Tag Archives: Japanese food

{8} Kuri Kinton

I’ve been trying to include some rather more unusual ideas in my Twelve Days series this year, so with that in mind, today’s recipe looks East, to Japan, for some inspiration. I came across a recipe for simple wagashi sweets made from fresh chestnuts called kuri kinton, and which are also pure whimsy, looking like little chestnuts!

Chestnuts have a strong association with Anglo-Saxon Christmas traditions, from roasted chestnuts sold in the street, to turkey stuffing, and of course the romantic idea of toasting them on the fire in your own home. I figured that kuri kinton would be a great idea for the festive season, with all the flavour of chestnuts but without all the heaviness that usually goes with how they are served.

This recipe is very simple – fresh chestnuts are steamed, them lightly sweetened with sugar and formed into a chestnut shape. Very simple but very clever. As there is only some sugar in this recipe, and no oil or fat, the flavour is light and you get the real intense flavour of chestnuts. This means, of course, that you should try to use the best chestnuts that you can get hold of. I have no idea if you could use tinned or vacuum-sealed chestnuts for this recipe, but I suspect that if you make these, freshness will also be your ally here. The use of canned chestnuts would also seem to run counter to the idea of making wagashi where freshness is important, and seasonality of the ingredients highly prized.

I used a batch of plump, shiny Italian chestnuts for this recipe, and they were easy to prepare using a steamer. However, I also had some slightly older chestnuts which I added to the steamer. After cooking, it was immediately apparent which were which – the fresh chestnuts were tender and easy to remove from their shells. They also had a texture like cooked potatoes and a sweet, rich aroma. The older chestnuts were rock hard and useful. So be sure to go for fresh.

If you wanted to, I’m sure you could jazz these up with a hint of spice or chocolate or some other flavour, but I think they are best enjoyed on their own, so that you can just appreciate the delicate flavour and silky-smooth chestnut that makes up these wagashi. This also seems to be to be truer to the concept of wagashi. And as a Christmas treat, they are unusual, and rather sophisticated.

kurikinton

The original recipe for making these kuri kinton suggested using around 70g of white sugar to 550g of chestnut. However, my naughty Western sweet tooth did not think this was sufficient, so I ended up using nearer 200g. Yes, rather a lot, but I think it is necessary. My advice would be to add as much sugar as you think you need, but remember you don’t want to overwhelm the delicate chestnut flavour with too much sweetness.

It is also recommended to pass the chestnuts through a sieve to ensure a smoother result. However, as I prepared the chestnut mixture to form the wagashi I found the mixture to be too coarse. So…I threw the chestnuts into a food processor and blitzed it until completely, perfectly, utterly smooth. Then the whole lot went back into a saucepan and I cooked it until the mixture was very thick. The result? Perfectly smooth sweet chestnut paste that could be moulded into the shapes you see below. Maybe not authentic, but I liked the result.

Now, the big question – what are they like? If you’re a fan of chestnuts, this is a nice recipe to try, and they look very unusual and attractive as part of the festive selection. I think they would also be fun if made as smaller sweets, and used to decorate the top a chestnut gateaux.

Just one final word of warning – these kuri kinton need to be fresh to be enjoyed. I made the chestnut mixture the night before, and then shaped them the next day. I think they were at their best on that day, and I’d be cautious about storing them for any length of time. They will dry out if left to stand for too long, and if you keep them in the fridge, the delicate flavour of the chestnut will be dulled.

So, if you can cope with the complexity, the quirks and all the fiddly work with the chestnuts, enjoy making these little chestnut sweets!

kurikinton2

To make Kuri Kinton (original recipe here):

Makes around 30 pieces (a lot – you might want to try a smaller batch!):

• 1kg fresh chestnuts
• 200g white caster sugar
• still mineral water

1. Place the chestnuts in a steamer (I used a colander placed above a large pan). Steam for 30 minutes.

2. Turn off the steamer. Take three or four chestnuts at a time (leave the rest in the steamer to keep warm). Cut each chestnut in half and scoop out the inside. Watch out for any bad chestnuts – you’ll know them if you see them, and they should be thrown away. If in doubt, don’t use! If you find the nuts get hard to scoop out, warm them again by steaming for a minute or two.

3. Once all the chestnuts have been scooped out, put the pieces into a sieve and press through with a spoon. This will break up the flesh, and remove any bits of skin or lumps.

4. Once all the chestnuts have been done, weigh the amount of chestnut (I got 550g from 1kg of chestnuts).

5. Put the chestnuts into a blender with the sugar (I used 2/5 the amount of sugar to chestnuts – 200g of white sugar for 550g of chestnut flesh). However, go with what you think tastes good, so if you like less sugar, use less sugar. Add as much water as is needed to make a perfectly smooth puree (if should be smooth but thick, not runny).

6. Pour the chestnut mixture into a saucepan, and cook on a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. Keep cooking on a low heat until you have a very thick mixture. You should be able to take a piece and roll it into a firm ball. If too soft, keep cooking. If the ball cracks easily or seems dry, add some water and cook for a moment before re-testing. Cover the mixture with cling film and leave to cool overnight.

