A Cook’s Journey to Japan by Sarah Marx Feldner [good books]

  • Full Title : A Cook’s Journey to Japan: Fish Tales and Rice Paddies 100 Homestyle Recipes from Japanese Kitchens
  • Autor: Sarah Marx Feldner
  • Print Length: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Tuttle Publishing; Hardcover with Jacket edition
  • Publication Date: April 30, 2010
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 480531298X
  • ISBN-13: 978-4805310113
  • Download File Format: pdf, epub


A Cook’s Journey to Japan is a marvelous collection of recipes based on one woman’s journey through the simple, yet evocative, everyday foods found across Japan. This heartwarming—and hunger-inducing—book recounts the author’s journey through Japan as she gathered recipes from everyday Japanese people—from wives, husbands, mothers and fathers to innkeepers and line cooks at cafés. The recipes are adapted when necessary to capture the authentic flavors and spirit of simple but delicious home cooking.

A Cook’s Journey to Japan is a lovely introduction to the authentic foods eaten by everyday Japanese people.


From Publishers Weekly

Feldner, a food enthusiast and Japanophile, offers an intimate and colorful guide to traditional Japanese home cooking in this unique and attractive collection. Focusing on recipes collected from a wide swath of life, from grandmothers to waitresses to fishermen, she highlights often overlooked techniques and ingredients. Most recipes are prefaced by a short story about the individual who shared it, offering glimpses into Japanese culture as well as cuisine. Feldner also offers a short tutorial on cooking tools, a section on techniques, including grating wasabi and pressing tofu, and a particularly helpful guide to essential Japanese ingredients such as burdock and dashi. Recipes are homey and mostly uncomplicated, ranging from pork and leek miso soup and sesame fried chicken to salmon teriyaki and spicy pan-seared eggplant. Desserts and drinks are also well represented, with oolong tea chiffon cake, sugar bread sticks, and gingerade. Feldner also includes a section on the basics, such as stocks and various types of rice. Entertaining, with striking full color photographs throughout, this book shows that Japanese home cooking is more than sushi and noodles, providing new perspective on everyday Japanese home fare. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“A charming, accessible introduction to Japanese home cooking.” -The New York Times Book Review

“This inviting book is the warmest introduction to Japanese cuisine you could hope to find. Sarah Marx Feldner worked in Japan as an English teacher, but it was the country’s food (everyday home-cooked fare, in particular) that captured her attention. Here, she shares her discoveries through charming stories and 100 appealing recipes, such as Crispy Rice Snacks, Soy-Glazed Chicken Wings, Braised Spare Ribs, and Cold Sesame Noodle Salad. Each hunger-inducing recipe is thoughtfully written and most are tantalizingly photographed. And nothing seems too foreign or difficult, which was Feldner’s goal. She hoped readers would say, “I can make that!” And you will.”—Fine Cooking

“Filled with step-by-step photos to help novices master essential skills, A Cook’s Journey to Japan will give readers the courage to try new recipes. Classic dishes include tori karaage (Japanese-style fried chicken), age-dashi dofu (deep-fried tofu), and tonjiru (pork miso soup). But it’s the nontraditional recipes that really catch the eye, like Japanese “cocktail peanuts” (nuts baked in a sweet miso coating), gingerfried soybeans and daikon salad with a spicy karashi-mentaiko dressing. A Cook’s Journey to Japan gathers some of the country’s best recipes, and will be a treat for anyone looking to expand their repertoire of Japanese cuisine.”—Metropolis

“For us, most really good cookbooks are characterized as much by a sense of place and personality as by their recipes. A Cook’s Journey to Japan has all three.”—Ochef.com

“[The book] welcomes us in with a trove of recipes including Udon Soup with Chicken Meatballs and Japanese-Style Vegetable Gratin, which Feldner collected from everyday people she met in her travels. The recipes are set with the gorgeous illustrative photographs of Noboru Murata. And the forward is by Japanese cooking authority Elizabeth Andoh, who was one of Feldner’s mentors.”—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“In this excellent compilation of traditional and contemporary Japanese cooking, Feldner (senior editor, www.tasteofhome.com) focuses on certain regional specialties like Oyaki (vegetable-stuffed rolls) to reveal the diversity within Japanese cuisine. As Feldner points out, Japan is a small country with extremely different terrains, leading to distinct regional cooking styles. Her extensive travels throughout the lesser-known areas of Japan shine through in her distinctive recipes. Murata’s fine photography is both beautiful and useful—many recipes feature a step-by-step photo guide of the preparation. The beginning of the book is an outstanding primer on ingredients and cooking tools that are distinctly Japanese. Verdict: This gorgeous, original, and easy-to-use cookbook is recommended for all levels of experience and for palates that are open to new and varied flavors.”—Library Journal



