have this hot sip once or twice in the morning and perhaps before going to bed. It warms up your body and your mind.

The very first time I ate gingerbread happened just several days ago on Christmas eve at our friend’s house.  Growing up in Japan I had no connection to or affection for gingerbread even after living in New York City for 19 years. The taste of ginger which is so familiar in my Japanese cuisine actually tasted quite different in this new-for-me cake. Dried ginger powder as is used in gingerbread is not a Japanese kitchen staple, but the fresh rhizome certainly is.

Ginger, shoga, is one of the most representative spice used in the Japanese kitchen throughout the year.  Shoga has been cultivated in China since antiquity and was introduced to Japan around the 2nd or 3rd century AD.  The Japanese climate is a good fit for growing shoga and the cultivation of the rhizome began in the 7th century. In the Japanese kitchen shoga is always used fresh.  To cook strongly flavored fish or meat we add sliced shoga to the pot. Shoga cuts off any overly strong flavors of the ingredients and produces an appealing and balanced flavor in the prepared dish.  Shoga in Japan is used fresh – grated, finely julienned, sliced thin or pickled –  to become a garnish for prepared dishes. It may be served as a condiment with a prepared dish. The fresh fragrance and spiciness of the rhizome awakens and entertains diners’ senses and is a very characteristic feature of the Japanese meal.

How was ginger chosen as the primary flavor in the cake or cookie that is called “gingerbread”?  Ginger root traveled from China to Europe via the Silk Road during Middle Age giving the spice great value.  Sarah Nelson’s Grasmere Gingerbread blog says that, “The legend of the Gingerbread Man has a long-established provenance in mainland Europe. It is thought to have first appeared at the court of Queen Elizabeth 1st who presented courtiers with gingerbread likeness of themselves at Christmas.”  Sara also mentions that, “For the Chinese and Romans ginger was a symbol of wealth and fertility.”  These may be some of the reasons why gingerbread came into being.

Ginger has long been known in China, India and Arab countries as a traditional herbal medicine. Those medicinal-use teachings were also introduced to Japan. We use ginger in Japanese preparations not just to awaken and entertains the diners’ senses, because of ginger’s many medicinal properties. One of them is that it is said to warm our bodies including our intestines and organs. Ginger also aids digestion, and as you may have heard, ginger calms nausea and vomiting.  In the Japanese kitchen ginger is also known for its antiseptic and antibacterial properties. Grated ginger always accompanies oily fish sashimi such as aji (horse mackerel), sanma (Pacific pike) and iwashi (sardines) because these delicious, but oily fish are known to spoil rather quickly. The grated ginger helps to deal with any bacteria that might be multiplying in these fish.

Next year I will introduce you to more information about medicinal foods in the Japanese culinary tradition. Until then, let’s eat local and seasonal to maintain the health of both human beings and the earth. And no processed food by any means. Eat what nature gives us, not what the factory supplies.

Happy New Year!!! Dozo Yoi-Otoshi-O! and Akemashite-Omedeto!!!



Posted on 10:11 AM in Hiroko's Blog

Super-quick Shio-koji




Super-Quick Shio-koji chicken

You may have tried shio-koji recipe which I have posted on June 12, 2012. I have been making it in this way until one day I found the fantastic short-cut way of making of this version from a Japanese cookbook written by Takako Nakamura. She has developed a super quick shio-koji recipe, which I call it Super-quick Shio-koji.

Super-quick Shio-koji takes only 1 hour to make; the old technique takes, as you have done it, for 10 days during winter time. It takes too long. So, here is how you make the Super-quick version.

You need an electric rice cooker. I use Zojirushi brand rice cooker, which is the best among many others. You need 1 tub of koji rice (576g), the same weight of lukewarm water (158F) and 190g sea salt.

Transfer the koji rice into a large bowl; toss them well with both hands to loosen them; add the lukewarm water to the koji rice and transfer them to the rice cooker bowl; set up the rice cooker at keep-warm function and leave the koji rice and water mixture for about 1 hour;  transfer the koji rice and water mixture (it is no longer watery) to a clean bowl and mix with the salt. It is ready to use but you may rest it for a couple of days in the refrigerator for matured flavor. You may process the Super-quick Shio-koji in a food processor to make it into a smooth paste. Transfer it in a clean jar with a tight-fitting lid and keep it refrigerated. You can enjoy it about 3 months.