7. Time to make a chestnut! Take a ball of the paste (around 30g, or the size of a large chestnut) and place in the middle of a damp piece of muslin cloth. Gather the cloth on top, pinch the ball lightly and twist the top of the cloth. Carefully unwrap the sweet, and you should see a chestnut shape. Remove from the cloth and press lightly onto a plate (this will flatten the base and allow the chestnut to stand up). Serve at room temperature with Japanese green tea.

Worth making?If you like chestnuts, this is a great recipe, and very unusual at Christmas time.

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Yaki Onigiri

That’s fried rice balls to you and me. Now think about it…fried starch…sounding pretty good, eh?

My first experience of yaki onigiri was in Brussels at a Japanese restaurant called Kushetei. It was a great dinner, but things got a little weird when we got to dessert – no selection of exquisite Japanese sweets, but instead we got mochi filled with ice-cream. Straight from the packet, complete with cute anime-style characters. I am sure that this would be delightfully whimsical to aficionados of Japanese culture, but to me, back in the day, it just seemed a slightly odd way to complete a meal.

Of the many tasty things that I tried that night, what stood out for me were the fried rice balls. The staff did have an annoying habit of sprinkling fish flakes over them (I don’t think they got that fish flakes were not a vegetable), so each time a fresh batch arrived, the fish flakes had to be picked off with forensic precision. Once that was done, the rice balls were delicious.

Back in my Brussels kitchen I decide to try making them myself, but my early attempts went rather spectacularly badly. What went wrong? Well, I failed at almost the first hurdle. I reached into the cupboard for rice, any old rice, and it was a packet of the plain white stuff. I had put enough thought into the process to realise that the rice needs to be somewhat sticky so that it could be formed into balls, so I just boiled it until sort of soupy, drained, and proceeded on my way. Well, whatever I did, it didn’t really work and I ended up with rice balls that had a tendency to collapse. I ended up with a large plate of oily, partially-fried rice swimming in soy sauce. It just about tasted alright, but this was not something that would cause the skilled chef in a Japanese restaurant to lose sleep. If anything, he’s probably have attached me with a sushi knife for my lame efforts!

Fast forward more than half a decade. Putting aside the fact that time seems to fly past with increasingly alarming speed, I would be so bold as to suggest that I am now a better cook, but more fundamentally, I also have access to much better ingredients. Brussels had good shops, but if you really want to get hold of culinary items that are strange, niche or obscure, London will oblige (with the exception of yuzu fruit – still no trace of it!). I’ve blogged about my searches for peculiar raising agents for baking (like ammonium or pottasche). For the rice balls, I needed sushi rice. Well, luckily that’s actually pretty easy to come by in this town. So as they say in the movies, let’s do it again, but once more with feeling (and the correct rice).

This time, I am happy to report that my rice was obligingly sticky, the rice balls could be formed with ease (and very sticky hands), and the result was sensational. Utterly sensational. One of those it is so good I can’t stop at three types of dishes. My only regret is that I did not make double the amount, and this is definitely going to be one of my kitchen staples from now on. I mean – fried starch. We all love that, right?

The good news – all you need is rice, oil and soy sauce. You’re about an hour away from something utterly delicious!

To make Yaki Onigiri:

• sushi rice
• oil (I used grapeseed)
• soy sauce(*)

1. Cook the sushi rice according to the instructions on the packet. Assume 75g per person.

2. While the rice is still warm, shape into balls or cubes. It’s easiest to keep your hands very well-oiled, as the rice is super-sticky.

3. Fry the rice balls. You probably don’t need more oil – what’s on the balls should be enough. Once golden all over, remove and brush with soy sauce. Fry again until crispy. And that’s it! Just sit back and enjoy!

(*) If you are feeling adventurous, mix the soy sauce with other things – I added a dash of sambal to mine (Indonesian rather than Japanese, but never mind) for a tiny dash of heat, and a little sesame oil for a nutty flavour.

Worth making? Get the right rice, and O-M-G these work amazingly well. These are fantastic as part of a meal or as snacks with drinks. While utterly delicious, they are also vegan, dairy-free and gluten-free, so they should be a winner with everyone.

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Filed under Recipe, Savoury

Usagi Wagashi

Today’s post is very brief, but I wanted to share a gift I received at the weekend. As the perfect alternative to the season’s chocolate, nuts and spices, I was given a box of usagi wagashi, little Japanese sweets in the shape of rabbits. I’ve blogged before about Japanese sweets, wagashi, from London’s Minamoto Kitchoan (see here), and so this was indeed a most welcome and thoughtful gift.

But before we get to the sweets, let’s appreciate the box:

Cute, yes?

And this is what the little rabbits look like:

These sweets are a perfect little indulgent treat. I would not eat more than one at a time, but only for the reason that I would run out too quickly. They are made with white bean paste, and have a perfectly silky-smooth texture, vaguely reminiscent of moist marzipan, lightly sweetend and with just a little whisper of citrus, not unlike French calissons. Tasty, decadent, whimsical. I loved them.

Tempted? You can get hold of them in Minamoto Kitchoan on London’s Piccadilly. I’ll be heading there shortly.

Minamoto Kitchoan, 44 Piccadilly, London W1J ODS. Tel: 0207 437 3135. Tube: Piccadilly Circus or Green Park.

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