By Elliot Stein and Mari Shibata for the BBC in Is Japan Losing It’s Umami?
When it’s aged and fermented in a wooden barrel, soy sauce can be as sophisticated as a fine wine, but today, most of the world dips its sushi in the equivalent of a cheap cask rosé. That’s because in order to keep up with demand and increase production in the late 1940s, the Japanese government encouraged brewers to ditch the traditional wooden barrels used to ferment food, known as kioke, adapt stainless steel vats and cut the multi-year fermenting process to just three months.
A shame. When I start making “soy” sauce (out of some other bean) I’ll be using a plastic container since I don’t know where is get wooden barrels small enough for my trials. Maybe I’ll get to a time when I can make some (makeshift) barrels…
I think we waited a bit too long to pull these out this year. The outer skin has peeled off or disintegrated and when I pulled many of them out, the stalk just came out of the ground with the rest of the bulb still under.
We also had a lot of the garlic cloves pushed up out of the soil after the snow melt, so many of them didn’t even grow. We would have had at least double or triple this harvest if all of the ones we planted grew.
Oh well. Lessons learned for next time. Plant more. Plant deeper. Harvest sooner.
Amazake is a sweet rice drink made using Koji rice and freshly cooked rice, incubated at about 60 degC for just a few hours. The Koji rice and cooked rice turn to a very sweet mushy pudding in the pot, which is then mixed/diluted with water for drinking. The pudding can be put into the blender or food processor to make the mixture more homogeneous if desired.
Making amazake out of Koji rice was super interesting (at least, to me) mostly because it’s turning rice into sugar – and I’ve never seen firsthand how rice could turn sweet without any sweet additives like sugar or syrups. I’ve seen rice syrups on the shelves in stores and I’ve wondered about how much sugar there could be in rice. Then again I’m aware that rice is a complex carbohydrate, which essentially breaks down into simple sugars when digested. Perhaps it’s just seeing that break-down process in the pot and tasting the results along the way that just highlights the simplicity of the reaction.
I was just looking for a post to link where I show the results of growing the Koji rice, but I guess I hadn’t gotten to that yet. I do have photos, which I’ll post soon(er or later).
In the meantime, here’s the amazake.
Basic steps to making amazake:
- Mix 1 cup fresh Koji rice and 2 cups fresh cooked brown rice in a pot.
- Incubate the pot, covered, at 60degC for about 6 hours. The mixture will turn to a pudding texture.
- Start tasting the rice mixture at 4-5 hours. The mixture, as it cooks longer, should sweeten to a certain amount and not get any more sweet, but it will get more sour. Stop the incubation when the amazake tastes good to you.
- Put the pot on the stove and bring the mixture to a simmer. It will bubble and pop, so be careful. Bring the mixture up to temp slowly, continually mixing, and let it simmer for 5 minutes. Try not to burn the amazake.
- Let the mixture cool and it’s ready to use. You can put it in the blender to break up the rice if you like.
We used to be able to find the Pillar’s hot dogs at our local Loblaw’s grocery store. But about two years ago they stopped ordering it in. And I don’t think Pillar’s makes it anymore. We haven’t dared to try any of the others yet, seeing as we still haven’t found a suitable hot dog bun recipe. But I had some time. And some nitrate salts. And so I tried making them myself. I don’t have a sausage stuffer (yet?) so I just made them into small patties by hand and cooked them on the stovetop.
So I added ground beef, spices, water and curing salt to the food processor and mixed. Slow, fast, pulse.
I thought this was good enough emulsification. But it wasn’t. I probably needed to run it about double the time I did in order to get the texture like the store-bought stuff.
The taste was pretty spot on, except for being a bit salty. Next time I’ll add only the curing salt and not add any extra. The texture; however, was nearly like a meatball and fell apart easier than I wanted.
Natto is typically made using soy beans, but seeing as we can’t have that, I’ve tried making it using red beans. I feel that chickpeas (garbanzo beans) might come closer to the texture and feel of soy beans in this application but I figured it couldn’t hurt to try it with red beans.
The recipe calls for steaming the beans first. Pressure steaming greatly speeds up the process so that’s what I did. About 45 minutes at high pressure in my stovetop pressure cooker.
After that, I let it cool to below 40 degC and then added the powdered Natto bacteria culture. After it was thoroughly mixed in, I put the mixture into a shallow Pyrex baking dish, flattened out the beans in the dish and covered it with plastic wrap (touching the beans). The mix goes into the oven, and our Samsung oven is set to the “proof” setting (typically used for proofing wheat-based breads before baking).
This is the mixture after 12 hours overnight.
The above result is after 36 hours. 24 hours was not enough to get the stickyness so I left it in for another overnight period.
The stuff is pretty stinky. I am used to the soy Natto smell but this is quite different. If you know what red bean smells like on its own, you can actually get an idea of what the natto bacteria itself smells like.
On its own, the taste is quite neutral (I.e. not having much of a taste in and of itself) besides a slight bitterness. The texture is essentially like a slimy bean, with a slight grittyness mixed with the slimyness. The red bean texture isn’t as pleasing as a soy texture. Maybe chickpeas is the way to go?