Super-quick shio-koji has mellow sweeter flavor than the conventional shio-koji.  It is very handy; it keeps any meat and chicken cooked with it moist, juicy and flavorful.

The pork on the photo is painted with Super-quick Shio-koji and dried herbs one hour before cooking, and baked in the oven; the chicken on the photo is painted with Super-quick Shio-koji, maple syrup and cayenne pepper one hour before cooking, and baked in the oven.

If you complain that you have no time to make tasty dinner, try the Super-quick Shio-koji baked chicken or pork.

An important message: You pair the delicious baked Super-quick Shio-koji chicken or pork with seasonal vegetables. No tomato, bell peppers nor cucumber (even though you can purchase them at supermarket), please. These summer vegetables cool our body and not fit to our winter consumption. EAT LOCAL & SEASONAL and COOK OUR MEALS IN OUR OWN KITCHEN.


Posted on 9:15 AM in Hiroko's Blog

Kunisaki Peninsula with changing leaves

Seriously engaged in drawing patterns on a cup; wonderful art craft activity

Visit to shochu brewery

it looks like a gem; it is katsuobushi

Kyushu with Hiroko Shochu gifts

Vegetable lunch at 170 years old farm house

Before heading to Rotenburo onsen-hopping and sake/shochu hopping; what a fun

Vegetable dish reminded us of persimmon

Hike at Aso cardera; climbing up high gave us a beautiful view

Fun dengaku lunch; sitting around the charcoal fire





Kyushu with Hiroko 2018 with full 9 participants finished a grand tour with great satisfaction.

Please click the below link to see the collection of photos and video.

Activities varied from a special Buddhism service in Kunisaki Peninsula where they this year celebrates 1300th year Rokugo Manzan religious culture, to a Chinese cooking class, plunging in deep Onsen culture everywhere we went, a hike at Mt. Aso, a small boat ride in Kuma River, hiking to one of the most beautiful crater lakes in Kirishima, visits to katsuobushi (dried skipjack tuna) factory and shochu brewery, soaking in the hot sand bath, staying at Christian history-studded Amakusa island, observing how sea salt is made, engaging in art activity, two boat rides between the islands, enjoying a very special Temple Fucha Cuisine at Kofukuji temple, exploring the Dejima (Dutch trading post for 250 years) museum, learning atomic bomb history and riding on Shinkansen high-speed train and local trains. Along with all these experiences we ate through diverse cuisine at breakfast, lunch and dinner on our way. All accomplished in 12 days.

Below is the photo link to Kyushu with Hiroko 2018. Please enjoy it with family and friends. If you want to be part of the tour in 2019, send Hiroko an e-mail of your interest in the tour next year. Price and detailed information of Kyushu with Hiroko 2019 will be sent to you when available at the beginning of next year. Looking forward to traveling Kyushu with you in 2019! https://www.dropbox.com/s/80io78lcnqpwi60/Kyushu%20with%20Hiroko%202018_Small%20%282%29.mp4?raw1


HOBA-YAKI, Rustic Mountain Dish

Posted on 7:34 PM in Hiroko's Blog

Hoba-yaki is a dish, in which scallion slices and mushrooms are cooked together over a charcoal fire on the bed of flavored, simple miso sauce placed that are placed on a dried hoba (magnolia) leaf. In the past in the mountainous, rural areas where not many cooking tools were available, this preparation was born. The leaf was used as a cooking vessel. Since the leaf has antiseptic property, the use of leaf in the kitchen was win-win situation. Of course, the leaf must be far enough from the charcoal so that it does not burn or ignite. Anyway, dried hoba leaf is very arty.

Times have changed. Today artistic presentations using hoba leves can be very attractive for diners, so this once-humble dish has adopted by high-end restaurant kitchens. At these venues’ chefs devise more creative version of the sauces and use expensive and varied ingredients such as the combination of wagyu beef and mushrooms, seasonal seafood with vegetables and briefly seared chicken with scallions. The resulting dishes are sensational to see and are delicious.

