Friday, October 14, 2011

Theme Nights: Japanese Edition

It's always fun to try your hand at making restaurant favorites at home--especially when they are recipes of a different ethnic background.

I know it's silly, but there's a part of me that finds relief in being able to make my restaurant favorites at home. It won't stop me from going to that particular restaurant to buy it because it saves me time, work, and dishes that need to be cleaned up afterward. But for some reason, I always think there's a chance that my favorite restaurants will close (perhaps this fear is based in reality because it happens to me a lot...a number of my favorite restaurants have closed...the restaurant business is rough! And unless you're a major chain, there's a good chance your restaurant life span will be less than 10 years). In the eventuality that a favorite restaurant does close, will I forever crave a favorite dish that is then beyond my reach? I have always believed that when a restaurant closes, they should have a "blowout" sale to make some money before they close their doors forever. They could sell cookbooks of their recipes or sell one recipe at a time. I know I'd be a buyer.

Then, of course, there is also the possibility that the restaurant will stay open...but they'll stop serving your favorite dish. I've had that happen too.

It's also similar to when you have a relative who keeps their recipes secret only to take them with them to the grave when they pass on! Now what good does that do? That just means that a great recipe can only be enjoyed and appreciated over the course of one lifetime instead of many.

And one is left to crave it forever...

There used to be a French restaurant called "Erik's Fine Dining" that had the most wonderful salmon pasta. Well, after that restaurant closed, we found a pretty close match to that recipe. You can find it here. So, mission accomplished in that case.

But many favorite dishes from other closed restaurants remain a mystery. Quests yet to be fulfilled. And some types of foods are easier to recreate than others, that's for sure.

The very first time I tried Japanese food, I was about 12 years old. I wasn't yet brave enough at that time to venture into the world of sushi, so I picked a safe bet: Sukiyaki. The menu described it as a Japanese beef stew with vegetables and noodles. I LOVED it. It was so good and so different from any beef stew I had ever had. The soy sauce based broth added such an exotic flavor to what otherwise would have been just any old soup. I decided that I needed to seek out a recipe for sukiyaki that matched the sukiyaki I had eaten that night in the event that my favorite Japanese restaurants closed and my craving for sukiyaki would have to remain forever unfulfilled.

Luckily, that search didn't last long. And while there is a little prep work required, it isn't too difficult to make at all and the results are wonderfully authentic.

On a side note, have you ever heard the song "Sukiyaki?" Its actual song title is "Ue O Muite Aruko," which means "I look up when I walk." For how bright and upbeat the song is, you'd have no idea that it's message is one of sadness. When the song was brought to the U.S. in 1963, the title was changed to "Sukiyaki" because it was a short Japanese word that was easy to say (and it happened to be a favorite food of an English Record Company executive who promptly renamed the song). I understand the reasoning--especially in the time that the song was written, but it's still not very culturally sensitive, eh? It's like renaming "La Bamba" "Burrito" or "Tamale" for the same reasons! If you want to listen to the song and read more about it, click here. You really should check out the lyrics (which can be found on the same link) because though sad, they are very lovely and poetic. the same time that we discovered the recipe for sukiyaki, we found a lovely recipe for teriyaki chicken.

My youngest sister's favorite Japanese food is chicken katsu. It is Japanese style fried chicken. You can also use this recipe to make tonkatsu or Japanese style pork. My sister chose this for her birthday dinner last year. It is very good.

I am also sharing a recipe for tempura batter. I usually buy prepackaged batter mix at the grocery store, but as explained before, it's always nice to know how to make it yourself in case you can't get it anywhere else. Great options for tempura: shrimp, mushrooms, onions, sweet potatoes, carrots, and zucchini.

As for the sushi...I'll leave that to my sister, Laurie, to make. I bought her a sushi book awhile back that came with the tools to make sushi. For me, it just seems like too much work to make at home...I'll keep buying that in my favorite restaurants. Sushi doesn't seem like it will be disappearing anytime soon. And that's a good thing! Because what would we do without sushi?



