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1. Takikomi Gohan
炊きこみ御飯

Seasoned Japanese Rice by Philip Wolfe

Takikomi Gohan, and a brief look at Gohan-mono 


Rice is often the unifying staple of many washoku meals, it is perhaps most essential in gohan-mono, literally meaning ‘rice dishes’. Rather than a bowl of steamed rice with a collection of sides, gohan-mono are completed, self contained dishes where the main ingredient is the rice itself. There are several categories of gohan-mono, the kind most familiar outside of Japan is undoubtedly sushi, but today we are going to look at Takikomi Gohan, a one-pot dish with a history dating back to the origins of what we might recognize as Washoku. 


Like sushi, steaming bowls of white rice arrive relatively late in the history of Japanese cuisine, and for much of their early history were seen as a luxury food. Rice cultivation is a labor intensive process, and cultures that adopted rice as a staple often built highly nutritious dishes around getting as much out of their precious rice as possible. One of these dishes is Takikomi Gohan meaning ‘rice cooked with something else’. Early versions of this dish began to appear during the Nara Period (710 to 794AD). As people started to gather in larger towns and cities it became increasingly difficult to grow and distribute the amounts of rice needed to feed the growing population. People started to mix rice with other grains like millet as well as vegetables, roots, and wild herbs. Overtime, this preparation born of necessity developed into a popular and easily customizable dish enjoyed all over Japan with many regional and seasonal variations. 


My favorite version of this dish uses gobo (burdock) as the primary flavor. The gobo perfumes the rice with an intoxicating earthy aroma that is both comforting and satisfying.  

Ingredients:


3 Cups Japanese short grain rice 

3 Cups Katsuo Dashi or Kombu Dashi  

4-5 Dried Shiitake  

1/2 Cup Shaved Burdock Root 

1/2 Cup Shaved Carrot 

1 Boneless Skinless Chicken Thigh (with fat removed)   

1 Sheet Abura-age 

2 Tbsp Shoyu 

2 Tbsp Mirin 

Mitsuba or Flat Leaf Parsley 



Preparation:


-Wash the rice thoroughly in cold water 3-5 times or until the discarded water looks almost clear, then soak the rice for 1 hour

-After soaking, drain the rice in a fine mesh strainer and allow to drain for 20 minutes (give it a gentle shake at 10 minutes to redistribute any trapped moisture)   

-Soak the dried shiitake in the dashi until they have fully rehydrated/softened 

Note: you may need to use a small dish to keep them submerged

-Set up a small bowl of water, then, working quickly, peel the burdock root, either with the back of your knife or with a peeler. Then shave/whittle the burdock root the way you would sharpen a pencil, turning and making shallow thin cuts. As you cut, place the cut pieces in the water to prevent them from browning  

-Repeat this cutting method with carrot (the water bowl is not needed for the carrot)

-Bring a small saucepan of water to rolling boil and cook the abura-age for about 30 seconds, then transfer the sheet to a clean paper towel on a cutting board and using another paper towel press as much of the excess water/oil out of the abura-age as possible

-Once the excess water/oil have been removed cut the abura-age in half lengthwise, then stack the pieces and slice into 1cm strips         

-Remove the now (hopefully) fully softened shiitake from the dashi and wring out as much of the liquid as possible back into the dashi 

-Cut off the stems from the shiitake just below the cap and then thinly slice the caps 

-After removing any large pieces of fat, cut the chicken thigh into small uniform pieces, size can vary based on preference and soak in the mirin and shoyu

-Pour the dashi back into a measuring cup, and add enough water (or dashi if you have it) to replace the amount soaked up by the shiitake (so you have 3 cups of liquid again)  



Building the Takikomi Gohan 


The final assembly of this dish is perhaps the most important step. Properly layering the ingredients will ensure that all the ingredients are cooked properly and remain distinct in the final dish.

-Place your soaked, and fully drained rice in the rice cooker 

-Pour dashi over the rice

-Pour in the remaining shoyu+mirin that the chicken has been marinading in and gently mix with the rice+dashi 

-Once the rice+liquids have settled you can start layering the remaining ingredients, make sure that each layer is evenly distributed across the surface of the rice (do not mix). Start with the chicken, then the burdock, then carrot, then shiitake, and finally abura-age 

-Now cook in your rice cooker like you normally would 

Note: This recipe can also be done stovetop in a regular pot but I find that this preparation cooks most evenly in a rice cooker 

-Once the rice is done, use your rice paddle to fold the ingredients together until the whole pot is mixed then close the rice cooker and allow to rest for 2 minutes, you can use this time to chop the mitsuba (or parsley) 

-To serve, simply place in a bowl and garnish with the mitsuba 


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-WR