Overall, Growing the natto culture on the red beans was a success, but I think red beans isn’t quite the right bean for Natto.
I got some starters shipped from GEM Cultures in the US. Making the Koji rice looks to be quite an involved process. The natto seems relatively straightforward – I think that’s what I’ll start with first, to get my feet wet.
(I actually received these packets several weeks ago. I thought I published this post but just found it now in my Drafts. I’ll be posting the natto photos soon…)
Fish balls can be a great easy addition to many meals, kind of like meatballs. Easy to add them to soups, noodle soups, as a side dish, and especially for hot pots. As usual we don’t trust the ones available in the store, so I looked into making them ourselves.
- 2-3 cups coarse chopped fish. I used tilapia.
- 1 Tbsp oil
- 1 Tbsp flour mix
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- Put the chopped fish into the food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add oil. Add water 1 Tbsp at a time and keep pulsing it until it’s very very mushy and sticky slimy.
- Add the flour, salt and sugar while the food processor is on. Low or high speed doesn’t matter. You just need to incorporate the additions. Add more water slowly to make a slimy mixture. (I’m really selling it now, aren’t I?)
- Once it’s to the point of looking like the third photo below, it’s about ready. Dump the mixture out into a mixing bowl, so that it’s more easily handled by hand.
- Get a pot of water simmering.
- Pick up a handful of the mixture and squeeze a ball out with your fist, through your thumb and finger. Scoop it out with a spoon and drop it gently into the simmering water. The ball will sink at first, and then float. When it has been floating for about 30s-1min it’ll be cooked through and ready to scoop out.
- Scoop out onto a plate to let cool
- Freeze for later, or drop into whatever dish you want. If you want to deep fry them, go right ahead, but wait until they’re cooked down and the surface of the balls are dry before doing so.
Typically sesame covered, these ‘mochi’ balls are deep fried and can be empty inside or filled with red bean paste or even a sweet peanut-sugar mix.
- 400 g glutinous (sweet) rice flour
- 1 cup brown sugar (dark brown sugar makes the resulting balls darker, lighter makes it lighter coloured)
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 cup (approx) cold tap water
- 4-5 Tbsp Red bean paste (optional)
Makes about 20 medium sized (3″ diameter balls)
- Mix all dry ingredients together well
- Add about 3/4 of the water to the dry mix, stirring to combine. Slowly add in more water to make a dough. The dough should be dry enough to not stick (too much) to your hands too much but also wet enough to stick together and form around a ball of red bean paste.
- Split the dough into about 20 balls, about 2-3 Tbsp in size each. Roll each ball smooth and even.
- Optional – make a divot in each ball and wrap around a 1/2 tsp of red bean paste.
- Fill a pot of oil with at least 2″ (preferably 3″ or a bit more) of oil for deep frying. Heat the oil to 320F.
- Deep fry a the balls. When you put the balls in, hold it with chopsticks or tings for about 30s to let the bottom fry a bit and get hard so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. Don’t crowd the pot. 3-4 frying at a time is plenty. You’ll need room for the next step.
- The balls will take about 8-10 mins to fry up. After the 2-3 minute mark the balls will be lightly browned on the outside. Using the back of a spoon, ladle or or other similar device (I used a hot pot strainer), carefully squeeze the balls flat. They will puff back up in a minute. Once they puff back up, squeeze it flat again. Do this several times and the balls will puff up to about an inch larger in diameter than they started.
- When the balls are golden brown, take them out and let rest on a rack to drain. Paper towels are okay too. The balls will stay crispy for about a day.
- They can be left out on the counter for a day or two. After that, they should be placed in the fridge. They can also be sliced and fried up on a pan to warm up before eating.
one two months into 2018 and I haven’t yet made anything radically new. It’s tough in the winter when we hunker down in the warmth of the house and try to stay out of the super cold winds. You might think we have more time inside but there’s always something else to do or to take care of.
I feel that we need to have more variety in Asian style condiments and ingredients. I think both of our tastes lean towards the many soy-based sauces and seasonings and so I want to find ways of making those at home, knowing for sure that they’re allergy friendly.
So on the top of my list is making homemade miso. I know it’ll likely take a year or so to ferment, but I’m willing to give it a try. Maybe making more than one batch with different bean, to see how they taste and to spread out the risk. First step is to find koji though. I might have to ask a friend or family member in Toronto or Vancouver to find me some first and send it over. Along with that is “soy” sauce. More research is needed on what is required to make both of those.
Next is gochujang. It’ll go alongside our homemade kimchi and hopefully kickstart more Korea’s style food cooking at home. I see that it typically includes soybean powder, but I’ll have to see if I can find a replacement for that. Apparently it can be used fairly soon after it’s made, but will be better with a few months of fermentation.
Once we run out of onion and garlic powder I’ll be making that again.
Apple chips are a great snack and easy to pack. Same with beef jerky.
I want to also make Chinese dried salted fish. My mom used to put small piece in with the rice when it was cooking which lightly flavoured the rice.
Smoked cured ham. We didn’t get to bring out the grill much last year. Hopefully more this year. And I’ll have to make more bacon too.
It come in its own all-natural, compostable packaging. Except for the plastic labelling …