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Instant Watermelon Rind Pickle

Red Cabbage Kimchi

Lime Pickles

Pickled Chorizo


Preserved Lemons

Cryo-Blanched Asparagus


Onion Glass

Rhubarb Ribbons


Cold-Smoked Fried Chicken

Hot-Smoked Mussels

Smoked Pasta Dough

Sweet and Sour Eggplant

Smoked Condiments


A little bit of salt makes food taste good. We have taste buds geared specifically for the flavor of sodium chloride, or table salt, because, in small quantities, it is essential for the proper functioning of our bodies. It regulates muscle contractions and fluid balance, carries nutrients to our cells, helps keep minerals soluble in the blood, is essential to digestion, and is a vital ingredient in blood plasma. Too much salt can be detrimental, but then again, too much of anything can have negative repercussions. In proper doses salt makes the world a tastier place.

Interestingly, as we have become more diligent about recording our recipes, we have noticed that our personal salt concentrations are very stable. Across the board, regardless of the recipe, we tend to season our food at a level of 0.5 percent of the weight of what we are cooking. There are a few exceptions where the level creeps up to 0.75 percent or down to 0.4 percent, but generally speaking, our palates are amazingly consistent. Now that we know this, when creating recipes we can calculate the necessary salt content based on the total weight of the ingredients, and we hit the bull’s-eye every time.

Sodium chloride is what we all keep in our saltcellar. It is available in many forms, from sea salts of varying textures and hues to large granules of kosher salt, iodized crystals, and pickling salt. Sea salts also contain trace amounts of various minerals and impurities that give them their attractive colors and textures. Manufactured table salts often include anticaking ingredients and iodine. Whether or not you can actually taste different flavors in the different salts is a topic for debate. We believe that perception is 90 percent of reality, and since each salt is a totally different experience, it stands to reason that they are perceived differently, no matter what the scientists may tell us.

Salts are created when acids and bases react with one another. A transformation occurs when there is a partial or total replacement of a negatively charged atom with a positively charged metal atom, resulting in sodium. In nature, sodium hydroxide and hydrochloric acid react with one another to produce sodium chloride and water. The two main sources for salt are evaporated seawater and mineral deposits. Once the raw salt is obtained it is purified and refined before being sold to the general public. Salt has a cubic crystalline structure. In its pure form, it is water soluble and crystal clear. It has a characteristic flavor and no odor. Salt is known for enhancing sweetness and minimizing bitter flavors.

We use fine sea salt for seasoning proteins and vegetables. It appeals to us because it has a clean flavor free from chemicals and allows for consistency in our cooking. Its fine, delicate texture disperses quickly over ingredients for an even distribution. The salt’s fine grain is extremely useful when seasoning salads and delicate greens because it is small enough to coat ingredients evenly and add the flavor we are looking for—to ensure consistent seasoning on every level. It’s the perfect supporting player, enabling everything around it to shine in the spotlight.

We also use several finishing salts: fleur de sel, sel de Guérande, Hawaiian black and red salts, and our own homemade flavored salts. They give us a wide range of textures and underlying flavor notes. Fleur de sel, or “the flower of the sea,” adds a delicate crunch to vegetable ragouts, foie gras au torchon, raw tuna, chocolates, and caramel. Sel de Guérande is a coarser, heartier salt. It is a salt with moxie. It has a larger mineral content and its petite pebbly structure guarantees that it gets noticed. Roasted and braised meats and fish, whole roasted vegetables, and confit potatoes benefit from the textures and flavors of sel de Guérande. Other salts we use are dish specific—from a fish or vegetable carpaccio to a particular foie gras or offal preparation. A variety of salts is like a painter’s palette, and we enjoy playing with them.

