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Book review: Japan the Cookbook

04 May 2018 by

Japanese food has become an everyday part of the British diet, from udon at Wagamama to ramen at Bone Daddies, from robata-grilled lamb at Roka to the omakase tasting menu at three-Michelin-starred the Araki.

Japanese ingredients and techniques have become part of many progressive British kitchens, with dashi becoming almost as common as chicken stock.

Even the most ardent Japanophile chef will probably have only scratched the surface of a culture with a recorded history dating back to the third century. That's where Japan the Cookbook comes in. Written by Californian Nancy Singleton Hachisu, a recognised authority on Japanese cooking both in America and Japan, where she has lived for more than 30 years, the 464-page volume is the latest in Phaidon's series of ‘international cookbook bibles' that have previously covered Mexico, Peru and China.

Three years in the making, the book contains more than 400 recipes, organised into 15 categories including pickles, stir-fries and one pots, to create what Singleton Hachisu calls "a curated experience of Japan's culinary framework from a specific moment in time".

But if you're looking for a sushi and ramen encyclopedia, this book will disappoint, with just seven sushi, three sashimi and one ramen recipe. Dishes are a broad selection from across Japan, including walnut-dressed chrysanthemum petals; steamed mountain yam with nori; grilled eggplant miso soup; and chicken yakitori.

The 11-strong international line up featured in the ‘shefu' (chefs) chapter includes Shinobu Namae of two-Michelin-starred L'Effervescence in Tokyo, whose recipes include bonito sashimi with butterbur miso and shiso; and Shuko Oda of Koya Bar in London, who contributes three recipes, including clams, fava beans and capers steamed in dashi butter.

A history of Japanese food, a glossary of ingredients and kitchen equipment and descriptions of cutting styles (zakugiri are "greens cut crosswise into 4cm pieces") make this the perfect primer for any chef looking to deepen their knowledge of an endlessly fascinating subject.

By Andy Lynes

Japan: the Cookbook by Nancy Singleton Hachisu (Phaidon, £29.95)

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