If you are using the hoba leaves, please do not forget to soak them in water before using in order to prevent burning and ignition.

Recently I found a fresh, very attractive, deep-green fig leaf at Union Square Farmers’ Market in NYC. The leave has five large pointed lobes and resembles a giant maple leaf. The vendor’s sign says that the leaf has anti-diabetic property. After carrying them back to my kitchen, I washed them and divided them into two piles; one for fresh use and the other for drying.

I used the fresh leaf to present cooked food items on top of the leaves. Does this configuration contribute to our health, especially the problem of diabetes?  I can’t say that I really have any further information about this.

One-week dried leaves are sitting on the kitchen counter. They will have to wait for my return from Japan at the end of this month. I am leaving for Japan tomorrow, July 7, to lead my tour, Kyushu with Hiroko 2018. So at that point they will be 5 weeks-dried leaves.  Please follow the tour on Instagram;  and you will enjoy what you see and you may want to join me with others for Kyushu with Hiroko 2019!


Posted on 7:26 PM in Hiroko's Blog, Recipes

There is a Japanese technique which may be new to you in this recipe. Taking this special step is necessary in order to produce clean and delicious flavor in the prepared dish.

The technique is called Shimofuri, which literally means ‘frost-covering’. In this technique we first blanch scaled and cleaned fish in hot water in a pot until the surface turns white resembling frost. Then carefully cool and rinse the fish in a bowl of cold water with tap water running into it. By doing this fish sheds off-flavors and becomes clean allowing the simmering broth in the next process to remain clean, clear and delicious.

After Shimofuri we place the fish in a shallow and large pot in which fish fillets can be placed without overlapping. We simmer the fish in a mixture of dashi, kelp stock or water, sake and mirin. This mixture barely covers the fish. The proportion of dashi/kelp stock, sake and mirin is 3:1:1. Add few slices of peeled ginger to the pot to enhance the flavor of the fish.

After cooking the fish about 10 minutes, covered with a drop lid (if you do not own a Japanese wooden drop lid, use a disc of parchment paper cut to just fit into the pot on top of the simmering ingredients), about 10 minutes, add the shoyu in the same quantity as the mirin. Cook until the cooking liquid is reduced by half. The cooking time varies depending on the size of the fish in the pot usually about 10 minutes. Serve the fish with a portion of the cooking liquid.

If karei (flounder) is not available, use salmon steak (with bones). If you can get wild-caught pompano, try it with this meaty, delicious fish. Nizakana is a wonderful fish dish enjoyed by everyone during the colder seasons.


Posted on 7:20 PM in Hiroko's Blog

How to distinguish a flounder from a fluke? Both are bottom-feeding flat fish. Both have two eyes on the upper side of their flat and thin body. But their flavor and texture are different.

On one recent early morning at the Blue Moon fish monger at the Tribeca Framers’ Market in NYC a lady customer and a young sales person were in conversation about the difference of these two bottom-feeding fish. The lady insisted that they are the same fish; the sales person repeated that they are different fish. Because of their intense and heated chat, I did not join the conversation. But after she left, I snatched the topic of the morning’s heated conversation – a beautiful 5-pound fluke and a small flounder – and brought them back to my kitchen.

“Hidari hirame; migi karei”; this is what my mother taught me about how to distinguish between these flat fish based on their appearance. It literally means that when you place these two fish with their eyes looking up and with their belly side facing you, the head of the fluke, hirame (also called “summer flounder” in America) is on the left side, and the head of the flounder, karei (also called a “winter flounder” in America) is on the right side. Summer and winter name added to the flounder is confusing. July through February is the season of enjoying fluke. When it comes to karei, the best tasty season is February and March. There is another way to tell the difference. Karei (flounder) has brown skin color and has very small head and mouth. Hirame (fluke) has a large toothy mouth.

Karei is a watery fish, so is suited for salt-drying and grilling, or it may be immersed in flavored broth. Karei is the basis one of the most favorite nizakana (simmered fish dish) in Japan.

