Yesterday, our family and friends gathered from near and far to celebrate Oshogatsu, the Japanese New Year. We spent the day in the most positive way we could, for we believe that what you do on New Years is carried forth for the rest of the year. Like the renkon (lotus root, a Buddhist symbol) below symbolizes, oshogatsu is a time for reflection.
My dad made his famous tai (sea bream) with uni (sea urchin) glaze, and my mom made ozoni, a chicken-stock based soup with vegetables and omochi (rice cakes). Our family never got into the traditional mochi-tsuki (rice pounding) ceremony, but knowing me, perhaps we will next year!
I bought a particularly large tai, known as the “king of fish”. My dad cut the flesh from each side into perfect diamonds while leaving the skeleton (head, fins and all) intact. He then roasted the salted skeleton in ample sea salt (the crusted salt looks particularly attractive). Then, he glazed the diamonds with his special sauce and roasted them separately. Finally, he arranged the morsels on the carcass for a dramatic presentation that was also easy to serve.
I was able to fill my Wajima lacquer jukabo with an array of colorful osechi morsels. From watching pros, I realized that the proper way to arrange the morsels was to tightly pack them, so that practically the entire meal fits into these compact boxes. I was finally able to find fresh yuzu, which I hollowed out and filled with bright red ikura (salmon roe). It was hard to coax our guests into “ruining” the arrangement, but I quickly replenished them as needed.
This is now my third year as head oshogatsu cook, and I’m starting to get the hang of it. I no longer have to look up the recipes, but cook in my usual style, by eye and tasting as I go. It was hard work, but fun, and most of all, I was able to spend the day with loved ones.
Savory Japan is now updated with three new osechi recipes: Tai with uni glaze, kuromame (sweet simmered soybeans) and iridori, the dish I wrote about in my previous post. These are a little more time consuming than the six that were included previously, but they’re well worth the effort.
Wishing you a happy, healthy and prosperous 2010!