Master Japanese cooking with Tim Anderson

03 October, 2017

With his new book just added to the library, former BBC MasterChef winner and restaurant owner Tim Anderson talks to us about how easy Japanese food can be to make at home.

What inspired JapanEasy?

With Japanese food, people think they can’t cook it because they can’t get the ingredients, or they say it takes too long and I wanted to remove all of those obstacles. You don’t need many special ingredients to cook Japanese food and the good thing is that it’s quick and easy.

Having been on the Masterchef journey and now running your own restaurant, how difficult was it to go back to basics?

For this book it was interesting for me to return to traditional classic dishes because we don’t do a lot of that at the restaurant. It was nice to actually rediscover why I love Japanese cooking in the first place. It was fun to write and to get acquainted with some of these old classic dishes.

So what would be a good recipe for absolute beginners to start with?

I like the Sweet miso-glazed aubergines – partly because it’s easy, it’s really easy, but also it’s a crowd pleaser. It also goes with lots of other dishes so can bring a Japanese touch to any meal. 

What's your favourite dish in the book?

I love gyoza!  I’m a massive fan of gyoza but generally speaking I love ramen – I could eat it every day, and I often do. 

You have a recipe for ramen in the book that can be done in an hour, is that really possible?

The thing that takes a long time with ramen is the broth. You really want to get a lot of fat and flavour into it. If you make it with a decent bought stock you can get it to have a depth of flavour by adding miso and minced pork. So yes, you can do it.

There's also a recipe for a Japanese carbonara in the book, how did that come about?

There’s a whole range of Japanese dishes that started off as Western food that went through many years of Japanese interpretation. For example, Japanese carbonara, which is now an established Japanese dish in Japan. There are restaurants in Japan that do whole ranges of Japanese-flavoured pasta dishes. Mostly always spaghetti is used because it most resembles ramen noodles.

What do I need to buy to get cooking?

There are seven ingredients that, if you have these, you can make most dishes. With these seven you can do almost anything you want, though you may want to buy specific ingredients like pickled ginger. Japanese food is often about showcasing an ingredient, so if you have a piece of grilled fish or vegetables, then if you can just lightly season with soy sauce and mirin you can get something very delicious.

Tim's 7 essential ingredients

While supermarkets have Japanese products, you should always try to look for Japanese brands.

1. Soy sauce

Soy sauce adds salt, umami and a little acidity to dishes – I season nearly all my cooking, Japanese or otherwise, with a little bit of soy sauce in addition to, or instead of salt, because of the rich, satisfying depth it provides.

2. Mirin

Mirin adds sweetness to dishes, and is comparable to very light honey in flavour (but it’s much less viscous). It is essential to the sweet-and-salty flavour profile found in many Japanese dishes.

3. Rice Vinegar

Rice vinegar adds acidity to dishes, providing a lip-smacking zing and balancing out rich, fatty or sweet flavours.

4. Dashi

Dashi adds umami and, for lack of a better word, Japaneseness to dishes. I’d highly recommend you buy a pack of dashi powder. That may sound like a cheat, but it really does taste good.

5. Sake

Sake adds umami, fragrance and subtle notes of sweetness and acidity to dishes – you can think of it like Japanese white wine. I sometimes describe it as like a light soy sauce without the salt.

6. Miso

Miso is so awesome, and here’s why: it adds umami, sweetness, acidity, salt, fragrance, complexity, Japaneseness and sometimes even bitterness to dishes.

7. Rice

Rice isn’t so much an ingredient as a staple. It’s typically labelled ‘sushi rice’ at supermarkets (for no good reason, it’s not just for sushi), but you’re better off buying it at an Asian grocer if you can, as it is far cheaper and tends to be better quality.


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