Peter Morrell experiences the total Japanese Cooking Experience
Over time people get to appreciate the more subtle joys of life. For example when I was younger I always cooked Indian food with lots of chilli whereas now I prefer my curries to be far less spicy. And so it is with Asian food, in my fleeing contact with Japanese food in restaurants I have recognised the subtlety of the flavours but have not had the confidence to try and achieve the same thing at home.
I was therefore intrigued to be invited to a Japanese cookery course run by Reiko Hashimoto at her home in South West London. Reiko has been teaching people the joys and pleasures of Japanese cooking in England for over ten years. Prior to this she taught Japanese cooking to the foreign community in Tokyo. So if anyone was going to demystify the subject then Reiko was the person.
The format of the course is relaxed and informal. Four of us sat around a large peninsula in Reiko’s kitchen while she prepared four dishes. We were given a real insight into the ingredients, utensils, cooking methods and the philosophy behind the cuisine.
As each dish was cooked we were able to eat the final result. This was made doubly pleasurable by the beautiful, hand-painted Japanese crockery that was used to serve the food.
We started with seared salmon with a ponzu and sesame dressing. The Kikkoman soy sauce in the dressing is a lot less salty than the Chinese version and the sushi vinegar used was light and delicate. The whole dish had a fresh, aromatic quality about it and I was beginning to understand how to create that elusive quality in the food.
Our voyage of discovery continued with sea bream and rice, cooked in a covered earthenware pot on the stove. The fish had retained its intense taste while the rice had soaked up the flavours of seaweed, soy and sake.
The third dish featured tofu, a food normally accompanied with a grimace. But by the time Reiko had squeezed out the moisture, added some mushrooms and seasoning and made balls that were briefly deep fried and eaten with a fresh ginger broth the result was a revelation.
The final dish was Buta – Kakuni, very slow cooked belly pork, Reiko showed us how to prepare the dish but as it takes three hours to cook we had a pre-prepared version. During cooking the pork had transformed into a melt in the mouth morsel of pure food heaven.
I enjoyed the entire experience, Reiko is a charming host, the evening had an aesthetic rhythm about it and my confidence in being able to cook Japanese food skyrocketed.
Reiko runs a number of different courses and will also prepare a meal at your house. I attended the second week of the four week course gourmet course. But there are many other options including the highly popular sushi and sashimi classes on a Saturday.
Look out for Reiko’s new book Hashi which is being published later this year which AMG will be reviewing
For more information on the Hashi cookery courses and the options for outside catering visit www.hashicooking.co.uk