While sushi is probably the most familiar element of a Japanese meal in the UK, robata dishes are fast increasing in popularity.
You only have to witness the rise of the Sticks ‘n’ Sushi brand – now numbering seven outlets across the UK – to see how, what in essence is the perfect combination of raw (sushi) and cooked (robata) dishes, has taken off.
Robata literally translates as “fireside cooking” and it is essentially the Japanese style of grilling food, consisting of morsels of fish, shellfish, meat and vegetables on skewers.
Silla Bjerrum is a sushi chef who co-founded the UK’s first sushi delivery service, Feng Sushi, in 1999. Today, she shares her skills as a sushi teacher at Billingsgate Seafood School, having recently headed the sushi operations at Whole Foods UK, and relaunched the Sushi and Robata restaurant in Kensington, London.
In contrast to the meat-fest often associated with the Western approach to cooking over fire, Bjerrum says “robata is about delicacy, provenance and combining a selection of ingredients to create a nutritious, well-balanced meal”.
Robata is not distinctly different from yakitori. Although robata originally consisted of fish and vegetables, yakitori – also featured in the book – was always based on chicken and vegetables.
While traditional robata involves binchō-tan coals made from a dense species of oak, the method can be replicated on any number of indoor barbecue-style grills. The focus is always on achieving umami, created by fast cooking over a high heat combined with the addition of the likes of soy-based sauces, miso and wasabi.
Top fish recipes in the book include sea bream with wakame salsa and summer pickles of lemon and courgettes, Chilean sea bass with choy sum and onion relish, and soft-shell crab on crab rice. For meat lovers, there is everything from whole miso-marinated baby chicken to Porterhouse steak with uni (sea urchin) butter.
The dishes are all ideal for sharing platters and a useful addition to the repertoire of chefs working within a pub or brasserie setting.
Robata: Japanese Home Grilling by Silla Bjerrum Jacqui Small, £25