Japanese Cooking 101: List of required ingredients and equipment

Food package from Japan (2)

The response to the Japanese Cooking 101 announcement has been very encouraging! I'm glad that so many of you want to learn about making Japanese food from scratch.

As promised, here is the list of required ingredients that I would like you to have ready for the course. Unfortunately most Japanese ingredients are rather expensive, but on the plus side this will form the nucleus of an authentic Japanese pantry after the course is finished, since we'll only be using a small amount of each.

The fresh ingredients needed will be announced before each lesson, but for this course I will be sticking to things that should be easily obtainable in most of the world, at any tme of the year, so you shouldn't have any problems there.

I've put together a section on my Amazon.com aStore that lists these ingredients. You don't have to buy them from Amazon of course, but you may find it useful to take a look anyway for a visual of the ingredients.

Basic pantry ingredients

1. A bag of Japanese style medium grain rice

This is available at Japanese grocery stores. Make sure you get "japonica" rice, not "sweet" rice or "mochi" rice. Rice listed as "sushi rice" is ok. For this course, please don't substitute other kinds of rice or it will defeat the purpose. (And we'll be using white rice rather than brown rice since that's the baseline.) These days Japanese style rice is grown in the U.S. (mainly in California, but also in places like Arkansas) as well as in Europe (Italy and Spain), and various parts of Asia. I've not bought any Asian-grown Japanese rice myself, but all the U.S. or Europe grown Japanese rice brands I've tried have been fine. Japanese-grown rice is quite expensive although it's really top quality.

In the U.S. two well known and well priced brands are Nishiki and Kokuho Rose. Of these to I personally prefer Nishiki. If you can afford it, Tamanishiki and Tamaki rices are better quality. I've listed different pack sizes of all three rices on the aStore page. The most frugal option is to get a 2.2 lb / 1 kg bag of Nishiki rice.

In the U.K. and Europe, rice types like Yumenishiki and Yutaka are grown in Spain and Italy. I've tried both, and slightly prefer Yumenishiki, which is now our everyday white rice. Japan Centre (who ship all over Europe) carries both, as well as several Japan-grown rices and Nishiki and Tamanishiki from the U.S.

2. A pack of microwaveable Japanese rice, such as Katokichi

Most Japanese grocery stores stock this in the rice section. They are small packs of rice that can just be heated up in the microwave for 2 minutes. One brand is Katokichi, but there are others. Again please refer to the aStore page for a visual. (By the way, I could only find a big pack of these on Amazon, but you don't need all of that for the course. They usually sell for around $1.50 or so each in stores. If you end up with extras though, they are really handy when you are too busy or lazy to cook your own rice.)

The reason why I'm requiring this is that I want to make sure that you know what Japanese rice should look and taste like when it's properly cooked. I don't really trust the quality of rice at every "Japanese" restaurant around - I've had some pretty awful rice at some - and believe it or not these microwaveable rice packs are pretty good quality.

3. Dried konbu seaweed (also known as dashi kelp)

Essentials for making dashi, which is the foundation for most savory Japanese dishes.

4. Katsuobushi (bonito flakes)

Another essential for making proper dashi stock. Don't bother with the tiny little 6-packs - that's meant to be used as a sprinkle on top of food. Get a bag filled with large, puffy flakes if at all possible. Again I refer you to the aStore page for a visual.

Alternative to 3 and 4: Dashi granules

If you cannot get either katsuobushi or konbu seaweed, dashi granules like Hon-dashi (an Ajinomoto brand) is better than nothing. Keep in mind that dashi granules have added salt, MSG and other things, so you will have to adjust your recipe accordingly.

5. Wakame seaweed

Used in soups and salads. You can usually just get the dried version, but if you're lucky enough to get the fresh, salted kind, let me know and I can tell you how to handle it.

6. Japanese brand soy sauce

The reason why I specify a Japanese brand is that soy sauce formulas differ a little from country to country. Two well known Japanese brands of soy sauce are Kikkoman and Yamasa. I prefer Yamasa but either is fine. A non-Japanese company that makes Japanese-style soy sauce is ok too.

7. Regular sake (preferred) or cooking sake

Sake is used in many Japanese dishes. I much prefer to use a regular sake, but if you can't get it using ryouri-shu or cooking sake is acceptable. Keep in mind that cooking sake has salt (and sometimes other things) added to it so you must adjust the salt in your dish accordingly.

Note: The question of substitutions for sake in cooking is addressed here.

8. Hon-mirin (aka real mirin, preferred) or Aji-mirin or mirin flavored seasoning

Hon-mirin is an alcoholic beverage that is used exclusively in cooking. Aji-mirin or mirin flavored seasoning is what it says - not real mirin, but fairly close, and containing less than 1% alcohol. Get hon-mirin if you can, but aji-mirin is acceptable.

Note: The question of substitutions for mirin in cooking is addressed here.

9. Rice vinegar

The standard vinegar used in Japanese cooking. Mild and slightly sweet.

10. White miso (shiro miso) or awase-miso (blended red and white miso)

Used for miso soup and a lot more. White miso is milder and less salty usually than red miso; blended miso is a great all-purpose miso. See Japanese Miso Primer for more about miso.

By the way, if you're in the UK or Europe Japan Centre carries a Japanese Cooking Essentials kit that contains everything you need for the course except for wakame seaweed, which you can just get separately. It has some other ingredients too which are handy for Japanese cooking. (Note: Japan Centre is an advertiser on Just Hungry, but I'm also a happy longtime customer.)


Besides these ingredients, there are a few pieces of equipment that I'd like you to have on hand:

1. A fine-mesh sieve or colander

By fine-mesh, I mean a steel wire mesh rather than the kind of colander that is made of a sheet of metal with holes punched through it. This is used for rinsing rice efficiently. Again, I've listed an example on the aStore page for reference.

2. A bowl large enough to fit the sieve over

Used for washing rice.

3. A large (10 inch / 25 cm or larger) frying pan with a tight fitting lid or a heavy-bottomed pan with a tight fitting lid, or a rice cooker

Any of these can be used for cooking rice. Please have at least one of them ready.

4. Another large frying pan

For frying something!

5. A couple of saucepans or pots

For boiling, making soup, and so on.

6. A soup ladle

The big kind you use for cooking, not a fancy little soup-tureen one.

7. A sharp kitchen knife

A regular chef's knife or santoku knife is fine; no need for a special Japanese one. You should also have a cutting board.

8. A pair of bamboo or wooden cooking chopsticks

This is not mandatory, but it's very handy to have around for all kinds of Asian cooking.

9. A rice paddle

Again, not mandatory, but handy to have.

10. A selection of small bowls and a smallish plate

For presenting your final complete Japanese meal. You certainly do not have to go out and get specialized Japanese dinnerware for this (unless you want to) - just use what you have.

So there you have it. If you have any questions let me know in the comments.

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