Japanese Academy of Gatronomy
Website : www.agj.or.jp
The Academy of Gastronomy Japan (AGJ) was established in March 2011, at an induction dinner held at the Spanish Ambassador’s official residence in Tokyo. Overseen by Dr. Rafael Anson (Honorary Chairman of the International Academy of Gastronomy and the President/Founder of the Real Academia Espanola de Gastronomia), it was at this event that the inaugural members of AGJ were officially installed, and Ms. Sakiko Yamada was certified as the Academy’s first president.
In 2012, at an annual meeting held in Paris, AGJ was officially approved by the board members of the International Academy of Gastronomy (IAG), making Japan the first official IAG Academy member in Asia. The Academy of Gastronomy Japan’s primary mission is to support the advancement of Japanese cuisine and ingredients on an international level, from a geographical, seasonal, historical, cultural and scientific perspective, promoting both tradition and innovative Japanese cuisine.
Through educational programs, conferences and other connection points, the Academy focuses on “Sustainable Gastronomy”, with the support of the UN, a selection of embassies, local governments, schools and other organizations.
History of japaneses cuisine
(by Professor Ayako Ehara)
Japan is a country blessed with moderate climate, but summer gets humid with relatively high annual precipitation in many of its regions, giving birth to a diverse range of agricultural products. Warm and cold-water currents meet in the seas that surround the archipelago, creating ideal fishing grounds for different seasonal fish and kelps per region as well.
In most parts of Japan, abundant supplies of good, fresh water are available, so culinary culture closely associated with water evolved. Healthy supplies of foodstuffs and processed foods developed under these natural environments and became a part of the unique Japanese culinary culture.
Characteristics of Japanese Ingredients
Rice, wheat, legumes, potatoes, fruits, and vegetables that are still consumed today were brought into Japan at various times in history, and most of them were adapted to match the different natural environment of each region across the land. Daikon radish, eggplants, turnips, burdock roots, carrots, and yams, appearing often in Japanese cuisines, were all originally brought in from outside. These new vegetables that arrived separately in Japan were taken in proactively, were improved, and took root as a part of the everyday meal, expanding the variety of dishes served in Japan.
Different regional and seasonal bounty of the sea exists in Japan, and even freshwater fish such as sweetfish are available from the rivers in the mountains. Furthermore, Japanese developed fish farms to stabilize the supply of a variety of types of fish, such as sea breams, a precious catch served at ceremonious occasions. Specialists polished their skills such as ikejime technique to sever the spinal cord, technique to drain blood and techniques to cut the fish to maintain the freshness of fish to serve good sashimi.
Characteristics of Processed Food
One of the distinctive characteristics of healthy Japanese cuisine is that a majority of them uses dashi broth to pull out the umami flavour of the ingredients. Lipid is one of the elements that pulls out palatability but will cause health issues if taken in excess. Instead, Japanese cuisine uses dashi broth for soups and simmered dishes to bring out flavour, mitigating excess fat consumption.
Dashi broth is made from dried seafood, such as kombu kelp, bonito, sardine, and certain types of dried vegetables and wild plants. The dashi material is simmered in plenty of water to pull out its intense umami flavor.
Once dried, bonitos turn into katsuobushi, or dried bonitos, known as the hardest food in the world. Raw bonitos are cut, heated, and dried, and after many months, they become the katsuobushi. Similarly, kombu kelps are dried, layered, and matured for two years or more before they are ready to be used as a source of dashi broth. It takes time to make the dashi ingredients, but this process condenses the umami flavor.
The main elements of umami are various types of amino acids and nucleic acids: high inosinic acid contents in katsuobushi, glutamine acid in kombu, and guanylic acid in dried shiitake mushroom. Dashi broth extracted by using a combination of several ingredients such as kombu and katsuobushi further intensifies the umami flavour.
Kombu kelp’s umami in particular is impacted by water hardness. Water in a majority of Japanese region is relatively soft, which are suited to prepare the dashi broth. The culture of using kombu to produce dashi became prevalent in Kyoto because the water in Kyoto area is softer than in Tokyo.
Good, fresh water is abundant in Japan, so cooking method capitalizing on this abundant water resource, such as simmering, steaming, and boiling, developed. These cooking methods use little oil and are one of the reasons why Japanese cuisine is known to be healthy.
Japanese sake and tofu are some examples of processed food that require good water. Various types of local sake adapted to the local natural environment are brewed throughout the country.
From cooking perspective, readily available quality water led to a rise in a wide variety of soup dishes in Japan. Some soups use kombu or katsuobushi to make dashi broth, but many others draw out umami flavor by using seafood. For example, the use of shelled crabs in a soup produces deep umami flavour when seasoned with miso.
