Japanese Cuisine


How about some Japanese food to really keep us in the Olympic vibe. Instead of ordering a pizza or a burger and a pint in a pub, why not impress the pals by whipping up a few super easy Japanese dishes from the host country for your socially distanced viewing party or get together.

What do we know about Japanese food?  Most of us would be hard pressed to name more than two or three Japanese dishes…sushi immediately comes to mind but understandably many feel intimidated to even attempt to make sushi rolls.  But scattered sushi, the most ancient form of sushi is ridiculously easy to make and really delicious. How about ramen – silky noodles and many other good things in a bowl of deeply flavoured broth.

Gyoza, fat juicy pork dumplings… who could resist a plate full of those?  Yakatori, tonkatsu, okonomiyaki are all staple Japanese dishes that sound super exotic but are easy to whip up once you stock up your store cupboard with a few Japanese ingredients.

Tuna, salmon or trout, tataki is light and refreshing and super easy to make – a perfect small plate for a summers evening and how about sipping a kombucha negroni to get into the spirit. Karaage or katsu, Japanese fried chicken is also a brilliant crowd pleaser.  It will disappear off a plate in a flash.  Both are Japanese fried chicken but karaage is usually thigh meat dipped in a coating of potato starch and served with a mayo based sauce while katsu tends to be sliced white meat or wings, breaded, deep fried and served with a thin sauce.

Here’s a list of essential Japanese pantry ingredients to get you started.


Sushi Rice

Soya Sauce

Mirin (sweet rice wine)

Sake (rice alcohol)

Rice Vinegar

Miso (fermented bean paste)

Wasabi (mustard)

Pickled Ginger

Bonito Flakes

Kombu (kelp)

Yoma (sesame seeds)


Yuzu Sauce (citrus)

Nori (sheets of toasted seaweed)


Chirashi Sushi – Scattered Sushi with Seared Beef Fillet and Red Onion

Chirashi sushi or scattered sushi is the oldest form of sushi and by far the easiest to make at home, no fiddling with sushi mats or sheets of nori.  Toppings to scatter over the rice can be your choice of delicious fresh seasonal ingredients and often though not always raw fish.

This recipe uses the traditional Japanese method normally used for cooking tuna, to cook beef, but it works just as well.

Serves 8

1 medium red onion, peeled and thinly sliced in rings

500g (1lb) beef fillet or sirloin – cut into about 3 steaks

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

100ml (3 1/2fl oz) sake

100ml (3 1/2fl oz) soy sauce

1 quantity prepared sushi rice (see recipe)

4 spring onions, finely sliced, to garnish

chilli daikon relish (see recipe)

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Season the steak with salt and pepper and set aside to season for 30 minutes.  Heat a large frying pan or pan-grill and sear the beef until brown, about 2 minutes on each side.  The surface of the beef should be well-browned, but inside should be very rare. Cook the meat for longer if you prefer it less rare. 

Transfer the beef to a bowl of iced water and allow to stand for 10 minutes.  Mix the sake and soy in a shallow dish.  Drain and pat the beef dry with kitchen paper and put into the dish of sake and soy mixture and allow to marinate for at least 30 minutes or better still overnight in the refrigerator.

To Serve

Put the sliced onion into a bowl of cold water for 10 minutes.  Drain.

Remove the beef from the marinade and pat dry with kitchen paper.  Slice into 5mm (1/4 inch) thick pieces or as thinly as possible.  Fill each bowl two-thirds full with the prepared sushi rice, and arrange some slices of beef on top.  Arrange a few finely sliced spring onions and chilli daikon relish beside the beef and garnish with the onion slices.

Chilli Daikon Relish

Peel 250g (8oz) daikon, soak briefly in cold water, then grate it into a bowl.  Deseed and finely chop a small red chilli finely and mix with the daikon – a delicious accompaniment to the Scattered Beef Sushi recipe.

Basic Sushi Rice

450g (1lb) sushi rice ” No 1 Extra Fancy”

600ml (1 pint) water

Vinegar Water

50ml (2fl oz) rice wine vinegar

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

2 1/2 teaspoons salt

Rinse the rice for 8-10 minutes in a colander or sieve under cold running water or until the water becomes clear.

‘Wake up’ the rice by sitting it in 600ml (1pint) cold water for 30 to 45 minutes.   In the same water, bring to the boil and then cook for 10 minutes until all the water has been absorbed.  Do not stir, do not even take off the lid. Turn up the heat for 10 seconds before turning the heat off.  Remove the lid, place a tea towel over the rice, replace the lid and sit for 20 minutes.

