What’s the USP? This weighty 464-page volume is the latest in Phaidon’s series of ‘international cookbook bibles’ that have previously covered Mexico, Peru and China among other countries.
Who is the author? Californian Nancy Singleton Hachisu, a recognised authority on Japanese cooking both in America and Japan where she has lived for over thirty years
What does it look like? Three years in the making, the book contains over 400 recipes (many illustrated with clear and simple overhead photographs), organised into 15 categories including pickles, stir-fries and one pots, to create what Singleton Hachisu calls ‘a curated experience of Japan’s culinary framework from a specific moment in time’, researched during travels across the country and discussions with ‘chefs, local grandmothers and artisanal makers of traditional food’.
Is it good bedtime reading? As long as you’ve got strong arms, and be careful not to nod off reading about Jomon period of Japanese food history, if the 1.7kg book falls out of your hands it could do some serious damage.
Will I have trouble finding ingredients? You may struggle to track down some things such as konnyaku but between your local Asian supermarket and online specialists such as Sous Chef you should be able to source the majority of stuff you need.
What’s the faff factor? All the dishes are listed with a preparation time and cooking time so you know what you’re letting yourself in for, but many can be completed in under half an hour.
How often will I cook from the book? There is a huge range of recipes included in this veritable encyclopedia of Japanese food so you could easily find yourself dipping into it on a regular basis.
Killer recipes? The broad selection of dishes from across the country covers everything from walnut dressed chrysanthemum petals to steamed mountain yam with nori and grilled eggplant miso soup to chicken yakitori.
What will I love? A history of Japanese food, a glossary of ingredients, a list of Japanese kitchen equipment and descriptions of Japanese cutting styles (zakugiri are ‘greens cut crosswise into 4cm pieces’). The 11-strong international line-up featured in the ‘shefu’ (chefs) chapter include Shinobu Namae of two Michelin-starred L’Effervescenvce in Tokyo, whose recipes include bonito sashimi with butterbur miso and shiso, and Shuko Oda of Koya Bar in London who contributes three recipes including clams, fava beans and capers steamed in dashi butter.
What won’t I like? If you’re looking for an encyclopedia of sushi, sashimi and ramen, then Japan The cookbook will disappoint, with just seven sushi, three sashimi and one ramen recipe (although there is a whole chapter on noodles).
Should I buy it? Japanese food has become an everyday part of the British diet. From udon at Wagamama to ramen at Bone Daddies, from robata grilled lamb chops at Roka to the omakase tasting menu at the three Michelin-starred The Araki, Japanese cuisine has become so prevalent that there are now even sushi counters in supermarkets. Japanese ingredients and techniques have also become part of many progressive British kitchens with dashi becoming almost as common as chicken stock.
But even the most ardent Japanophile chef will probably only have scratched the surface of a food culture with a recorded history dating back to the third century. That’s where Japan The Cookbook comes in. This is the perfect primer for anyone wanting to deepen their knowledge of an endlessly fascinating subject.
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: 5 stars
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Japan: The Cookbook