Head and bones of sea breams are used as a source of umami as well, by rinsing them first with boiled water to eliminate pungent smell. Once the smell is eliminated, they are seeped in water along with kombu and heated to create a soup rich with delicate umami. Not only the sea breams, but also the bones that remain after a sashimi is prepared are used for dashi broth also. Japanese were creative in finding ways to not waste anything and to use natural resources sustainably.
Recent research of intestinal bacteria shows that fermented food increases the bacterial count in the intestine, enhancing the well-being of the people. Leveraging on the hot and humid climate in Japan, various types of fermented seasonings, such as soy sauce, miso, mirin sweet sake, vinegar, and Japanese sake have been developed from the old days. These are used often, if not everyday, in Japanese dishes. In addition to the traditional fermented foodstuffs such as pickles, natto (fermented soybean), and amazake (sweet fermented rice wine), cheese and yogurt are much consumed recently in Japan.
Traditional pickles, one type of fermented foods with improved storage life, are made by salting vegetables to start the fermentation and induce lactic acid formation. They were assumed to be a part of every meal in the past. Numerous distinctive local pickles are produced, and some of them, such as sunki-zuke, are made only through lactic acid fermentation without adding salt.
Combination of Dishes for a Healthy Meal
Grains such as rice and wheat, and abundant agricultural produce and seafood support the well-being of the Japanese people, but the combination of food is also important for a healthy meal.
The traditional combination that has been passed down for centuries in Japan consists of rice, soup, side dishes, and pickles. Conventional daily meal in the Japanese household consists of rice as a main staple, accompanied by soup, one or two side dishes, and pickles. Soy products such as tofu and aburaage (deep fried tofu) were the source of good protein. Fermented foods such as miso soup and pickles contributed to the well-being of the people as well. Special occasions were celebrated relatively frequently, and on those days, side dishes and soups with seafood and chicken were additionally served.
By applying nutritional knowledge to this simple combination of dishes, we can deliver well-balanced, healthy meals today.
Meat and deep-fried cuisines using much fat have become more prevalent in Japan today, but many Japanese still enjoy rice as a main staple, so compared to the western nations, fat consumption is relatively low. The graph below shows the ratio of energy intake from protein, fat, and carbohydrate. The ideal standard intake ratio of fat as a source of total calorific value is in the range of 20-30% in Japan, and the current level is within that range.
Energy ratio of protein, fat and carbohydrate (2011)
Examples of the Combination of Japanese Dishes
Here are some basic combinations of dishes in a Japanese meal.
Amount of water and heating conditions are the two most important aspects to cook tasty rice. Cooking rice well has been regarded as the most important cooking skill traditionally. These days, various electric rice cookers are available to cook tasty rice automatically. Later we will describe how to cook rice in a pot.
Dashi broth is used for soups. Miso soup is served regularly, especially for breakfast. A variety of materials are added into the miso soup. Finely diced tofu and leek or aburaage and daikon radish are common combinations, but potatoes, onions, eggplant, turnip, cabbage and any other material at hand can be thrown in.
Soups with various ingredients mixed in exist as well. Some well-known ones include tonjiru, which is made by simmering pork, carrot, daikon radish, yam, tofu, and konnyaku potatoes in a pot. Miso is added as a flavour. Some soups use chicken or beef instead of pork, while others use salt and soy sauce instead of miso to add flavour to the soup.
Two side dishes are generally served for a daily meal. One is the main dish, which is the source of protein, such as fish, meat or tofu. The second is the side dish, made from a combination of vegetables not used for the main dish, resulting in a nutritionally well-balanced meal. By adding another side dish, the meal’s nutritional balance will be enhanced further.
We will introduce recipes for three dishes later. The main dish is deep-fried fish, but this can be substituted with other dishes, such as a tempura dish of shrimp and vegetables. Assortment of sashimi, grilled fish, meat teriyaki, and fried chicken are some other possible alternatives. For the side dish, nikujaga, a simmered dish using potatoes, onions, and pork or beef, seasoned with soy sauce,is a possibility. Another option is to serve spinach with dressing alongside, which is included in the recipe.
Mixing and matching different dressings with different vegetables will create a variety of taste experience. Any vegetable available at the time, such as spinach or other leafy vegetables can be boiled and used. You can even combine two or three vegetables, such as asparagus and green beans. One of the traditional dressing dishes is shiroae, which uses tofu grounded with sesame, flavoured with a pinch of salt and sugar. Another tasty yet easy to make dressing dish is karashiae, which uses soy sauce, a pinch of sugar and karashi Japanese mustard.
For the side dish, change the cooking method from the main dish, such as simmering vegetables, tofu, and potatoes, or using different types of dressing. By combining different ingredients and cooking methods, people can enjoy a variety of ingredients and tastes in a well-balanced nutritional meal.