Mix the rice wine vinegar, sugar and salt together in a bowl until dissolved.  Turn the rice out onto a big flat plate (preferably wooden).  While the rice is still hot, pour the vinegar solution over the rice and mix the rice and vinegar together in a slicing action with the aid of a wooden spoon.  Don’t stir.  You must do it quickly preferably fanning the rice with the fan.  This is much easier if you have a helper.  Allow to cool on the plate, cover with a tea towel and use as desired.  (It will soak up the liquid as it cools.)

Bonito Dashi – Japanese Broth

Dashi is the basic broth of Japanese cuisine. It’s a clear, delicate, umami liquid. Every chef in Japan has their own dashi recipe.

Try this one.  This version comes from Takashi Miyazaki who taught an inspirational class on Japanese food here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School in 2018.

20cm (8 inch) kombu (sugar kelp)

a handful bonito flakes

2 litres (3 1/2 pints) water

Pour the water and kombu into the pot and leave for 2 hours and heat.  Take the kombu out before the water boils and turn off the heat. (kombu dashi).  Add bonito flakes into the kombu dashi and strain the dashi into bowl after 5 minutes.

Kombucha Negroni

How about sipping this cocktail to get into the Japanese spirit.

50ml (2fl oz) best gin

25ml (1fl oz) Campari

10ml (scant 1/2fl oz) freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger

125ml (4 1/2fl oz) kombucha

lemon wedges

Combine the ingredients and shake over ice.  Pour into a chilled glass and enjoy.


Ramen is the ultimate comfort food, the basic broth needs to be well flavoured but it can be varied in so many ways.  It can be a mixture of chicken, pork, dashi, miso or vegetable based.  Use traditional wheat ramen noodles or choose buckwheat or brown rice noodles for a gluten-free version.  Meat can be braised beef, brisket or short ribs, pork shoulder, pork belly or bacon, tofu or shrimp.  Add whatever seasonal vegetables and fresh herbs you fancy.  You can top it with softish hardboiled egg, nori, sesame seeds or nuts.  The variations are endless.  It’s also a fantastic way to use leftovers at any time of year.  Here’s a basic starting point.

Serves 6

1.8 litres (3 pints) homemade chicken broth
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirin
2.5cm (1 inch) chunk ginger root, gently smashed
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons dark sesame oil

300g (10oz) squash or pumpkin, diced into 5mm (1/4 inch) dice

2 red chillies, finely sliced
200g (7oz) ramen noodles or egg noodles
100g (3 1/2oz) mizuna or spinach or Swiss chard or kale, roughly chopped

2 tablespoons fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped
freshly squeezed juice of 1 lime

450g (1lb) sliced cooked chicken thighs, with or without skin
3 ‘hard-boiled’ eggs – cook for 7-8 minutes rather than 10
6 green onions, thinly sliced on the diagonal

6 lime wedges

Heat well-flavoured chicken stock with soy sauce, mirin and ginger. Simmer gently for 5 to 10 minutes. Discard the ginger.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add the sesame oil, squash and sliced chilli and simmer for 10 minutes.  Taste and tweak if necessary, it needs to be highly seasoned.

Cook the noodles in boiling water until just tender (usually 4 to 5 minutes but check the directions on the package).  Drain well.  Add the mizuna or other greens to the soup, cook for 1-2 minutes, then add the coriander and lime juice.

Place the noodles in each bowl, top with the sliced or shredded chicken.  Ladle the broth over noodles.  Shell the eggs, halve and lay half an egg in each bowl and sprinkle with lots of green spring onions and garnish with a lime wedge.  Eat while very hot — broth first and then other ingredients or any way you want.

Yakitori Chicken with Teriyaki Sauce

Yakitori, literally means grilled bird – a Japanese version of skewered chicken.  I love this recipe, I’m using thigh meat but it’s also delicious with chicken livers or gizzards.  Do your best to source organic chicken.

Serves 6-8 as a starter/nibble

450g (1lb) boneless chicken thighs, chicken livers or gizzards

110ml (4fl oz) dark soy sauce or tamari

50ml (2fl oz) mirin

2 tablespoons sake

1 tablespoon dark soft brown sugar

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger


2-3 scallions or spring onions, thinly sliced

Cut the chicken thighs, livers or gizzards into generous 2.5cm (1 inch) pieces. Combine the soy sauce or tamari, mirin, sake, brown sugar, crushed garlic and grated ginger in a small saucepan. Bring slowly to the boil and cook for 7 minutes or until just thickened, cool.  Save 2 tablespoons, pour the remainder over the chicken and marinade for an hour if possible.

