We're sitting down with our favorite writers and cooks to talk about their upcoming cookbooks, their best food memories, and just about anything else.
Today: We sit down with Hiroko Shimbo, the ever-enthusiastic author of Hiroko's American Kitchen, who is making accessible, exciting Japanese food a reality in our country -- one kitchen at a time. Read on, and enter to win one of five copies of Hiroko's book!
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A passionate cook, writer, and all-around food-enthusiast, Hiroko Shimbo is working to make Japanese food accessible to -- and beloved by -- American cooks. With her new book, Hiroko's American Kitchen, she has certainly succeeded. In it, she gives us four basic recipes for her favorite staples -- two broths and two sauces -- that serve as the foundation for a variety of recipes, from the familiar to the intriguing.
We were lucky to have Hiroko stop by the office last week to chat about her new book and have an in-depth conversation about miso (these things happen at Food52 HQ!). Read our interview below, pick up some Japanese pantry essentials in our shop, and get cooking!
Your latest book, Hiroko's American Kitchen, shows American cooks how to prepare new Japanese dishes without exhausting themselves in search of impossible-to-find ingredients or tools. What is the easiest way for those of us unfamiliar with Japanese-style cooking to integrate it into our kitchens? The best way is to prepare simple Japanese stocks or sauces -- like the kelp stock, dashi stock, and miso sauces found in my book. These are easy to make, and the stocks freeze well. You can incorporate them into a variety of dishes -- with the recipes in my book, you will discover how these simple ingredients can take familiar foods to a new level. And once you have become familiar with some of these recipes, you can strike out on your own!
What are your first memories of food? When did you first become passionate about food? When I was in second grade, my teacher taught us to make very simple, humble and quick eggplant pickles. I reproduced them at home on that very night for our dinner. My mother, who is an excellent cook and had been cooking meals not only for the family, but also for the patients in my father’s small hospital, tried the pickles and gave me a big thumbs up, exclaimimg, “delicious!”. It gave me the confidence to think that someday I might be as good a cook as she is. At the age of 86, my mother is still one of the finest cooks I know, and I am always gratified when she gives me that same thumbs up.
When you travel to Japan, what -- or where -- do you eat first? Sushi! Sushi in Japan can still beat the sushi anywhere outside of Japan because of its quality, variety, creativity, and even price. And sushi dining in Japan is great fun; chatting with the chef and all the other diners at the counter is an essential part of the meal that seems to be missing outside the country. It’s a wonderful, social dining experience.
In your opinion, what are the biggest differences between cooking styles in Japan and America? In American and Western cooking, oil and dairy are very prominent, and red meat is often the primary food on the plate. Also, an American meal tends to consist of only a few preparations, each served in a rather large portion – the typical dinner plate often features a meat, a starch, and one vegetable.
Japanese cooking, on the other hand, uses little or no cooking oil in the preparations. Oil-free but nutritionally rich dashi stock (kelp stock infused with dried skipjack fish flakes) serves as the foundation of many dishes. We use a variety of seasonal seafood and vegetables, along with very modest quantities of meat. A Japanese meal consists of 5 to 6 varieties of prepared foods, each served in a small portion, with a balance of flavors, aromas, textures, and colors to form a nutritionally balanced meal.
What is your all-time favorite meal? This is a difficult question to answer! I love any meal that is simply prepared using fresh, seasonal, and local ingredients so that the results highlight and celebrate the natural flavor of each ingredient.