Salt has many different roles in the kitchen. Salt in high concentrations is considered a preservative for meat and fish because it inhibits the growth of microorganisms and curtails the activity of the enzymes in the meat. At lower concentrations, salt increases the solubility of muscle proteins in water. In processed-meat applications, like charcuterie, this characteristic combines with salt’s water-binding capabilities to form a stable emulsion of muscle fibers, proteins, and moisture. Salt inhibits fermentation and is well known for its negative interaction with yeast. Salt in bread dough strengthens the gluten bond and enhances browning during baking by reducing the breakdown of sugars.

Above and beyond all of these things, salt is important because it makes food taste good. At smaller concentrations it makes food taste more like itself. Of course, if you cross that line into overseasoning, food begins to taste like salt. It becomes minerally and sharp on the tongue to the point of being unpleasant to eat. It’s as if our bodies know when a certain threshold has been reached and react accordingly to keep us from overdoing our intake.

In fact, the many varieties of salt have sparked our own interest in infusing salts. For our infused or flavored salts, we use fleur de sel for its texture and porous nature, which absorbs well and gently carries individual flavors. Our first flavored salt—now a standby—came about by an abundance of herbs gone to flower in our garden in Maine. We harvested and dried the flowers and then sifted them through a fine sieve to capture just the pollen—an intense focused essence of the herbs. Somehow combining all of the different herbs allowed them to fuse into one harmonious entity. We mixed the pollens with the salt and its intense aroma and flavor enabled us to taste the bounty of our garden all year long. We use it mostly as a finishing salt. It is wonderful with fish or vegetables that have been gently cooked and would benefit from the intense herbal accent. While this was our first flavored salt, we have since expanded our repertoire. Next we began smoking salt, again for an intense, focused delivery of the smoke flavor when applied to certain ingredients. Since then we have incorporated spices, citrus zests, mushroom powder, and even honey powder in our seasoned salts. Salt is important because it enhances the natural flavor of food. Our seasoned salts add more layers instead of simply disappearing into the background.




We love the balance of salt, sugar, and pepper with the intense savory flavor of meat. Although we dubbed this Beef Seasoning, we use it on anything and everything, from hot smoked salmon to grilled eggplant, when we feel it’s appropriate. It’s a wonderfully balanced seasoning that brings out the inherent savoriness in food. We’re not afraid to substitute different peppers either. Togarishi, a Japanese pepper blend, hot smoked paprika, green chile powder, and harissa powder can add subtle nuances to the finished blend. What’s important when choosing your pepper is making sure it’s one you feel passionate about.

2 tablespoons/27 grams packed light brown sugar

1 tablespoon/18 grams fine sea salt

¼ teaspoon/0.5 gram cayenne pepper

Blend the sugar, salt, and cayenne together. Use immediately or store in a lidded container.



Vanilla salt can add that mysterious sweet note that gives depth to many dishes without any actual sweetness. Its floral, fragrant aroma teases you into expecting sweetness and its deep flavor adds nuance to the background notes of a dish. We enjoy pairing it with fish, root vegetables, and other inherently sweet ingredients because this aromatic salt helps enhance their natural sweetness. Sometimes the flavor of vanilla can be overpowering and adding it this way can be just the right touch. We also use it for sweet preparations—for example, as a finishing salt for caramels, or lightly sprinkled on a chocolate tart.

1 Tahitian vanilla bean

2 cups/280 grams fleur de sel

Cut the vanilla bean in half and scrape out the seeds. Combine the vanilla seeds, the salt, and the scraped-out pod in a bowl and mix to disperse the seeds. Put the vanilla salt in a zip-top bag or lidded container for several days to let the flavors infuse before using. The vanilla bean itself will continue to perfume the remaining salt for as long as you have any left.




This recipe is a play on the ubiquitous smoked salmon with cream cheese and a bagel. It was one of our favorite lazy Sunday breakfasts when we were living in New York. Once we moved away from the city, we found that we didn’t always have access to great bagels or smoked salmon. We needed to find a good alternative that was readily available. “Everything” bagels—which typically contain onion, garlic, and several seeds—are our favorite, characterized by their crunchy coating of various seasonings. So we decided to use that flavor profile for cured salmon fillets and cream cheese that we could easily make at home.

