How to Cook Washoku

Washoku is a Japanese philosophy that offers a harmonious approach to food in daily life and describes the food produced with this mindset. Elizabeth Andoh has traveled to 27 cities over the past eight months to teach washoku, and, on Aug. 24, she will introduce it to Hawai‘i. Having spent more than 40 years learning washoku in Japan, Andoh is one of America’s leading experts on Japanese cuisine. In her book, Washoku, this correspondent for Gourmet magazine uses her formal culinary training and home kitchen experience to take the seldom articulated cooking style and put it in practical terms.

Washoku: Harmonious Cooking in the Traditional Japanese Kitchen, Aug. 24, 6 p.m., Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i; $40 for JCCH members, $50 for non–members. 945-7633.

Presentation Menu

Sansho Pepper-Crusted fish with fresh pineapple garnish (see below)
Hand-pressed rice tossed with gingery ground chicken
Broiled tofu with flavored miso
Leek miso greens steeped in broth
Soy-braised sun-dried radish ribbons, carrots, konnyaku, friend tofu kelp, and mushroom relish

Sansho Pepper-Crusted Fish
Sakana no Arima Yaki

Arima, an area not far from Kyoto famous for its crop of sansho pepper berries, lends its name to dishes made with them—in Japanese, this kind of crust-searing with sansho would be called Arima yaki. The classic rendition of this dish is made by crushing the pepper berries and mixing them with light, sweet miso to make an intense sauce. Unseasoned fish is broiled over hot coals and then slathered with the miso before being briefly re-broiled.

Fresh sansho is hard to find, even in Japan. Early in the spring both male and female sansho shrubs produce peppery flavored leaves, called ki no me, but only the female plant bears pepper berries. And the season is short—just a few weeks beginning in mid-June.

Much of the sansho that is harvested is preserved in soy sauce, Tsukuda ni style (stewed in a sweetened soy sauce), or dried and then either coarsely cracked or crushed to a powder. Partially cracked, fully dried pepper berries sold in refillable mills are increasingly available in Asian grocery stores outside Japan, and it is worth your trouble tracking down a source for them. Freshly ground, dried sansho has both fire and aroma, and makes a fabulous crust on pan-seared, meaty but mild-flavored fish such as grouper, snapper and oily-rich fish such as mackerel and moonfish.

Serves 4

1 pound fillet of fish*
2 teaspoons dried sansho pepper, freshly ground
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon sake
1 half-inch thick, ring-shaped slice of fresh pineapple, for garnish

Cut the fillet into 4 pieces; rinse them with cold water, and pat them dry. If the pieces are more than 1/2 inch thick, make shallow slits on the skin side to ensure even cooking.

In a shallow, flat-bottomed container, such as a glass, baking dish, mix the ground sansho, salt, and half of the cornstarch. Dredge each piece of fish in the mixture, flesh side only, pressing the pieces lightly to be sure the surface is fully coated. Flip the fish and lightly dust the skin side with the remaining cornstarch. Using a pastry brush will make this easier.

Use a skillet large enough to hold the fish in a single layer. Drizzle in a bit of oil and sear the fish, flesh side down over medium high heat, until crusty brown and fragrant, about 2 minutes. If necessary, press each piece with your spatula to ensure that the entire surface of the fish comes in to contact with the skillet.

Flip the fish with a spatula and sear the skin side briefly, about 1 minute, drizzling more oil around the fish, as needed. As the skin shrinks a bit, the flesh side will plump up. Flip again, returning the flesh side to the skillet. Press each piece with your spatula to flatten a bit.

Pour the sake around the fish slices, and, jiggling the skillet, de-glaze it. Reduce the heat to low, and place a tight-fitting lid on the pan. Continue to cook for 2 and 1/2 to 3 minutes, allowing the heat to penetrate the fish. You can test for doneness by pressing the fish lightly with a spatula or chopsticks to be sure it feels firm.

Transfer the pieces of fish to individual serving plates, with the crusted flesh side up. Cut the pineapple ring in quarters. Each segment/wedge will look like an open fan. This shape is called oogi-gata in Japanese, and is considered auspicious (good fortune fanning out…). Garnish each slice of fish with a “fan” of good fortune (placing the smaller circular center of the ring closer to the person dining, and the broader, wider edge away from the diner). 

Summer fish in Hawaii:

ONO (also called Wahoo) is in mackerel family, similar to sawara
HEBI long, narrow fillets (bill fish)
UKU is in snapper family, mild white flesh
OPAH is similar to moonfish; pink fleshed

Ono will be the easiest to portion with a moister flesh than the hebi. But, depending upon price and quality factors, either can be used.

The pineapple garnish uses circular rings (fresh pineapple, peeled, eyes removed, cored and sliced in rings), cut into quarters to create fan-shaped wedges. A single portion of fish would be topped with a single fan of pineapple.