A short trek from Old Street tube station and I was soon checked in at the Central Cookery School in Islington. I was lucky enough this evening, to be attending a cookery masterclass on Japanese culinary arts. A welcome tipple was at the ready on our arrival – a cheeky little sparkling sake number, which Charlotte our hostess explained she was under strict instructions to serve as chilled as possible. Ice breakers over, we put ourselves into small groups around our cooking stations and huddled around for the briefing.
I’ve not had the occasion to cook Japanese before, possibly daunted by the list of ingredients that were not my current store cupboard staples. But I very much relished the opportunity to pick up some techniques from a master – and a delightful master was most certainly on hand. Yuki Gomi runs regular cookery classes and she has recently published Sushi at Home a comprehensive step-by-step guide for the uninitiated. But our first step on donning our aprons was to be introduced to the array of ingredients we were about to use: ranging from the organic miso paste to the Tamari soy sauce by no other than the Managing Director of Yutaka range of Japanese products himself. I was surprised to learn that their authentic Japanese ingredients are becoming more and more prevalent in our local supermarkets – no excuse not to try this at home then!
Our mission for the evening meal was to create four dishes from scratch. First off, a sweet potato Korokke – a croquette with onion and mushroom and rolled in a breadcrumb (or Panko) and sesame toasted crust. These fat little patties were then served with a punchy side dip or sauce made from ketchup, mayonnaise, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, mustard and white sesame. And very good they were too. Yuki guided us through with a cheery “chop, chop, chop!” as we diced and combined the long list of ingredients.
I was discovering that many Japanese dishes feature a long list of steps and ingredients, no fast food here. But the basics seem to be reused across the menu linking the dishes. As we got stuck into building the layers of the next dish, our Hoto noodle soup, it almost felt like alchemy slowly mixing together blends of flavour and colour to create our final work of art. The soup started with a base of Kombu (dried Kelp) stock which had soaked and stewed over time, we added the vegetables: the kabocha pumpkin potatoes, carrots and leek and the peeled daikon (radish) while Yuki oversaw our knife skills. Miso paste to taste once the pork was in, and finally the final flourish as the udon noodles were added for body and texture.
Next, we moved onto making our Japanese-style salmon ceviche. Best quality fresh sushi grade salmon fillets marinated in: lime, onion, coriander, wasabi, chilli soy sauce and chives with the crowning glory of a tablespoon of Yuzu juice – an intensely pungent Japanese citrus, somewhere in between a sour mandarin and a lime. The last dish were our crunchy green beans with black sesame seeds with tastes of soy and miso and a dash of mirin – a sweet rice wine integral to Japanese cooking.
Croquettes baked and out of the oven, and with the noodle soup merrily simmered it was time to present and arrange our food on the table and to sit down to experience the results of our efforts. We were a happy band of trainee chefs by this time, having bonded over the bubbling sake wine, and even though my chop stick skills still leave something to be desired it was a perfect ending to a fun few hours in the kitchen. Back home and newly armed with my jars of miso, soy sauce, wasabi, mirin and yuzu I feel ready to carry on my discovery of Japanese cooking. Sushi anyone?!