Turning Japanese Transcript

Ed notes:
    If anyone speaks Japanese and would like to suggest additions or corrections, please don't hesitate to write: mikemenn@yahoo.com.
    The Japanese Samurai counter attendant is played by Bart Hansard. His persona is reminiscent of Belushi's SNL samurai character. When he is speaking "Japanese" below, I believe he's making it up and only sounding Japanese. If you know otherwise, drop me a line.

The Kitchen

    [slurps some soup] Mmm. [writes something down] This is good. [reads from his scroll]

Islands of tofu
Adrift in a dashi sea,
Miso soft as clouds.

    What can I say? The simple soup in this lovely lacquered bowl brings out the poet in me. I speak, of course, of the often abused and misused sushi bar-standard miso soup. Which, when properly prepared, is a delicious and beguiling nutritious brew, embodying the very essence of Japanese cuisine.
    Now learning to make this soup is in and of itself like, I don't know, giving a gift to your entire household. But, what's more important is that it will introduce into your kitchen a small cast of pantry players, each of which possesses the power to elevate even your most humble victuals into ...

[Good Eats theme music]

The Kitchen

    Although many Americans tend to think of Japanese cuisine only in terms of fresh foods—you know, sushi and the like—the truth is the real workhorse ingredients of that island nation are pantry ingredients, which can be easily procured without a passport or a fistful of yen. Now as a Japanese cuisine otaku, or fanatic, I've been able to find just about everything that I could want on that new-fangled world wide web. But, your local megamart probably hosts more Japanese items than you've ever thought. And your town may even host a small Japanese market. If so, [in Yoda voice] seek it out you must.

Japanese Market

GUEST: Samurai Counter Attendant

AB: [enters] Konnichiwa.
SAMURAI: Konnichiwa [plus some mumbling]

    Wow. I didn't get his accent. He must be from Osaka or something. Anyway, here's the Japanese market. Now odds are good you're not going to see a lot of English in places like this. But the Japanese do like to know what they're buying. So packages usually feature see-through windows like this, okay. And, oh, oh, oh. These are like my favorite, these are my favorite snacks. All right check this out, it's like little nut bags, except look close, those aren't nuts they're little fried fishies. I love them. They're extraordinarily oishii, that means delicious. And I think ... I'm getting sidetracked.
    The first item of business here is to brew up a dashi, or cooking stock. Now what isn't served raw, grilled or fried in Japan is generally simmered in dashi. And now that I think of it, dashi goes into most of the sauces that are served alongside foods that are raw, fried or grilled. So it truly is a ubiquitous ingredient.
    Now a lot of different things can go into a dashi. But two, well, two things are required. The first one, kombu. All right now kombu looks like something you might make a wallet out of at camp, but it is actually a completely [picks up a package and cuts into it ] ...

S: [goes ballistic behind the counter and draws sword]
AB: Sorry. Sumimasen. [trans: I'm sorry.] I'll buy it.
S: [replaces his sword]

    Must have a lot of shoplifting here. Kombu is actually a dried form of kelp, harvested from cold water. It's dried and packaged like this. Now kombu is interesting stuff because it contains high amounts of glutamates, essentially all natural, unrefined, monosodium glutamate. Which has the uncanny capability of making everything it touches taste, well, oishii, yummier. But more on that later.
    Kombu is also fascinating from a nutritional standpoint because although it's technically a vegetable, it contains high amounts of iodine, iron, potassium, B vitamins and carotene. So it's delicious, unctuous, and well, you could live off it forever.
    And might I remind you not only do the Japanese live to a median age of 80, but when you're over there, the only fat people you see are sumo wrestlers and [looks back at attendant] ...

