Ppotatoes of all shapes, sizes and colors – collectively referred to as imo in Japanese – figure prominently in the country’s cuisine. There are naga-imo, long, pale yams that are eaten raw or grated into a sticky mass to swallow with udon; sato-imo, or eddoes, which become deliciously tender and rich when simmered in dashi; murasaki-imostriking, purple sweet potatoes commonly used in candy; and of course, jaga-imo, or what we just call potatoes. These are sometimes baked in the oven, yes, but ovens are rare in Japanese family kitchens, so potatoes are often cooked more creatively (and frankly more delicious), playing more of the role of a vegetable side than designated carbohydrates. (Rice will always reign supreme in Japan, after all.)
Baked potatoes with butter and salmon roe
Some time ago, my friend and fellow japonophile MiMi Aye, the author of the wonderful Burmese cookbook Mandalay, posted a photo on Instagram of one of his favorite comfort foods, a baked potato topped with butter, spring onions and copious amounts of salmon roe. Throughout the day, I returned to this image just to marvel (and drool a bit): it was both rustic and luxurious, heartwarming and exciting. The Ainu, an indigenous ethnic group from Hokkaido, prepare a similar dish called chiporo imo, a simple preparation of mashed potatoes sprinkled with pearls of salmon roe and nothing else. There is something so satisfying about the combination, and I love how the two ingredients balance and complement each other: the little orange eggs season the bland potato with their salinity and add a nice “touch” pop ”in texture, while the potato takes over the fishy intensity of the eggs. I know these are just potato and fish roe, but there is something really beautiful about it.
Preperation 5 minutes
to cook 1h +
2 baked potatoes, washed and dried
1 teaspoon of oil
2 tsp soy sauce
50g salmon roe
½ teaspoon of mirin
1 small handle chive, thinly sliced, for garnish
Heat oven to 200C (180C fan) / 390F / gas 6. Rub the potatoes all over with the oil and half the soy sauce, then wrap them in foil and bake for 20 minutes. Lower the oven to 180C (160C fan) / 350F / gas 4 and cook for another 40 minutes to an hour, until tender (test them with a baguette or butter knife).
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the remaining soy sauce with the salmon roe and mirin, and refrigerate to marinate while the potatoes cook.
Take the potatoes out of the oven, let them cool slightly, then unwrap them and cut them into large pieces. Melt butter over potatoes, pour over salmon roe mixture and garnish with chives.
Cheese dakgalbi is an indulgent Korean dish that is incredibly popular in Japan. Its appeal is obvious: chicken and vegetables sautéed in an intoxicating spicy sauce, then pushed to the sides of the pan to make way for a lake of liquefied cheese. It’s like Korean barbecue meets fondue, and if that combination doesn’t immediately tell you, then I’m not sure we can be friends. To make a complete meal, serve with tteok (Korean rice cakes), or plain rice or noodles, with a lager or soju on the side.
Preperation 15 min
to cook 20 mins
For the sauce
3 tablespoons of gochujang
2 tablespoons of sake
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 tablespoon of soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and grated
1cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
1 teaspoon of Korean chili powder (optional)
2 boneless, skin-on chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces
1 tablespoon of oil
½ small sweet potato (about 100g), peeled and cut into 5mm thick slices
1 small carrot, cut into slices 5 mm thick
1 small onion, peeled and thinly sliced
½ darling cabbage (hispi), seeded and coarsely chopped
30 g edam or similar mild cheese, grated
2 slices melted cheese, torn up
1 spring onion, trimmed and thinly sliced
In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients for the sauce, then toss the chicken pieces together and let marinate while you prepare the rest of the dish.
Put a nonstick or seasoned cast iron skillet over medium heat, then add the oil, sweet potato, carrot and onion, and sauté for about five minutes until the vegetables are a bit soft and lightly. golden. Add the cabbage and cook for another three minutes, until softened and wilted. Add the chicken and all the sauce and cook, stirring frequently, for eight to 10 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce is reduced to a nice thick frosting.
Push the contents of the pan to the sides to make a well in the center, reduce the heat to minimum, then add the grated cheese followed by the melted cheese on top. Once the cheese has melted, garnish with the spring onion, then eat directly from the pan, sliding the chicken and vegetables through the melted cheese.