Sushi and tempura are well known Japanese cuisines, but we hope the world will have more and more opportunity to experience the charm of Japanese cuisine that has contributed to the health of Japanese through the use of a variety of combinations of ingredients.
What is Japanese Cuisine?
(by Dr. Isao Kumakura)
Japanese cuisine is sustained by the rich variety of ingredients available from fertile seas and land. Japanese people are attuned to nature and keenly aware of their reliance its bounty. They express gratitude for the blessings of nature with the customary expressions “Itadakimasu”- I gratefully receive the blessings of this food – before eating and “Gochisosama”- I have partaken of the feast- after eating. Japanese cuisine is also a canvas for the beauty of nature. Distinct changes accompany the four seasons, and enjoyment of those changes provides the underlying motifs for Japanese arts, crafts and literature. In cuisine as well, reoccurring patterns and references, like the plum and cherry blossoms of spring, express attention to the beauty of the seasons.
One of the appealing qualities of Japanese food is that it is healthy. Relatively few ingredients contain animal fat, and those that do, like fish are sources of largely unsaturated fats, which are good for the body. This cuisine is closely tied to traditions that cement ties in the family and community.
Japanese cuisine, which developed in tandem with a respect for nature, is centred around rice as a stapled food. In the case of the fine kaiseki food served in restaurants, sake – alcohol made from rice – often takes the place of cooked rice, but for ordinary household meals rice and soup are the basic dishes, eaten together with side dishes and pickles. There are two main kinds of rice: so-called uruchimai or non-glutinous rice and mochi-gome or glutinous rice, and it is uruchimai that is used for making sake, vinegar, and miso as well as the cooked rice eaten at meals, Mochi-gome is an indispensable food that is used for mochi and sweets, and for steaming with red azuki beams to make the auspicious “red rice” (sekihan) for celebratory occasions.
The basic flavour of Japanese food is umami. Umami has been shown to be the “fifth taste”, distinct from the four scientifically identified tastes of sweetness, sourness, saltiness, and bitterness. To accentuate the umami in ingredients, the Japanese succeeded some 500 years ago in mastering techniques for making dashi so that only the umami elements from kombu and dried bonito flakes are released. Around 200 to 300 years ago, a great many cookbooks were published, and most of them stressed the importance of using good dashi and recorded the methods for making it. This deep attachment to dashi led to Japanese scientist Ikeda Kikunae’s 1908 discovery of monosodium glutamate (MSG), which is the umami element in kombu. Broth made from katsuobushi bonito flakes and kombu remains the basic flavouring for Japanese food, but it is difficult to make properly without using the soft water prevalent in Japan.
Water in Japan drains from mountain regions over comparatively short distance before flowing into the sea, so hard water resulting from seepage through rock is scarce and most water is soft and quite free of impurities. Water commands a very important position in Japanese cuisine as soaking to remove bitterness (sarasu) or rising to tighten fiber (shimeru). Food like tofu and vegetables like daikn may contains more than 90 percent water, also demonstrating the extent to which Japanese food depends on abundant supplies of good fresh water.
- 2 cups (180ml x 2 =360ml) rice
- Mix A
- 1 tablespoon sake
- 1 sheet( 5cm x 5cm) kombu (seaweed)
- Water as appropriate (wash rice and put in the rice cooker, add ingredient A then add water to reach the line for 2-cups rice)
- Mixed Vinegar (B)
- 4 tablespoons vinegar
- 1.5 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Fried egg
- 1 egg
- sake as appropriate
- a pinch of salt
- 4 slices tuna for sashimi
- 4 slices squid for sashimi
- 4 slices salmon for sashimi
- Wasabi as appropriate
- Pickled ginger as appropriate
- Rinse rice and drain in a strainer for one hour. Add A (one tablespoon sake, one 5cm piece of kombu) and water in a rice cooker and cook the rice. Put B (4 tablespoons vinegar, 1.5 tablespoon sugar, one teaspoon salt) in a heat-resistant container. Heat for one minute with a 600-watt microwave to make seasoned vinegar. Do not cover container with plastic wrap.
- Once rice is cooked, combine seasoned vinegar with rice. Instead of using a mixing bowl, mix on a plastic wrap sheet to coat every grain of rice with seasoned vinegar.
- Spread rice, making a layer about 1cm thick. Fan the rice to let it dry a little bit. Flip over the rice to fan the other side.
- Break eggs into a bowl. Add sugar and sake and stir. Strain the mixture with a tea strainer. Heat oil in a small skillet. Pour the mixture into the skillet and cook on both sides.