S: [grunts and returns to reading his paper]

    Besides dashi, kombu can also be pickled, shredded, fried, used in a bunch of different ways.
    Now the second big dashi ingredient is dried benito, okay? It's also called katsuobushi. And for that, well we'll go to an expert. [returns to Samurai's counter]

AB: [clears throat to get CA’s attention] Katsuobushi o kudasai. [trans: Kutsobushi, please.]
S: Katsuobushi, oh! Hi-ya! [draws sword and begins yelling in Japanese]
AB: Hey, wait, wait, no, no...
[he slices some katsuobushi that is hanging on the wall, picks it up, gives it to AB, laughs] Katsuobushi.
AB: Oh, katsuobushi. Thank you.

    Yeah I know. It looks like a block of wood, but it actually isn't. It is indeed a fish, a benito, in fact.

S: [says something in Japanese and points to a picture of a fish on the wall]
AB: Of course, thank you.

    As he points out, only the Japanese really call it benito. The rest of the world refers to it as skipjack tuna: one of the few tuna that is really considered to be sustainable or in healthy stocks worldwide. So how do you take a fish and make a little miniature baseball bat? Well let's ask him.

S: [bows and begins telling us in Japanese while AB "translates" into the next scene]


    First, the fish must be caught. And this is done by many fishermen on the boat, each with his own line. After they've landed, the fish are filleted into two pieces, and the really large ones halved again. The fish is then simmered in water for 20 minutes to set the protein structure. Then, the bones are removed and the fish are smoked over oak or cherry wood for six hours a day for two weeks before being placed in the sun to dry. Then the fish are moved into a cave containing a special mold. Then after two weeks, the fish are placed back in the sun, then moved back into the cave, until the fish is done and hard as a piece of oak.

Japanese Market

    Fascinating story. Well, now that the benito, sorry, skipjack has been converted into katsuobushi, of course it's not good for much until it is grated, or shaved, with a very specific device. [places benito on the counter]

S: [whips out his sword as if to slice it up]
AB: I speak, of course, of the benito shaver, ...

... which is a lot like a carpenter's plane. See the blade there? Only there's a little drawer underneath to catch the shavings.

AB: [hands shaver to S] Please demonstrate.

    This'll be good.

S: [attempts to shave the fish but with much difficulty]

    [moves off to another part of the store] Luckily, only the most finicky Japanese cooks put up with that process. Most folks buy their benito flakes like this, in nice, convenient, pre-shaved packs. This stuff is tasty, it's easy to use and as long as it stays packaged, it is impervious to the march of time in your pantry. I'm going to get both of 'em.
    You know, he looks busy, I'll just, I'll come back.

Technically speaking, kombu is a two year perennial sea vegetable.

The Kitchen

    Traditional European-style stocks, like a chicken or veal stock, depend upon bones and connective tissue for flavor and texture, which is one of the reasons that they take a really, really long time to cook. Dashi, on the other hand, cooks very quickly. But, there is an order to the operation that's important because kombu and katsuobushi give off their full flavors at different temperatures.

    So, let's start with the kombu. Now there is a considerable amount of flavor right up at the surface of these leaves. This white powder is, in fact, not mold or dust, but a dried form of a carbohydrate. You can think of it as seaweed starch. And there's a lot of flavor in that. So just grab your scissors and snip. It's kind of leathery and is kind of tough. Whatever's left over you can seal up in a zip top bag, and keep until the cows come home. There. 2 (4-Inch) Pieces Kombu
    Now this will give us all the flavor we need. But, it can't cook right away. First it's got to soak. So into two and a half quarts of water in a four quart saucepan for 30 minutes. That will allow for a re-hydration of the product until it looks, well, pretty much like you would expect seaweed to look. Put this to medium to medium high heat, until the water reaches between 150 and 160 degrees and bubbles just start to break around the outside edge of the pot. Then evacuate the kombu, but don't throw it away, you can actually make a second stock from it later. 2½ Quarts Water


    Boost the heat to high, measure yourself out one half ounce, about two cups of katsuobushi. When the water boils, sprinkle the katsuobushi over the water, drop the heat to low, bring that just to a simmer, and then stir every now and then for ten minutes, no longer. ½ Ounce Katsuobushi

