Sunday 17 December 2017

Recipes: Brenda Costigan with a taste of Japan

A cook in Japan needs to be an artist with a sense of beauty, says Brenda Costigan, but attractive dishes such as beef teriyaki or vegetable tempura are easy to make at home

It is some years now since I heard Gay Byrne on his radio show, interviewing a Japanese girl, who was a student in Trinity College at that time.

During the interview, she described how her mother prepared her lunch box when she was going to school. Cooked rice would be the main ingredient, she explained, combined with leftovers from the previous evening’s meal. The important thing, she emphasised, was not the ingredients her mother put into the lunch box, but rather how she arranged the contents.

This possibly gives an insight into the attitude to food and cooking in Japan. A cook in Japan needs to be an artist with a sense of beauty. In Japanese cooking, colour combinations and the arrangement of dishes are of just as much importance as the actual preparation of the food. Classic table settings are so different to ours in the West, with exquisite porcelain dishes of various shapes, the finest lacquer, set on individual trays and, of course, diners sitting on cushions at low tables.

As with all fusion cuisine, many Japanese recipes have developed a Western twist. The combination of flavours is most attractive and the recipes do not take too long to prepare and cook.


The teriyaki sauce gives a rich and slightly sweet flavour to the beef. There are many variations of this recipe and the flavour can be as strong as you wish. It is rather nice to leave the beef in one piece when you’re cooking it and then cut it in fingers to serve along with rice and vegetables. If you prefer, the beef can be cut in strips and cooked, stir-fry style, with the vegetables.

You will need:

4 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon brown or white sugar

1 teaspoon crushed garlic

2.5cm (1in) root ginger, cut in chunks (for easy

removal later)

1 tablespoon sake or vodka

2 tablespoons of mirin (sweet rice wine for

cooking only)

2 x 225-275g (8-10oz) sirloin steaks

Approx 225g (8oz) mixed vegetables (eg

spring onion, mangetout, carrot sticks and

broccoli florets)

175g (6oz) long-grain or glutinous rice (as

used in Japan)

2 tablespoons corn oil for frying

To make the teriyaki sauce, in a saucepan, combine the soy sauce, the brown or white sugar, whichever you’re using, the crushed garlic, the chunks of root ginger, the sake or the vodka, whichever you are using, and the mirin. Bring to the boil. Then take the saucepan off the heat and allow to cool.

Pierce the steaks with a fork to allow the marinade to soak inside. Place the steaks in a dish and pour the marinadeover them, leaving them to marinate for 30 minutes, or, indeed, as long as you like. When you’re ready to serve the dish, cook the prepared mixed vegetables in boiling, salted water until they are just tender, then drain them and keep them warm. Cook the long-grain or glutinous rice, whichever you are using.

When you’re ready to cook the steaks, lift them out of the marinade, allowing any excess to drip off. Remove the root ginger from the marinade. Heat the corn oil in a pan and brown the marinated steaks on both sides, then pour the marinade over the steaks.

Cook the marinade with the meat until the steaks are cooked to your preferrred degree of doneness. Chop the steaks into strips, and serve with the cooked mixed vegetables and the rice, and spoon all the juices from the pan over the meat.


Tempura is a crisp batter, great with vegetables and fish. It is important that the water for the batter is ice-cold. This batter is made just before using, so have the vegetables ready. Though it’s not essential, you may prefer to par-cook some vegetables, such as cauliflower and broccoli, in boiling, salted water for a few minutes, before dipping them in the tempura batter. If you’re using onion, when you slice the onion, use a cocktail stick to keep the individual onion rings together. Once you have fried the onion rings you can remove the sticks. Serves 4.

You will need:

200g (7oz) flour

150g (5oz) cornflour

500g (18oz) mixed vegetables (eg cauliflower and/or broccoli florets, bite-sized chunks of red pepper, spring onions with long tails removed, onion rings

250ml iced water

1 egg yolk

2L (70fl oz) corn oil for frying

Flour for dusting

Dipping sauce (see below)

Mix together the flour and the cornflour for the batter. If you like, put them in a plastic bag and chill them in the freezer. Prepare the mixed vegetables. If you like, you can par-cook them first.Let them get cold. To make the batter, put the flour and cornflour mixture into a bowl and, using a fork, mix in the iced water and the egg yolk. The batter should not be too smooth — if anything, it should be slightly lumpy.