Hirame’s (fluke) season comes in autumn through winter. Cold water firms up the muscle meat of the fish and fish develops slight but pleasant oiliness. The most popular hirame dish is usuzukuri. In this dish sashimi quality fish is sliced paper thin and is served with ponzu sauce along with condiments. Condiments may be thinly sliced asatsuki green onion (chive-like green onion) and grated daikon radish mixed with red chile pepper powder. Because of the addition of the red chile pepper powder, the grated daikon acquires a pretty red color. This reminds us of momiji (the colorful red maple leaves of late autumn) and is given the name momiji-oroshi (grated daikon in red maple color). Seasonal inspiration is always present in the Japanese kitchen.

The next post is a recipe for simmered Karei (flounder). I hope you will enjoy this new way of preparing fish.

AZUKI GOHAN (Rice cooked with Azuki beans)

Posted on 7:17 PM in Hiroko's Blog

The color of this azuki gohan displays a mellow but very elegant red hue. It consists of rice cooked with azuki (sometimes spelled “adzuki”) beans.  Because of its attractive color azuki gohan is considered a good luck meal item and is served at auspicious occasions in Japan.

Azuki beans are rich in minerals including magnesium, potassium, zinc and iron. They are also rich in protein, B vitamins and soluble dietary fibers. It is clinically proven that azuki has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer property. With this information I am sure that you will want to make this simple, elegant, healthy and delicious rice dish in your kitchen.

Here is the recipe. I always use dry azuki beans for this dish, because already cooked canned azuki beans that I find at supermarkets are cooked a bit too tender. If cooking the dry beans is too much labor for you, then find and use the already cooked canned and unflavored azuki beans. If you are doing from scratch with dried beans, rinse the beans in plenty of water in a large bowl. Change the water several times. Drain the beans and place them in a large pot along with water which is 5 times more volume than that of the beans. Soak the beans overnight. Remove the beans and soaking water from the refrigerator and transfer them to the pot.  Place the pot over medium heat and bring to a boil. Then, cook about 5 minutes. Drain the beans and rinse them under tap water. Return the beans to the pot and add new water. Bring it to a simmer over medium heat and then turn to low heat, cook the beans until they are tender, but are on the firmer side.  Cooking time varies depending on the dry beans you have selected, but cooking time is in the range of 1 to 2 hours. During cooking check the water level several times and add additional water to the pot so that the beans are always well submerged under the cooking liquid. Turn off the heat and drain the beans, reserving the bean-cooking liquid.

When I prepare this type of mixed rice, takikomi-gohan, I always use a donabe (earthenware) pot. If you do not own a donabe pot, you can prepare the dish in a rice cooker. And if you do not have a rice cooker, use a deep pot, rather than a shallow and large one. The pot must have a tight-fitting lid.


2/3 cup dried azuki beans or 1 ½ cups cooked azuki beans

4 cups polished rice, rinsed 3 to 4 times changing water; soak the rice in the in bean-cooking water for half an hour or more to color the rice. Drain the rice and dry for 20 minutes,  reserving the bean-cooking water.

4 cups azuki beans-cooking liquid

1 teaspoon sea salt

Toasted mixture of black sesame seeds and sea salt

Add the rinsed and drained rice to the donabe pot, rice cooker pot or regular pot. With your hand, level the top of the rice. Add the cooked beans to the pot and cover the rice evenly with the beans.  Add the azuki bean-cooking liquid and salt. Cover the pot with the fitting lid and cook as follows for a donabe cooking pot. Put the pot over very high heat and immediately set your timer for 15 minutes; after 3 to 4 minutes of cooking you will begin to see steam coming out from the little hole on the earthenware lid. Turn the heat to very low and cook until the timer beeps. Then, turn the heat to very high again and count to 60. Turn off the heat completely. You will see a strong flow of steam escaping from the little hole in the lid. After 2 minutes or so, the steam will subside. After further 5 minutes of resting, remove the lid from the pot and with a spatula stir the rice gently and thoroughly so that the beans are evenly distributed through the rice. Divide the rice into 5 rice bowls. Sprinkle the black sesame seeds and salt mixture over the rice.