Meanwhile, soak bamboo satay sticks in water. Alternatively, use flat metal skewers.

Preheat the oven or grill to 220°C/430°F/Gas Mark 7.

Thread 5 or 6 pieces of chicken, liver or gizzard onto the skewers.

Roast or pan-grill, turning occasionally – about 3-4 minutes for livers, 6-7 for thighs or 9-10 minutes for gizzards. Careful not to overcook but nonetheless, it’s important that they are fully cooked.

Drizzle with the remaining sauce, sprinkle with slivered scallions and serve immediately with Teriyaki Sauce.

Teriyaki Sauce

110ml (4fl oz) sake

110ml (4fl oz) soy sauce

scant 75ml (3fl oz) mirin

3 tablespoons dark soft brown sugar

Put all the ingredients into a small saucepan over a medium heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Boil gently for 7-8 minutes or until the liquid thickens. Use immediately or store in an airtight container in the fridge for 2 weeks or more.

Reheat and drizzle over pan-grilled chicken, fish, pork, tofu, vegetables… for a delicious Japanese flavour.


Add some teriyaki sauce to a burger or meatball mixture.

Teriyaki is derived from the Japanese words teri to shine

Tataki with Ponsu Sauce

Tataki refers to a Japanese method of cooking where the surface of the fish or beef is lightly seared on a very hot pan before marinating. The centre remains very rare – you’ll love this technique.

Serves 4


45ml (1 3/4fl oz) soya sauce

15ml (generous 1/2fl oz) yuzu sauce

10ml (scant 1/2fl oz) rice vinegar

15ml (generous 1/2fl oz) mirin (rice wine)

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated ginger

15ml (generous 1/2fl oz) dashi stock

250g (9oz) fresh tuna, wild salmon or trout chilled

1-2 spring onions

1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds

2 radishes

1 mini cucumber, very thinly sliced, optional

Combine all the ingredients for the sauce in a jar. Cover and pop into the fridge until needed. Cut the chilled fish into pieces approximately 7cm (2 3/4 inch) wide by 20cm (8 inch) long. Prepare in either of the following ways.

1. Lay the fish on a wire rack. Blow torch all sides. Cool.

2. Sear the fish on a hot non-stick pan with a tiny drop of oil for a couple of seconds (30-45 seconds max). Cool.

Meanwhile, prepare the garnish, slice the radishes into paper thin slices and the spring onions diagonally into “horse’s ears”. Chill in iced water. Toast the sesame seeds.

To Serve

Slice the cold fish into 1cm (1/2 inch) slices. Arrange on chilled plates. Shake the ponzu sauce. Spoon over the fish. Garnish with spring onion and radishes and cucumber, if available. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and serve.

Karaage – Japanese Fried Chicken Andrew Zimmern

This version of izakaya-style Japanese fried chicken comes from Andrew Zimmern… bite-size chicken thigh pieces quickly marinated, dredged in flour and potato starch and double fried for an extra crispy crunch. He likes to season the chicken with a mix of salt, cumin and Szechuan peppercorns, and then serve it with Kewpie mayo and togarashi. Andrew says ‘it’s seriously the best fried chicken I make, a guaranteed crowd pleaser’.  Kewpie mayo, beloved of Japanese and increasingly across the world, seems smoother and creamier than regular mayo – it’s made with egg yolks, rice or cider vinegar, no salt or sugar and a sprinkling of the flavour enhancer, MSG.

5 boneless, skin on chicken thighs

salt and pepper for seasoning

1 teaspoon grated ginger

1 teaspoon grated garlic

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon sake

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

125g (4 1/2oz) plain flour

150g (5oz) potato starch

Mayonnaise, lemon and togarashi, for serving

Cut the chicken thighs in 4ths or 6ths to make bite size chunks. Marinate in ginger, garlic, soy sauce, sake and sesame oil for 30-45 minutes, no more.

Meanwhile, heat the deep-fat fryer to 170ËšC/325ËšF.

Place the plain flour in one bowl and the potato starch in another.

After marinating, dip the chicken one piece at a time in the plain flour and then dredge in the potato starch, fry 5-6 pieces at a time maintaining 170ËšC/325ËšF temperature and cook for a few minutes to light gold, reserve on to a wire rack and repeat with all the chicken pieces.

Increase the heat to 190ËšC/375ËšF and repeat to crisp all chicken and cook through to walnut brown. Drain again over a wire rack.

Season with salt or a seasoned salt (I like salt/cumin/Szechuan peppercorns).

Serve immediately with Kewpie mayonnaise, lemon wedges, shichimi togarashi.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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