Sea salt making in Japan

For a long time, I was interested in how natural salt was made.

Salt brings the original taste of ingredients in cooking.  Salt is such a basic basic seasoning, but quite important seasoning !!

Rock salt is most popular salt in the world (Apparently, 60% of salt is rock salt),  but not in Japan. There are no rock salt or salt lakes in Japan, but Japan is surrounded by seas, so sea salt was made and used in Japan for a long time. That is the reason I believe sea salt is the best much for Japanese cooking and Japanese preserved/fermentation foods!

However, Japanese salt making process was not easy like other countries.  Japanese weather is not great for salt making.  Rain. Humid. These element doesn’t help for salt making. Fortunately (in this case, I probably should say unfortunately) it rains a lot in Japan, therefore Japan is called Water country.

 

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Its geographic doesn’t help either. More mountain area, compare to flat area. (About 75% of Japanese land is mountain area) Well, that’s why many Tanada  (photo above) can be seen in Japan to use mountain surfaces for farming, especially for rice production, to get land as much as possible (Stunning and beautiful though!!)  But beautiful Tanada can’t be used for salt making. Therefore,  making sun dried salt in a big saltpan/salt field wasn’t a reasonable way to make salt in Japan. we needed to came up with various ideas and probably some inventions to make natural sea salt in Japan. Come up with the ideas and tried new methods were the Japanese salt making history.

 

Here in Itoshima/Fukuoka, there are salt making studio which makes premium sea salt – Mataichi Salt またいちの塩.  For sea salt, ingredient is only sea water. How clear it is, how rich it is, environment around this area, speed of sea water circulation and so on…lots of condition are considered.

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Mataichi salt believes that Itoshima peninsula covers all of these conditions, and provide  strong umami sea water which contains richness from seaweeds.

The view on the way to Mataichi was just amazing.

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People put a lot of effort to make sea salt in Japan and still is! Here in Mataichi, they built this bamboo tower to reduce moisture from seawater, right next to the sea side. This is one of their invention!

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After reduced moisture (depends on the weather condition, but 10 days  to a month until the saltiness of the water become 9-10%), then bring these water to inside, and start heating with recycle woods.

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This is how sea water is changed to sea salt. Slowly slowly.

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Mr. Nagatomo, who is the salt maker at Mataichi told me that salt making here is really interesting, because it is all manual, not automatic. Human power  and intuition are quite involved.

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Using recycled woods makes fire control more difficult, but it makes more interesting. The recycle woods came from housing materials, so sometimes they are pine, sometimes they are cedar, all different woods, which have different character. For example pine contains more oils than other woods so when you put pine into the stove, fire become very strong all of sudden, but it doesn’t last that long as fuel….  It was so good to see happy enjoying salt maker.  Just love to see all manual process!  Their love and passion in there!

For the first 2 days after start firing, they want to keep 60 degrees. They don’t just boil sea water. This is the technique to make salt with Umami.  The salt makes food yummy. What their pursue is to make salt which helps the ingredients to be used to the fullest to make the dish delicious. There is philosophy there.

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It is amazing location. People who visited this salt making studio can take advantage of this location while eating some of their cafe menu.  Just come here with your favourite book and enjoy reading and view at the same time, then when you become hungry, get some food and drink! What a precious weekend would be!!

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There are several options apart from coffee and healthy drinks, but apparently this salt pudding is the most famous one!

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Also, you can taste their 2 different type of salt, Takishio (left) and Yakishio (right).  Right Yakishio is roasted salt. which was one more steps from Takishio. Depend on the dishes, you can use separately.

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Also,  you can try salt making in this studio ( or just tour is available)  if you like.

After visiting Mataichi, Now I want to make Tofu with their Nigari.  Enjoy cooking x  (Oh! Tofu making workshop is coming  soon when I back to Melbourne x)

 

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Visiting a Soy sauce brewer in Shodoshima

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There are VERY important Soy sauce brewer in Shodoshima/Kagawa. It’s Yamaroku soy sauce. I visited their descendant in the fifth generation, Mr. Yamamoto.

Soy sauce island – Shodoshima

Shodoshima is a island in Seto inland sea, where is famous for making soy sauce.
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What is great about Shodoshima’s soy sauce is they are made by traditional method, and more importantly, they are mostly made in wooden barrels.  Apparently, ONLY 1 % of all Japan made soy sauce is brewed in wooden barrel. Only 1 %!!  I believe soy sauce made in wooden barrel by traditional method is the real soy sauce, but these soy sauce is so precious nowadays. But still, there are some artisan who puts effort to make real soy sauce. In Shodoshima, you can find these people.  1/3 of the 1% of Japanese wooden barrel made soy sauce is from Shodoshima!!