I am leaving for Japan tomorrow, July 7, to lead my tour, Kyushu with Hiroko 2018. So at that point they will be 5 weeks-dried leaves.  Please follow the tour on Instagram;  and you will enjoy what you see and you may want to join me with others for Kyushu with Hiroko 2019!


Posted on 7:08 PM in Hiroko's Blog, Recipes

FORAGING IN NEW YORK CITY: Gingko nuts are DELICIOUS! Here female gingko trees (there are male and female gingko trees) drop their mature fruit onto the sidewalks, streets and parks from the beginning of November through the end of the month. Every year the timing is a bit different, though. Most of the fruits which hit the ground break and expose its flesh inside. The flesh releases a very strong disagreeable smell.  But this hideous smell is not the issue here. The remarkable thing about this plant is that gingko trees have been on earth since the dinosaurs age. They have high tolerance for drought, physical abuse and air pollution and thus have been planted as decorative trees along streets in many cities. Maybe, that strong smell repels Devil, bad fortune and predators and is responsible for the survival of this ancient plant.

To foraging for gingko nuts you need one or two disposable plastic bags. If you are conscious about environment, bring a plastic or steel kitchen bowl with you. You may need a pair of thin kitchen plastic gloves (Buzz, my husband, picks them with his bare hands and he is totally OK. He washes off the stink after we return home). Now go out into your neighborhood and first look up to see if there are gingko trees. And then find the fruit-bearing female trees.  They are far fewer than the male. This is because no one want to plant a female tree that produces such stinky fruit.  Indeed, I have been told that the female trees we find in the city are the result of mistaken sexual identity by those who planted the trees many years ago.  At the same time use your nose to detect the unusual pungent smell. Once you find the ground concentrate on picking the stinky, smelly nuts. Some passersby hurrying past the stink look down at us and have confused, bewildered expression. Others totally ignore us. Be prepared for these two reactions.

After confirming that you have filled the bag or bowl, head back to your kitchen without stopping at your favorite coffee shop to get a cup of coffee. Remember that you are carrying a good number of smelly nuts and you are surround by the smell.

REMOVING THE SMELLY FLESH: At the sink in your home with a cold tap water running, remove smelly flesh with your glove-worn hands. Buzz does this with his bare hands. Make sure that all flesh is removed from the nuts. Now you have gingko nuts which are covered with hard shells.  You may wash the nuts in a lukewarm water with a little detergent. This removes complete off-flavor and any remaining smell.

DRYING: After rinsing the nuts drain them well. Spread them over a fish grill, which is placed on the sheet pan. The hard shell will completely dry in 5-7 hours, and the nuts are completely odorless after all your hard but fun work. Remember that you are going to taste super healthy and delicious nuts.

REMOVING HARD SHELL: For removing the hard shell, there is a special tool to make this process easy and effort free.  You can also use a nutcracker or part of a scissors. I have posted two ways to do this on Instagram. The important tip is that you apply gentle pressure on the device, or nuts are squashed and cut in half.


  1. Deep-fry at 350-degrees F for 2 minutes; the thin brown skin will start to be peeled off during cooking; remove the nuts from the oil and sprinkle with sea salt. They are ready to consume; slightly bitter and delicious.
  2. Cook with sea salt: add the sea salt and the nuts in a skillet and heat until the salt and nuts are heated up. Turn the heat to low and continue cooking for about 5 minutes. They are ready to consume.
  3. Cook in water barely covering the nuts in the skillet. Bring the liquid into a simmer and cook the nuts about 4 minutes; towards the end of cooking gently roll the beans with a skimmer-like tool. This helps to remove the thin brown skin of the nuts. Partially cooked gingko nuts can be frozen at this stage for later use. Or, these nuts can be used in chawanmushi (savory egg custard), gingko nut takikomi gohan (rice cooked with gingko nuts), and in stir-fried and soup dishes.

No matter in which way you are going to enjoy the gingko nuts, bear in mind the advice on the number of nuts to be consumed at one sitting. Go back to my archive articles for the details!