6 tablespoons/108 grams fine sea salt

2¾ cups/285 grams Everything Spice Blend (recipe follows)

1¾ pounds/795 grams center-cut salmon fillet, with skin

7 ounces/200 grams cream cheese

1 cup/100 grams Everything Spice Blend (recipe follows)

½ teaspoon/3 grams fine sea salt

Grilled or toasted bagels or bread

Mix together the salt and the spice blend to make a cure.

Wet a 2-foot (60-centimeter) square of cheesecloth and squeeze it dry. Lay the cheesecloth flat on a counter and place the salmon in the center, flesh side down. Fold the cheesecloth around the fillet so the salmon is covered in one layer of cloth. This will make it easier to remove the cure later.

Lay two pieces of plastic wrap three times the length of the salmon fillet on the countertop so they just overlap to create a double-wide sheet of plastic. Place one-third of the cure in the center of the plastic wrap, shaping the mixture so it provides a wide base for the salmon. Lay the cheesecloth-wrapped fillet on the cure bed, skin side down. Sprinkle the rest of the cure over the salmon, allowing some of it to cascade off the sides so that the edges of the fish will also be coated in cure. Fold the long ends of the plastic wrap over the fish, followed by the wide ends. This should create a tight package of salmon that is evenly coated in cure and contained in plastic. To ensure a tight seal and even pressure, wrap the package in another length of plastic wrap. Place the salmon on a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Unwrap the fish, scrape off the cure, and carefully pull off the cheesecloth. Rinse the fish briefly in cold running water and then pat completely dry. Serve immediately or wrap in plastic and return to the refrigerator. The flavor will mature overnight. The fish will keep in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days.

Place the cream cheese, spice blend, and salt in a food processor and puree until smooth. Refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to use. It will keep for up to a week.

To serve, remove the skin and bloodline from the fish. Thinly slice the fish and arrange it on a plate. Serve with everything cream cheese and the grilled bread.



Clearly, toasted milk powder was not part of the original Everything Spice Blend. We add it here to give it depth of flavor. That milk proteins also help it stick to the fish is an incidental benefit. The real bonus is the toasty flavor it imparts, which adds to the perception of the toasted bagel flavor in the finished fish or whatever else you may season with it.

2 packets nonfat dry milk (enough to make 1 quart/1,040 grams milk)

¼ cup plus 3 tablespoons/47 grams dried minced onion

½ cup/60 grams sesame seeds

8 teaspoons/25 grams poppy seeds

3 tablespoons/20 grams garlic powder

4 teaspoons/10 grams caraway seeds

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).

Combine the dry milk, dried onion, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, garlic powder, and caraway seeds in a shallow baking dish. Toast the mixture in the oven for 30 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes to ensure even browning. When the mixture is amber brown, remove it from the oven and let cool.

Process the mixture briefly in a food processor to break up any large chunks of milk powder that may have formed in the toasting process and to evenly distribute the spices. The spice blend will keep in an airtight container for a month.


Brining is a popular technique for adding flavor and increasing the juiciness of food. Chickens and turkeys are popular candidates for brining because their lean, delicate flesh is greatly enhanced by a saltwater soak. We really enjoy the results of brining almost anything—meat, fish, and vegetables. Each has something to gain from the process. For us, brine is a vehicle for flavor, and while a simple saltwater solution has its place in our kitchen, we’re not afraid to turn up the volume and add seasoned liquids, spices, and aromatics to the mix. Marinades are kissing cousins to brines, with sharper, more acidic profiles, and can be equally useful tools for amplifying flavor.

Brining is a method of passive transport where no energy is expended to make a change occur. When we brine, we surround a piece of meat or fish with a salt solution. Osmosis occurs as water moves through a selectively permeable membrane, in this case the cell walls, from areas of lower solute concentration to areas of higher concentration. Diffusion is when molecules, like salt, spread from areas of higher concentration to areas of lower concentration. Salt is hydrophilic, and in areas where salt has higher concentrations, it will draw available water toward itself until a state of equilibrium is reached. First the water will flow out of the protein and into the brine, because the brine’s salt content is greater than that of the meat, giving it a higher osmotic concentration. Then diffusion causes the salt to be drawn into the meat. As the salt penetrates the meat, osmosis allows the water to be drawn back into the cells, still working toward a state of equilibrium.

