Oshogatsu Osechi-ryori, Part II: Cooking

It’s 7:00pm on New Year’s eve, and while I suspect many of you are out partying the night away,  I’m finally ready to sit down for toshikoshi (span the year) soba. Long noodles represent long life in Japanese culture, and eating soba on New Years is considered auspicious. It’s also light and healthy, and the perfect way to end a long hard day of cooking.

OK, so back to my comment yesterday, about cooking each ingredient for iridori separately. Iridori is one of the staples of osechi-ryori. It’s a substantial, stick-to-your-ribs type of dish that happens to be less expensive than the other osechi dishes such as kazunoko, tai, and so forth. It’s also a savory dish that is only made during Oshogatsu, and therefore, people tend to eat alot of it.

iridori

Iridori consists of simmered root vegetables such as daikon, sato-imo, renkon (lotus root), takenoko (bamboo shoots), as well as konnyaku (devil’s tongue) and a little bit of chicken. Most published recipes call for cooking all the ingredients together in one big pot. While this is certainly easy, it’s not practical, nor does it result in the most flavorful dish.

I really like each ingredient to have its own flavor, color and texture. For instance; the subtle natural sweetness of carrot would be quickly overtaken by the musky richness and dark color of shiitake mushrooms when cooked together. Daikon takes alot longer to cook than, say, bamboo shoots, and konnyaku has virtually no taste of its own and requires a strong simmering sauce.

Thus, I’ve developed a method of cooking the lighter vegetables first, in dashi, sake and just a bit of mirin and salt (or soy sauce) and then using the resulting liquid to simmer other ingredients, moving to progessively heavier and/or bland ingredients. The result? Even though everything is mixed together at the end, each morsel is perfectly cooked and has its’ own unique flavor.

The iridori takes the most time, but other dishes, such as kuromame, are tricky and require careful attention, which is hard when so many pots are simmering away. Other dishes require careful knife techniques, but are really not as difficult as they seem, such as creating beautiful kiku (chrysanthemum) blossoms from kabu (turnips), or slicing razor-thin disks of renkon for sunomono.

Tomorrow is the big day, and I’ll get to my favorite part of the celebration: My reward, if you will: the art of moriawase (plating). I’ll get to use some newly purchases jubako (lacquer boxes) and antique ceramic plates, including a fantastic Kenzan dish!

Stay tuned!