Bacteria lives in mud walls and wooden barrels
In Yamaroku soy sauce, visiter can enter the special room, which is registered tangible cultural property. This is the room to ferment the base of soy sauce.  The liquid before squeezing called Moromi, so accurately, it is “Moromi room”.

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There are not many soy sauce brewers allow us to be in the Moromi room. However, here in  Yamakuro, kindly, they let us in! Very lucky to see, hear and smell them directly. So precious moment!! In Yamaroku, there are 60 wooden barrels and wall of this Moromi room is old mud wall. This is the treasure of Yamaroku, bacteria live in these places, and works for soy sauce. This is the secret of making yummy soy sauce.

Can you see the stick? (bit dark!)  The Soy sauce master stands on this floor, and mix soy sauce with this long stick.

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This barrel is 150 years old.  Over these periods, lots of different kinds of bacteria has been lived in the barrel, and helped to make unique soy sauce. (According to Yamakuro, more than 100 different type of bacteria!! That’s just amazing!!)

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This is sort of squeezing soy sauce machine, but actually they don’t squeeze. They just let soy sauce to come out from the bag, just using gravity to make clear taste soy sauce.

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The passion! The love! The sense of mission!

The Mr. Yamamoto has a strong determination which I really respect (and almost made me cry!).  Wooden barres last about 200 years. In Yamaroku, most of wooden barrels are 100-150 years old. That means, they can keep making real soy sauce for next 50 years, but not anymore – not to the his grandkid generation. He felt a sense of crisis. He thought this was the real problem. His determination is to remain REAL soy sauce made with cedar wooden barrel to his kids & grandkids generation, and so he decided to to become an artisan to make wooden barrels as well as being real soy sauce brewer. He thought it might be reckless, but nothing can be achieved without trying. Then he launched the project called “Revive wooden barrel artisan project” since 2012.

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Japan is facing serious situation.  In spite of wooden barrels are the best and perfect fermentation container as bacteria can live in the wood, obviously we are loosing this wonderful proper fermentation culture as you can understand that only 1% of Japanese soy sauce production is made with wooden barrel. It resulted into the situation that only one company remains in Japan who can make big wooden barrels! And sadly, this company will close their business in 3 years.  If we don’t learn from him now, we have absolutely nobody who can make these beautiful and important tools anymore, which means no chance to order big wooden barrels anywhere in the Japan, probably in the world. That is the reason which made Mr. Yamamoto moves urgently.  He thought ” I have to try this NOW”.

Check his project in this video!

 

He started a new career as a wooden barrel artisan, and Mr. Yamamoto and his project keep making 3 – 4 barrels every year since then. Some barrels stayed in Yamaroku, some delivered to other soy sauce brewers. (One is in Milan, Italy!!)   I really appreciate his decision and effort. There are more important thing than efficiency.  I don’t think it is too much to say that he saved Japanese fermentation culture. Hope more brewers use wooden barrel to make real soy sauce!

If you ever come to Seto inland sea, (I know many people visit Naoshima or Setouchi Triennale), I recommend to visit this Yamaroku Soy sauce brewer in Shodoshima! Check their Moromi room and taste these yummy ice cream and pudding with soy sauce!! (Amazingly, It really works)
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Of course, you can purchase their real soy sauce! Two types.

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Best wishes to brave Mr. Yamamoto and Yamaroku soy sauce brewer.

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Summer drink – Shiso Juice making 2017

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One of the seasonal drink, and this is definitely summer drink in our family. We make this juice every year, normally after making Umeboshi (because we need good red shiso for Umeboshi making) and enjoy this drink all through the summer.

This is called Shisho juice (Shiso = perilla) or Shisho drink. As you know there are red Shisho and green Shiso, but we only use red Shiso for this juice.  This is amazingly refreshing juice and I really like its colour.  It is expected many benefits such as helping to recover from exhaustion, helping digestion, detoxing, helping anti-ageing and more!!

Very easy to make!
What we make here is concentrate. When you drink, pour some water or fizzy water and make perfect taste you like! Here is my family recipe, but basically no rule!