Once the brine has been pulled into the cells, the salt begins to react with the meat’s proteins, causing the bonds between the actin and myosin proteins to begin to break down, or denature. This allows the myofibrils, the main structural component of the muscles in the meat, to absorb the water in the form of the brine and swell. The myofibrils can expand to twice their normal size. The denatured proteins are able to interact with each other and create a water-holding matrix. This increases the meat’s ability to absorb aromatics and flavors from the brine. The increased water-holding capacity that results from the denaturing of the proteins means that the seasoned meat contains a greater concentration of water in its cells and is able to retain a slightly higher percentage of it during cooking, resulting in juicier meat.

As the salt penetrates the meat, some of the myosin fibers actually dissolve. This creates more space between the muscle fibers, resulting in more tender meat. When the brined meat is cooked, this dissolved myosin forms a gel within the muscle fibers that helps them hold on to liquid, resulting in juicier meat. This reaction will occur when brining with salt solutions at concentrations beginning at 3 percent. The stronger the brining solution, the more quickly it will penetrate the inside of the meat. The larger the piece of meat, the harder it is to brine because the time needed to penetrate the interior will cause the outer layer to become increasingly salty. We like to use a 3 to 5 percent brine for our meats and keep the thickness to a maximum of three inches.

Brines are characterized by the presence of salt; marinades are defined by the presence of acid. Marinades are generally made up of an acidic component, a fatty component, and seasonings. They are meant to tenderize and season meats and fish. The acid in a marinade will partially denature surface proteins and create openings for flavor to penetrate the muscles. Marinades also improve the water-holding capacity of the meat. They work best on thinner cuts and smaller pieces of meat. This is because the reaction with acid limits the amount of time the meat or fish can remain in a marinade. If it is left for too long, the food “cooks,” an effect used as a texture and flavor enhancement in the creation of ceviche and escabeche. This can result in meat or fish that becomes overly tender, to the point of being mushy. The slightly acidic kick of a marinade is a wonderful balance to rich proteins. It gives cooked meat and fish an increased depth of flavor that we find quite seductive.

A practical use for brining is as a preserving agent for seafood. We don’t generally wash fish and seafood; instead we soak them in a 5 percent salt solution for ten minutes. This soak coagulates exterior proteins, firms the flesh, and extends the shelf life of the fish. We’ve also found that this saltwater bath results in fish and crustaceans that cook cleanly, without excessive amounts of albumen clinging to the surface. This is especially noticeable in lobster, which usually has a good amount of coagulated hemolymph adhering to the meat after cooking. The final result is a beautifully cooked piece of fish that has a clean, appealing presentation.



These scallops are first cooked sous vide and then finished in a hot sauté pan. (Sous vide, or “under vacuum,” is a technique where foods are vacuum sealed in food-grade plastic bags, then cooked slowly in a circulating hot water bath at precise temperatures; see a fuller discussion.) In all of our recipes using sous vide, we give you the option of substituting a zip-top bag for a vacuum-sealed one; as long as you are able to accurately control the temperature of your water bath, you will achieve a comparable result. It is important to squeeze as much air as possible out of the bag because this will affect how efficiently the heat is conducted through the food. The brining and first cook can be done as soon as you get the scallops into your kitchen. The first cooking seems to firm up the flesh and intensify the flavor. We utilize the first two steps even when we’re planning to serve the scallops in a raw, marinated preparation. It makes them easier to work with and gives them a slightly firmer texture. When we sear the scallops just before serving, we find that they cook more evenly and do not exude as much liquid as raw scallops do.

4½ cups/1,012.5 grams water

2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons/48 grams fine sea salt, plus more for seasoning

8 U-10 scallops

2 tablespoons/28 grams olive oil

2 tablespoons/28 grams cold unsalted butter

In a large bowl, combine the water and salt, stirring until the salt is dissolved. Remove the muscle from the scallops and place the scallops in the brine for 10 minutes. Remove and pat dry.

Preheat a circulating water bath or large pot of water to 122°F (50°C).

Set two sheets of plastic wrap on a work surface


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