Love autumn; love nature; love gingko nuts. Thank you, autumn; thank you, nature; and thank you, gingko trees.

I am leaving for Japan tomorrow, November 7 to lead my tour, Kyushu with Hiroko 2018. Please follow me on Instagram. I will be posting photos and videos. You may want to join me with others for Kyushu with Hiroko 2019!

Japan Tour: Kyushu with Hiroko 2019

Posted on 2:18 PM in Hiroko's Blog

Announcement of Kyushu with Hiroko 2019:

Now it is the time to announce the Kyushu with Hiroko November 3-14, 2019. This is the second Kyushu tour to be offered and conducted by Hiroko; It is designed expressly to accommodate those who expressed interest in the 2018 tour, but because of scheduling issues could not join, and for those who have not previously been acquainted with this unique travel, educational and thoroughly enjoyable experience. The 2018 tour is fully booked with excited travelers and ready to depart this November.

Please enjoy reading the itinerary and checking out the photos of the Tour: https://hirokoskitchen.com/kyushu-with-hiroko/ The content of itinerary of 2019 tour is as the same as the one of 2018. If you want to join the tour, contact Hiroko promptly to reserve your space. Hiroko takes 9 attendees: Double occupancy and single occupancy mixed. At this early stage, there is no deposit requirement. Hotels, transportation and other venders have not set up their prices for 2019 at this time. I will offer you the price of the Kyushu with Hiroko 2019 after the New Year. For your reference I can offer you the price of this year’s Kyushu with Hiroko 2018 tour. Please write me.

O-Chazuke, A Unique Rice Dish

Posted on 1:31 PM in Hiroko's Blog

Onigiri O-chazuke

‘Cha-zuke’ (the ‘O’ is an honorific) literally means cooked rice served in brewed liquid tea. It is a rice dish in which hot water, hot brewed tea or hot flavored dashi stock (Japanese stock) is poured over cooked rice in a rice bowl. Cha-zuke was born out of necessity because in the past during hard times we did not to waste cooked rice. Also, the hot liquid helped to revive old and tired long-stored cooked rice.

You may have enjoyed a variant of this dish, onigiri Cha-zuke at a Japanese restaurant. This is a popular dish at an izakaya, the informal restaurants serving snacks, small dishes and accompanying drinks. In this dish a grilled, brown-hued onigiri rice ball is placed in a bowl and hot liquid – could be tea, could be flavored dashi stock – is poured over it. After a short while the onigiri rice ball slowly disintegrate in the hot liquid. You enjoy it as its texture changes.

In the past without rice cooker with its “keep warm” function or a refrigerator, leftover cooked rice was stored at room temperature and kept until it spoiled. Cooled, dry rice was no longer very tasty because the nature of the starch chemically changes from alpha types to beta during such storage and this results in a firm, closed mass of rice with no fragrance.

The quickest way to revitalize this cold, stored rice was to shower it with hot liquid. Hence, the birth of Cha-zuke. Cha-zuke has this very humble origin and remains this way today. The dish is usually eaten after a rich meal to refresh our mouth and to fill the last space in our stomach. To cheer it up a bit we sometime add toppings such as umeboshi (salty plums), tsukemono (pickles), salt grilled and flaked salmon, nori sea vegetable, or other taste enhancers.

Today is a snacking age and Cha-zuke might fit to this trend. If you cook rice at home regularly making Cha-zuke is a piece of cake. Put the rice (microwave it if it has been stored in the refrigerator) in a cereal bowl and add hot Japanese tea that becomes your “consume” – try matcha, hojicha roasted tea, genmaicha brown rice tea or sencha fine green tea. I never have tried it with Chinese or Indian black teas or with coffee, but you can experiment with these or other hot liquids if you wish.

Cha-zuke is a unique, delicious and innovative way to enjoy rice, especially older left-over rice that you might think cannot be revived to produce a delicious dish. It is healthy. No oil is involved. You are consuming rice together with liquid, so you are consuming fewer total calories, but making your stomach satisfyingly full.  If you ever tasted cha-zuke at Japanese restaurant, let me know of your reaction!