    Just like a chicken or veal stock, our dashi must be strained prior to use. I just use a hand strainer lined with a piece of muslin cloth. But you could use cheesecloth if you so prefer. But don't throw away those fish pieces, we're going to use them later.
    Let us now move to the second pillar of Japanese cuisine, tofu. Now we've toyed with tofu on this program before, but let's refresh our knowledge base. It all begins with soybeans, which have been called the cow of Asia. [a cow moos off in the distance] An apt moniker considering the fact that tofu production is nearly identical to cheese making. Only instead of cow's milk, you use soy milk.
    To produce soy milk, first you take the pods, you remove the inner beans, you dry the inner beans, crush the inner beans, and then cook the inner beans in water. Allow them to soak and then drain them to get this solid—which you can feed to your cows and goats—and soy milk. Now soy milk has to be coagulated by adding either calcium sulfate from gypsum, or magnesium chloride, which is called nigari, I think. That will leave you with something that looks a lot like a cheese curd. Now just as with cheddaring, you can squeeze that curd to remove some of the moisture, and that'll leave you with firm tofu. Or, you can leave the moisture inside, which will give you a very soft, creamy tofu, known in Japan as silken.

AB: Open pantry. [it opens]

    The really nice thing about silken tofu is that, unlike firm, Chinese-style tofus—which are squeezed, packed in water and then refrigerated—silken tofu can be squirted into shelf-stable aseptic containers where it coagulates under a vacuum and therefore, will keep for months, if not years, at room temperature. A potent, protein-laden pantry pal if ever there was one.

AB: Close pantry! [it closes]

    Now although we can also certainly appreciate the pudding-like consistency of silken tofu, if we tried to cube it up and put it in our soup in this state, it will just fall apart. What we need to do is to make it just a little bit firmer. Luckily, it's very porous stuff and we can squeeze some moisture out of it. Just take a few pieces of paper towel—and you can use any kitchen towel, as long as it's lint-free—roll it up thusly, position another plate right on top, and squeeze it with just a bit of weight. I think 28 ounces should just about do it. [places 2 14-oz cans on top] Time? Well, I think that probably 20 minutes will do the trick. That'll be just enough time for us to talk about the ingredient that gave this soup its name.

Japanese Market

    [AB looking for Samurai attendant] Miso is a paste made from soybeans that have been ground with a grain such as rice or barley, that's been inoculated with a mold based fermenting agent called a koji. Miso is often called Japanese peanut butter. Not only because it looks, feels, and well to some extent, tastes like the American staple, but because it is nearly as ubiquitous.

S: Ah, miso! [speaking Japanese, raises a covering on a display] Shiromiso, or white miso ... [mumbles]

    [AB apparently translating for the viewer] Oh, because of its subtle sweetness, white miso is often used in Japanese desserts.

S: Akamiso, or red miso, is resser [sic, "redder"] than white miso.  Red miso ... [speaks indistinctly] ... "country stryle" [sic, "style"] or incamiso... [speaks indistinctly]

    [AB translating] Hi! Red miso is really great for braising meats, like beef and pork. So I usually keep it around, too.

S: Awasemiso isa blend of many misos ... [speaking Japanese]
AB: Hi.
S: Hi.

    I have absolutely no idea what he's saying. But I would say that if you're only going to keep one type of miso in the house, make it the awase miso, because it's just more convenient and versatile. Oh and I want to talk about nutrition for a second ...

S: Enzyme ... phytochemical in miso are good for the health, keep the ... [speaks indistinctly as his hands descend, palms down] for the ... [speaks indistinctly while drawing an hourglass figure with hands]

    Yeah, whatever he said. But it is really important that you buy miso that isn't loaded up with chemicals, MSG, artificial flavorings and preservatives. For shame.

S: Ooh. [looks sad, goes to stab himself with the sword]
AB: Wait, wait, wait, wait. Don't do it, don't do it, don't do it. It's okay. It's okay. It's okay. It's all right. Put that one down. Look, I'm going to take these, okay? I'm going to take some red because I like it. I'm going to take some of the white. I'm going to take the awase. I'm going to take these all, okay? Just put 'em on my tab, okay? Bye bye.
S: Bye, bye, bye, bye. Tab. [relizes using the tab is bad] No tab! [draws sword, screaming, and runs after AB]

Japan’s Emperor Mommu established a bureau or miso regulation in 701 A. D.