In a saucepan, heat the corn oil until it is hot enough (approx 180°C). To test: drop a teaspoon of batter in, it should rise to the surface almost immediately. Dip each prepared vegetable into the flour for dusting, shake off any excess and then dip the floured vegetable into the batter. To avoid overcrowding the pan, do the frying in batches, putting the fried items on sheets of kitchen paper.

Eat the cooked tempura vegetables as soon as possible and serve with the dipping sauce, below.

For the dipping sauce, you will need:

50ml (2fl oz) mirin

200ml (7fl oz) dashi (a type of Japanese stock)

50ml (2fl oz) soy sauce

2 teaspoons sugar

Put all the ingredients into a saucepan, bring them to a gentle simmer, then remove from the heat and allow to cool.


This recipe is adapted from the classic recipe from the famous Nobu restaurant. Serves 4-6 as a main course.

You will need:

2 egg yolks

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon rice vinegar

100ml (almost 4fl oz) grapeseed oil

2 teaspoons chilli garlic sauce (or use 1 small red chilli and 1 garlic clove, both crushed)

200ml (7fl oz) iced water

100g (almost 4oz) flour (chilled)

2L (70fl oz) corn oil for frying

700g (1½lb) shrimp, peeled

Lemon juice and chopped chives, to serve Make the sauce just as you would make mayonnaise. Whisk together one of the egg yolks, some salt and freshly ground black pepper, and the rice vinegar. Then, very gradually, whisk in the grapeseed oil. Just add a few drops at the start until it mixes in, then increase the amount of oil to a small drizzle. When all the grapeseed oil has been added, stir in the chilli garlic sauce or the crushed chilli and garlic, whichever you are using. Add more salt and freshly ground black pepper if required.

Make the batter by mixing together the remaining egg yolk, the iced water and the flour, using a fork. The batter should be slightly lumpy. In a saucepan, heat the corn oil until it is hot enough (approx 180°C). To test: drop a teaspoon of batter in, it should rise to the surface almost immediately. Dip the shrimp in the batter and gently place a few at a time into the hot oil. Fry the batter-covered shrimp until they are lightly golden — about two minutes — before lifting them out on to sheets of kitchen paper. Keep warm. When they are all ready, place the fried shrimps in a bowl and toss in the creamy, spicy sauce. Squeeze a little lemon juice over everything, scatter with some chopped chives and serve.


Soba noodles are made with buckwheat, but ordinary wheat noodles can be used. Serves 4-5.

You will need:

½ teaspoon sesame oil

2 tablespoons corn oil

2 tablespoons chilli paste or Thai red curry paste 2-3 garlic cloves, chopped

3-4 skinless, boneless chicken breast, cubed

100ml (almost 4fl oz) soy sauce

1 onion, cut in slices lengthwise

2 small bok choi, coarsely chopped (or ½ head of cabbage, finely shredded)

2 carrots, thinly sliced or cut in matchsticks

225g (8oz) soba noodles or wheat noodles, cooked, drained and kept warm

Using a large frying pan, heat the sesame oil, a tablespoon of the corn oil, and the chilli paste or Thai red curry paste, whichever you are using. Fry together for ½-1 minute, then add the chopped garlic. Add the cubes of chicken breast and half the soy sauce and fry, stirring the chicken breast chunks until they are cooked.

In a large saucepan, heat the remaining tablespoon of corn oil and fry the sliced onion, the chopped bok choi or chopped cabbage, whichever you are using, and the carrot matchsticks. When the bok choi or cabbage starts to wilt, add the remaining soy sauce. Add the chicken mixture to the vegetables and toss everything together.

If you like, add the cooked noodles to the vegetable and chicken mixture and toss everything together or, if you prefer, serve the noodles on plates and then pour the chicken and vegetable mixture over them. L

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