Ingredients
Water            2L
Red Shiso     300g ~  (more is totally OK!)
Vinegar        400cc  (or 3-4 lemons / citric acid 20g)
Sugar            500g

First wash Red Shiso leaves.
We grow our own Shio leaves at the little farm, so this is freshly harvested from there! Yes, Organic Shiso leaves.  If you want to buy Shiso leaves from shops, try Asian grocery stores.  They have Shiso leaven when it is season.
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Then, put them into boiling water pot.
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Stir gently. Soon the water colour become dark purple.
Then take leaves out from the pot.
Check if the leaves become green. If all the red pigment moved into the water, then Shisho leaves looks green. Not red anymore.
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Now, the water colour is like this! Not yet nice colour.
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Add vinegar and sugar. We use rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar. But other vinegar might work, just try it! (Probably balsamic vinegar won’t work though…) After you add vinegar, see the colour of the liquid! Love this moment! It become elegant colour. And I’m sure you are enjoying its smell already.
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That’s it! Done! Super easy.

Pour into jar when it is still hot. Keep it in the fridge, it will last 1 year.  In case of my family, it doesn’t last that long, because we drink so much during summer and finish them all by the time autumn starts.
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For somebody who works outside during summer, this would be great drink. It will give you the energy for next day, and it really heals your tiredness!! You will love it!!

Although sometimes we find Ume juice (plum juice) at the cafes or festival, we don’t find this Shiso juice so often at the cafe or restaurant. for some reason.  (I only found once in a small cafe in Tokyo! I was so happy to see this pink juice in the menu, so of course I ordered one. The cafe menu said “Summer special drink” :-)).
Probably this is the drink we make at home for family’s wellbeing.

Hope you had a nice summer xx
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DASHI – Base of Japanese cooking

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People often ask me how to make miso soup and continue “Just pour hot water onto miso paste”?

My answer is “No- not quite”
Missing DASHI (and Gu – which means some ingredients to add, such as vegetables)!

For those who have cooked Japanese food before, probably know how important DASHI is in Japanese cuisine.

Simple easy explanation of DASHI is… clear broth or soup stock from either fish, vegetable, seaweed or combination of these.

However,  there is a very interesting deep world of DASHI, and it expands Japanese food culture!!  DASHI is base of Japanese food. Base of Umami comes with beautiful aroma.

I was in Kumamoto/Japan, and visited Ms Hayashi, representative of Yamaichi – DASHI company (specialised Kezuribushi, shaved dried fish) and learnt more about DASHI.

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Leaning about difference of each fish DASHI, the purpose of using specific DASHI. How you can blend these DASHI… so interesting.

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Here is the today’s 4 type of DASHI. (There are heaps more options!!)

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From the front pot, dried sardine flakes, dried mackerel flakes, dried bonito flakes and Rausu kombu. To make easy fish flake DASHI,  put some flakes in the pot and pour hot water. Not 100 degree, around 80-85 degree. Same as green tea, easy to remember. That’s all. How easy way to make DASHI.

Taste each DASHI, all different characteristic. Colour is different, aroma is different!  Taste of course different.

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What amazed me was… when you blend these DASHI.
It is not 1+1=2. 1+1=4? 5? The flavour expand so much by blending. Chemical reaction works in really good way.  Amazing.

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For example, Kombu-DASHI 1 : Bonito DASHI 2 (Ratio)
Very elegant and gentle. But much better than single DASHI. This DASHI is good for simple DASHI soup, thin noodle, with boiled vegetables, savoury egg pudding, with rice etc.

Add half mackerel DASHI (1/2) to the above (Kombu : Bonito = 1:2)
Ohh, more familier flavour. This is perfect for Soba noodle!!
When you make soba noodle soup with this DASHI (make it cold!), this DASHI is full body, but doesn’t disturb Soba-buckwheat aroma when you eat. So you can simply enjoy soba itself! What a perfect balance. Then, when you finish eating soba noodle, then you can pour Sobayu into your soup cup. Sobayu-is soba boiled water. Soba has many nutrition such as fiber, Vitamin B1, B2, protein, Rutin. They are water‐soluble so you can perfectly take all of soba’s nutrition by drinking Sobayu! Normally Sobayu is hot. When you pour this hot Sobayu into your cup, then all of sudden, you can smell beautiful aroma from noodle soup with DASHI!! DASHI’s aroma stands out when it is hot (with steam). So make sense. Enjoy soba’s aroma with soup’s umami first, then with Sobayu, you can enjoy DASHI’s aroma. I love this DASHI’s moderate attitude.