The Kitchen

GUESTS: Kikunae Ikeda
              Sock Puppets [one for each of the five taste sensations]

    Time to make the soup. Eight cups, that's two quarts of dashi go into a four quart saucepan over medium high heat. 2 Quarts Dashi
    Now, when the dashi reaches 100 degrees, ladle one cup off into a mixing bowl, and then whisk in eight tablespoon of miso. Now I'm going to go with six tablespoons of red miso and two of white because well, that's just what I like. You can mix it up as you wish. 6 Tbs. Red Miso +
2 Tbs. White Miso

    Time to retrieve the tofu. And you will see that a lot of moisture has been squeezed out. That's a lot of moisture. Now this is something we want to cut into cubes, about a half an inch to three quarters of an inch. But it's very soft, so use a sharp knife, go slowly and be careful. I usually just do a slice at a time and knock that down into cubes until I'm completely done. It'll take you a little longer, maybe.
    There, we have attained a simmer. So whisk in the miso mixture and continue to just barely simmer. Don't boil it or it will get grainy no matter what.

    Now at this point, go ahead and gently add the tofu—very gently, so it doesn't fall apart—and four scallions, very, very thinly sliced. Then just kill the heat and let it sit for two to three minutes or until the flavor of the onion kind of infuses the stock. Then, you may serve. 12 Ounces Firm Silken Tofu,
    Pressed & Cubed
4 Scallions, Sliced

    [sitting at table] Mmm. Delicious. And with tons of protein, iron and assorted vitamins and minerals, darn nutritious to boot. And of course, both miso and dashi are chock-full of umami. Perhaps you've heard of this newly discovered mysterious fifth taste, hmm?
    Supposedly, it all started in 1908, when a scientist, name of Kikunae Ikeda, isolated an amino acid from seaweed called glutamate. Now the flavor of this substance was elusive, yet unique, and Ikeda named it umami, which means "tasty" in Japanese. Now Ikeda quickly patented this formula for monosodium glutamate, and it became the big flavor success story of the early 20th century. Matter of fact, by the mid '30s, MSG was being dosed out from salt shakers in Japan right at the table, even at the table of the emperor. Obviously MSG raked in some big old buckets of yen, which had to make guys like Ikeda pretty happy. It even made it into the U.S. despite a little bump in the road called World War Two.
    MSG was a major ingredient in several famous American spice blends, and it really caught on with food manufacturers and Chinese restaurants. Then, in the 1960s, word started to spread of a mysterious ailment. All across the country, fans of Chinese chow began complaining of heart palpitations, numbness of the fingers, headaches, all eventually laid at the door of poor old monosodium glutamate. Despite the fact that, consequent studies never pinpointed the problem.
    Of course, the MSG industry wasn't giving up. They dug back through Ikeda's old research and rediscovered one particular word, umami. What followed was years of new tests and research projects, many of which were funded by the MSG industry. Not that there's anything wrong with that. What did they find?
    Several papers published in reputable scientific journals over the last few years suggests that what they found is a new taste. Now, keep in mind that our chemical senses, especially our sense of taste ...

AB: Tongue down. [a large model of the tongue comes down]

... evolved to lead us to foods that we need to ingest and keep us away from things that we shouldn't, okay. Now we can taste sweetness. Well, sweet is a marker for calories. We can taste salt. Salt is a required nutrient. Sour often signals the presence of vitamins. And bitter, well, many poisons taste bitter. So that one probably evolved as a warning.
    With all this in mind, doesn't it make sense that we would have a taste for and appreciation of proteins and amino acids like glutamates? I mean, those are the building blocks of life, right? Well of course it does. Is it amazing that these molecules would taste good? Of course not. Supposed umami-rich foods, like uh, ripe tomatoes, aged cheese, red wine, meat and mushrooms are delicious, right?
    So here's my question. Why do we need another word for it? We do we need to ultimately condense all that deliciousness, or whatever you want to call it, down into something we can easily package, sell, and sprinkle onto food? Why don't we just eat the delicious foods? I don't know. Maybe I've just been exposed to too much marketing in my time. But as far as I'm concerned, umami, you're all smoke and mirrors.