- Place the rice in hand and form a ball about the size of a ping pong ball. Cut other ingredients into the same size. Put a sheet of plastic wrap on your hands and place the ingredients face down. Dab wasabi on the ingredients. Place the ball of rice. Wrap everything together. Serve on a plate with sweet-vinegar pickled ginger on the side. (Do not wrap the rice ball too tightly. Press gently to form a ball.)
Tip: Use whatever ingredients you like to put on sushi rice. It goes well not only with seafood but also with vegetables, pickles and ham, etc.
Ingredients (for four)
- 800cc dashi soup(broth)
- 50g Shinshu miso
- 100g mushrooms (shimeji, shitake etc)
- 200g daikon radish
- 4 pieces taro(satsumaimo)
- 80g carrot
- 50g komatsuna (Japanese spinach)
- Cut off mushroom’s stem. Slice into bite-size pieces. Peel radish and cut into 5cm quarters. Peel carrot and cut into 8 pieces, each 4cm big. Peel taro and cut into bite-size pieces. Wash Japanese mustard spinach (Komatsuna) and cut off stem. Cut into 4cm pieces.
- Put dashi broth, radish, and carrot in a pot. Bring to a boil and add taro. Simmer over medium heat.
- Cook until ingredients (2) are soft. Add mushroom and Japanese mustard spinach. Add miso and seaweed. Stir to combine. Remove from heat right before it starts boiling.
Ingredients (for four)
- 2 cups (180 x 2) rice
- 2 1/5 cup (add 1% more) water
- Rinse rice. Fill bowl with water and add rice. Stir quickly and pour out water. (Raw rice absorbs water quickly. This step must be completed quickly before rice starts absorbing water with debris.)
- Add small amount of water and rinse rice again lightly using your fingertips.
- Add plenty of water. Rinse lightly and pour out water.
- Repeat 2 and 3 a few times, using clean water every time. Drain rice in a strainer for 1 hour.
- Place rice in pot. Add enough water, about 1.1 times the amount of rice. Cook over medium heat.
- Bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat for 12~13 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for 10 minutes.
Spinach with sesame sauce
Ingredients (for four)
- 200g spinach
- 4 tablespoons white sesame
- 1.5 teaspoons light soy sauce(usu-kuchi)
- 1/2 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon dashi or sake
- Cook spinach in boiling water with some salt (not included in the recipe). Cool under running water and drain. Cut into 4cm pieces.
- Roast sesame seeds. Grind until mostly powdered. Combine ground sesame with A (1.5 teaspoon thick soy sauce, 0.5 tablespoon sugar, one tablespoon dashi broth or sake).
- Combine spinach with 2 and stir.
Miso pickled radish
- 4 pieces small radishes
- 50g miso
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon sake
- Cut off most of radish’s stem.
- Combine A (50 grams miso, 2 teaspoons sugar, one teaspoon’s sake) with 1. Marinate for 3 hours.
- 350g cabbage
- 1 slice (5cm x 5cm) kombu (seaweed)
- 7g(2% of cabbage) salt
- 1 teaspoon vinegar
- Cut cabbage into bite-size pieces. Cut kombu into 2.5cm strips.
- Put cabbage, kombu, salt and vinegar in a plastic bag. Mix by hand.
Beef and Tofu
Ingredient (for four)
- 240g beef (sliced)
- 500g tofu (firm)
- 4 stalks green onions
- 2 cups water
- 4 tablespoon sake
- 6 tablespoons sugar
- 7 tablespoons dark soy sauce(koi-kuchi)
- Cut beef into bite-size pieces. Cut tofu into 2cm x 3cm cubes.
- Slice green onion diagonally. Cook shirataki noodles in boiling water for 5 minutes to remove harshness. Cut into 3~4 cm pieces.
- Pour a cup of water into pot. Add seasonings. Bring to a boil. Add beef, tofu and shirataki noodles (from step 2). Cook for 5 minutes. Add green onion and cook lightly.
- Serve beef, tofu, green onion, and shirataki noodles on a plate.
Salmon simmered with vegetables
Ingredients (for four)
- 4 fresh salmon fillets
- 1/2 (150g) sweet potato
- 1 (150g) carrot
- 12 ginkgo nuts
- Vegetable oil as appropriate
- Potato starch as appropriate
Season salmon with salt and sake beforehand.
- Slice sweet potato and carrot. Cut into desired shapes (e.g. leaves) with cookie cutter. Cook in boiling water until a little tender.
- Deep-fry sweet potato and gingko nuts. Sprinkle some salt (not included in the recipe).
- Cut salmon into bite-size pieces. Sprinkle some salt and sake. Cover lightly with potato starch and deep-fry.
- Serve salmon, sweet potato, carrot and ginkgo nuts on a plate.
(Recipe and food prepared by Ms. Kazuko Goto)
(Photography by Mr. Naruyasu Nabeshima)