Back to DASHI.
Add quoter of sardine’s DASHI to above (Konbu 1 : Bonito 2 : Mackerel 1.5).
Well balanced strong DASHI now. Umami, Aroma, both strong.
This DASHI is perfect for Udon noodle. Also for hot pot, Oden, stew etc.

 

Shaving bonito block. To make these block of fish, takes 1 month – it is a fermentation process.  Yes, real bonito flakes are fermentation food. Although, there are not fermented bonito flake. Price will tell.

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You can adjust the blade to make thin flakes to thick flakes.
Just for safety reason, wear the glove.

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It’s pretty hard. Do you know that proper bonito block is the hardest food in the world? It is harder than crystals! Just little bit softer than diamond 🙂

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And making fresh DAShi. Proper way!
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What a beautiful colour! Clear-golden. The room is full of aroma!!  Happy aroma. This aroma makes people (at least Japanese) at rest, relaxed, satisfied and calm. This is the aroma we want to smell when we get home (Hopefully when we open the door!).

Taste comparison. 1- DASHi without squeezing flakes. 2- DASHI with squeezing flakes. I’ve never compared these but it really tastes different!
1 is very very elegant clear flavour. Taste fancy.
2 is…taste little bit sourness in the soup. A bit country flavour. Still yummy though.

They are different, but for home cooking, I think 2 is totally fine. You get more soup! (cost performance ◎)  1 is taste of fancy restaurant. So when you want to make something special, we can use 1.

At the super market, there are many instant powder to make soup (they call it Dashi), but it is just so different thing. Specially aroma. Natural flavour ummai and beautiful aroma makes our life so satisfying. DASHI is so important and so base of Japanese food. Why don’t we make real DASHI, not fake? Making Dashi is not difficult at all and I will guarantee it aroma makes you satisfying.

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Thank you Ms. Hayashi to share interesting world of DASHI.

Dear vegetarian, I know many yummy vegetable DASHI, I would like to share them in the future post x

Garlic soy

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This is so useful thing to have in your kitchen for your cooking.
So simple. So yummy. Amazing aroma.

What you need is only Soy sauce (or Tamari) and garlic cloves!
Peel garlic skin and drop peeled garlic cloves into the soy pot.

That’s it.
Then pure Soy sauce become garlic soy.

Int the soy pot, garlic clove become like this – very black after while.
You can use this clove for your cooking as well. (sumer yummy)
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If you smell this garlic soy, I’m sure you will come up with lot’s of ideas what you want to cook with it. Really beautiful aroma. It stimulates your appetite.

For example, this is what I ate today.
I wanted to make something very quick but yummy. Kind of healthy but not too light.

Umeboshi pasta with garlic soy
Ingredients
Pasta (wholemeal)
Umeboshi
Tuna
and Garlic soy

I use genuine Umeboshi, which I made with my mom.
Wanna know more? about Umeboshi making? ->Making Umeboshi.
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While you are cooking pasta, make Umeboshi into paste using knife.
Mix with cooked pasta and add tuna.
Pour garlic soy at the end and mix. That’s it!

If you have greens from the garden, nice to add.
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Also, if you have seaweed in your pantry, cut them thin and use them as a garnish.
It makes this pasta all of sudden Japanese flavour.
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Hope you enjoy garlic soy x

Soy sauce making workshop

Soy sauce making workshop
I am very happy to run this Soy sauce making workshop this winter!!

May 28, 2017 (Sun) 10:00-12:30 / 14:00-16:30
June 3, 2017   (Sat)  10:00-12:30 / 14:00-16:30

I believe making (fermenting) these important condiment at home is a wonderful thing and very happy to share these technique with you!
In this workshop, we will use all Australian organic ingredients and start brewing your OWN soy sauce in Japanese traditional way.

It will be a exciting project for you! You will get high quality soy sauce which you can never purchase from supermarket!!

Just a allergic information. We use SPELT grain in this workshop.
For those who have trouble having spelt, please wait for Tamari workshop, which might been run in the future x

Please book through Contact page and let me know your requested date and time.
Looking forward to seeing you soon xx

Wooden barrel for Miso

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This is my lovely wooden barrel.
Beautifully made by artisan.
The joint is amazingly made.

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This miso (Brown rice miso) is just made (mixed), so the colour is light.
Over a year in this wooden barrel, it ferments nice and gently.

Surface is sealed with this bees wax wrap.

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After that, all we do is wait for the Miso to mature in this wooden barrel.

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I just love this handsome look.