1 1/2 lb. beef (for stir-fry)
1 tbsp oil
1 bunch green onions, cut into 2 inch pieces
1 (8 oz) can bamboo shoots
1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
1 cup Japanese soy sauce
1 1/2 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
Bean sprouts (1 can or 1-2 cups fresh)
Bok Choy, 1 head
3 oz. cellophane noodles (rice noodles can also be used if you can't find cellophane noodles)


Heat oil in frying pan and saute beef (see notes). Add vegetables and stir-fry. Cover cellophane noodles with boiling water for 10 minutes. Combine soy sauce, water, and 3 tablespoons sugar (make sure the sugar dissolves).

Pour sauce over meat and vegetables; heat to boiling. Turn heat down and simmer for 10 minutes. Add drained cellophane noodles.

Serves 6

Source: My mom found his and I have no idea where she got it from.

Notes: The original recipe called for only 3 tbsp of sugar...but it was far too salty and the broth didn't match what I had tried in the restaurant. I added more sugar, to taste. Because soy sauce is so salty, it needs an almost 50/50 soy sauce to sugar ratio for the broth to taste right.

I tend to overcook beef when the cooking method is stir-fried. So, this time, I thought I'd try something different. I used flank steak and I broiled it in the oven for 7 minutes per side. I then sliced it and added it to the soup. For me, at least, it helped keep the beef from being overcooked and becoming tough.

Also, you can increase the amounts of vegetables used and you can also double the broth if there is not enough for your liking. We always double the broth and we definitely increase the mushrooms and bamboo shoots. One head of bok choy is plenty, however.

Teriyaki Chicken


1/2 cup soy sauce (preferably Japanese)
3 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp fresh ginger root, grated
3 tbsp sesame seeds
Chicken pieces (bone-in with skin)


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine sugar, soy sauce, ginger root, and sesame seeds in a large bowl. Marinate chicken (at least 30 minutes). Place chicken in foil-lined baking dish and pour sauce over it. Bake for 45-60 minutes. Baste with sauce every 15 minutes.

Source: Again, I don't know where this recipe came from.

Notes: You could use boneless, skinless chicken breasts if you absolutely had to. But one of the things that makes this recipe special is the richness added by the bones and skin of the chicken.

Chicken Katsu


4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves--pounded to 1/2 inch thickness
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 egg, beaten
1 cup panko bread crumbs (Japanese bread crumbs)
1 cup oil for frying, or as needed


Season the chicken breasts on both sides with salt and pepper. Place the flour, egg, and panko crumbs into separate shallow dishes.

Coat the chicken breasts in flour, shaking off any excess. Dip them into the egg, and then press into the panko crumbs until well coated on both sides.

Heat 1/4 inch of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Place chicken in the hot oil, and cook 3-4 minutes per side, or until cooked through and golden brown.

Source:, submitted by sakuraiiko

Notes: If the chicken is golden brown on the outside but still undone on the inside, remove from the oil and bake in a 350 degree oven until no longer pink. Otherwise, you will risk burning the breading.

Katsu Sauce


1 cup ketchup
4 teaspoons dry mustard powder
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce


In a small bowl, stir together the ketchup, mustard powder, garlic powder, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour to blend the flavors before serving.

Tempura Batter


1 egg
1 cup ice water
1 cup all-purpose flour


Beat an egg in a bowl. Add ice water in the bowl. Be sure to use very cold water. Add sifted flour in the bowl and mix lightly. Be careful not to over-mix the batter.

Use to coat your favorite seafood and vegetables. Good options are shrimp, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, onions, carrots, and zucchini.

Fry in vegetable oil heated to 375 degrees over medium heat. Fry 3-5 minutes or until golden brown.

Serve with store-bought tempura sauce.

Makes 4 servings.


  1. The sukiyaki recipe and the teriyaki recipes came from a book we checked out of the public library about 15 years ago.

    This makes me crave Japanese food! Good job.

    Now, Laurie...when will the sushi be posted?

  2. Yum Japanese is always one of my favorites. Make sure to get the low sodium soy sauce!!!

    I need to make sushi! Its really not hard at all. Its fun. But it makes a bunch so its hard to just make a few rolls and leftover sushi is not very good.