Eats rich in umami flavor:
Soy Sauce
Worcestershire Sauce

The Kitchen

    As much as I love making and consuming my own miso soup, you know how I feel about unitaskers. [pans to fire extinguisher] That's right. Well I feel about unitasking ingredients. So now that we've got the kombu, katsuobushi, miso and tofu in the house, why not try one of these tasty and time-saving techniques?

    For instance, finely chop the benito flakes left over from one batch of dashi, place in an eight inch nonstick skillet over medium heat, and cook until almost completely dry. Then add two tablespoon of mirin—that’s a sweetened cooking vinegar—two tablespoons of soy sauce, and one half teaspoon of plain old sugar and continue to cook until it's almost dry. Then, hit it with 2 tablespoons of white sesame seeds, toasted would be nice. And then move it to a plate or platter until it is completely cool and dry. As for serving options, over rice is nice. Well, they like it at my house at least. Leftover Bonito [sic] Flakes

2 Tbs. Mirin
2 Tbs. Soy Sauce
½ tsp. Sugar

2 Tbs. White Sesame Seeds

    Hey here's another good one. Place a 12 ounce block of silken tofu in a blender craft with a half cup of buttermilk, a tablespoon lemon juice, one tablespoon Dijon mustard, a quarter cup of ketchup, then one teaspoon of kosher salt and half a teaspoon of black pepper. Spin that up and then add two tablespoons of sweet pickle relish. There you go.
    As far as service options, well you could use that as a special sauce on a hamburger. And of course, the taller the better, wouldn't you say? Very, very good with pickles. Or you can use it in a traditional mode, with just a bit of salad, very nice indeed.
12 Ounces Firm Silken Tofu
½ Cup Buttermilk
1 Tbs. Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice
1 Tbs. Dijon Mustard
Ό Cup Ketchup
1 tsp. Kosher Salt
½ tsp. Freshly Ground Black

2 Tbs. Sweet Pickle Relish

    Say, if you've got a couple tablespoons of white miso, you could mix that up with 2 tablespoons of honey. I like using chopsticks for this. Then just brush it onto four six-ounce pieces of black cod or halibut.
    [at oven] Bake at 475 for 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of your filets. Very umami, that's for sure.
2 Tbs. White Miso
2 Tbs. Honey
4 (6-Ounce Pieces) Black
    Cod or Halibut

475 Degrees

    All right let's dive into some dashi. One cup of dashi, in fact, in a glass or plastic container, along with one quarter cup each mirin and soy sauce. Seal that up, give it a good shake, and you will have made tsuyu sauce, which is great on pasta, my favorite.

1 Cup Dashi
Ό Cup Each Mirin & Soy

AB: Open pantry!

    Japanese buckwheat, or soba noodles. Sorry to spring a new one on you at the last minute, but most megamarts do carry them these days. Says right there [in Japanese], soba. You can read it somewhere. I don't know.

AB: Close pantry.

    Cook the noodles per the package instructions, and then toss with enough of the tsuyu sauce to thoroughly soak them. And by the way, you want to serve these in the Japanese style, cold. That's right. Perhaps garnished with some finely chopped green onions or shredded seaweed.

S: [is sitting at the table with AB, speaks Japanese]

    I'm sorry we didn't get back to the kombu. But, as you can see, once you open your pantry up to a little Japanese influence, things can get a little crazy. Tasty, but crazy.

AB: So, how you liking the neighborhood?
S: [speaks Japanese]

    Okay well, see you next time on Good Eats.

AB: Yoi ichinichi o. [trans: Have a nice day.]

Transcribed by Jennifer Schleicher
Proofread by Michael Menninger

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010