Success in the kitchen, like most things in life, usually starts with prior planning and preparation - what ingredients you’ll need, how you’ll be preparing them, and about how long it will take to cook. And to accomplish this you need the right tools for the job.
Generally speaking, a sharp knife, a cutting board, a few quality pots and pans, and some mixing bowls are the essential tools for any kitchen, along with some dining ware of course. These tools should allow you to prep and cook most dishes just fine, and Japanese cooking is no different.
When you begin to venture deeper into the world ofwashoku(Japanese cuisine), however, you might want to expand from the basics ofany kitchen and into the essentials of a Japanese kitchen.
Here are some of the tools you might look to add to your toolkit and some of the ways they can make your cooking process a little more efficient.
From long, thinyanagiba sushi and sashimi knives, to the massivemaguro bōchōused for breaking down whole bluefin tuna, the world of Japanese knives is seemingly endless. There are knives made for specific tasks like cuttingsobaand butcheringeel, but also multipurpose knives for everyday use.
One style of all-purpose knife favored by most home chefs is thesantoku. Its name rough means “three-uses,” and true to this, it works well for meat, vegetables, and fish. It has a flatter blade profile than the traditional western chef’s knife with a slight curve at the tip.
For a more traditional single-bevel Japanese knife, you might look to theusuba, or it’s cousin thekama usuba from theKansai region. It is a thin rectangular knife great for prepping vegetables.
It’s well known that rice is a central component to traditional Japanese cuisine. And although consumption of rice in Japan has dropped in the last decade, rice cookers are still a staple of most homes. As such, the rice cookers available in Japan are held to a very high standard. They need to produce consistently perfect rice every time, and so the science behind engineering them is rather astounding.
There’s no need to shell out the $500 for a top-of-the-line model that let’s you program what type of rice you’re cooking, troubleshoot it after every use, and connect it to your Amazon account to reorder rice when it knows you’re running low. A decent one will still have the science behind it to cook perfect rice every time. And many of them have other built-in functions as well, making them a versatile tool in the kitchen.
Different than regular dining chopsticks, cooking chopsticks are much longer and generally made from unlacquered wood, allowing them to be used in a variety of applications, from cooking up sometamagoyaki to fishing out a singlesobanoodle to check its doneness to deep fryingtempura. Once you switch from your old spatula to the dexterous cooking chopsticks, there’ll be no going back.
Mortars, Pestles, and Graters
When getting intowashoku, you may notice that some recipes call for grated ginger ordaikon, or ground-up sesame seeds. That’s where theoroshigane andsuribashicome in. Oroshigane is a flat grater with very fine teeth, which produces a much finer paste than Western-style graters do. There are even some that are made from wood and covered in sharkskin, used insushirestaurants to gratewasabi.
Different than the mortar and pestle you might be used to, suribashi are earthenware bowls with a ridged pattern, known askushi no me, carved into the inside of the bowl to help the grating process. Besides grinding sesame seeds, it is also used to make fish and shrimp paste as well as mixingmiso-based sauces.
Donabe and a Few Accessories
Another essential item in a Japanese kitchen is adonabe, a traditional earthenware pot. This pot is an everyday workhorse, cooking everything from rice to long simmering stews. Like a cast-iron skillet, it needs regular care and attention, but can last for decades if maintained properly. One caveat is that they can’t be used on electric cooktops. You’ll need a gas stovetop or need to invest in a portable one. But that investment will pay off!
A few final accessories to help round out yourwashoku kitchen are a set of strainers, one for noodles and one formiso, and anotoshibuta, or drop lid. The strainers can come in different shapes and sizes, but there is one made specifically for addingmiso, which has a vertical handle and a deep metal mesh, perfect for lowering into a pot and stirring around with your new cooking chopsticks. And otoshibuta is just a multipurpose tool either made from metal or wood that sits atop ingredients to keep them submerged while they cook.
While the list can go on, these were a handful of some tools to help start yourwashoku kitchen collection. Hopefully you find one or two that help make the time you spend cooking (and eating) more enjoyable!
About the author: The spark that lit Kevin Kilcoyne’s interest in Japanese culture began in elementary school through a friendship with his then classmate Keisuke. Since then, that passion has evolved and bloomed to encompass more than just video games and manga, leading Kevin to live in Japan as a participant of the JET program. During his time in Japan, Kevin sought out as many foods as he could, the experiences and taste memories lingering long after they had gone. Now he is forging a path to link his passions for Japanese food, history, and visual culture and is planning for his return to live in Japan once again. For now, you can find Kevin on Instagram (@waruishouten) where he posts his photography and illustration work. Keep an eye out for more posts and updates as Kevin delves more deeply into his passions for writing and food!
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