Table for one / Stir-fry first to shorten cooking time

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Itameni-style dishes from top left: chicken and cabbage; pork and daikon; sawara and tomato

The Yomiuri ShimbunItameni stir-fried, simmered dishes

Simmered dishes can be time-consuming, as the vegetables must be pre-boiled and the dish simmered for a certain amount of time. It is also inefficient to simmer ingredients just for one person. Cooking expert Keiko Iwasaki recommends the itameni method of stir-frying ingredients first and then simmering them in a pan, which doesn’t require so much effort.

If meat or fish is added to simmered vegetables, it can be served as a main dish with a good nutritional balance. Iwasaki lives with her husband, and they usually eat at different times, so she often cooks her favorite ingredients using the itameni method.

“If you stir-fry ingredients before simmering them, you can shorten the cooking time. Frying with oil also gives them a rich taste,” she said.

Iwasaki recommends using a pan with an 18-centimeter diameter. Since it is shallower and broader than a pot, it is better suited to cooking fish, which easily becomes mushy and falls apart.

When cooking these dishes, first stir-fry any meat or fish as well as root vegetables that take a long time to cook, such as daikon, to give them a roasted flavor. Next, add strongly flavored ingredients such as long onions, ginger and garlic and finally add vegetables that cook quickly. Then season and simmer.

It’s important to turn off the heat when adding seasonings. Since these dishes use only a few ingredients, they will burn easily if seasonings are added while the pan is over the heat. After seasoning, cover and reheat.

For this cooking method, Iwasaki introduces three itameni-style recipes. One with simmered pork and daikon is a filling dish with a distinctly Japanese flavor, as the meat’s umami and the soy sauce-based broth thoroughly soak into the daikon. Another with chicken and cabbage is a Chinese-style dish featuring the mild sweetness of cabbage. The other with the soft flesh of sawara Spanish mackerel is accented by the sour taste of tomatoes when they are simmered together.

In any of these recipes, you can add other ingredients if desired. Root vegetables such as carrot and burdock root should be stir-fried first. Add vegetables that cook quickly — such as chingensai bok choy, hakusai Chinese cabbage, bean sprouts and mushrooms — after stir-frying meat and other ingredients that are slow to cook.

“Popular dishes such as nikujaga [simmered meat and potatoes] and buridaikon [simmered yellowtail and daikon] can be made with little fuss if you stir-fry ingredients first and then simmer them. So please give them a go,” Iwasaki said.

Recipes for itameni dishes

Pork and daikon

Cut a 3-centimeter length of daikon into 1-centimeter semicircular slices, and cut 60 grams of pork back ribs into bite-size portions. Put 1 teaspoon of sesame oil in a pan, cook daikon slices over high heat until both sides are brown, then add pork and two thin slices of ginger. Stir-fry until the meat is brown. Turn off heat, add ½ cup of dashi broth, 1½ teaspoons of sugar and 1 tablespoon each of soy sauce and sake. Turn heat back on and bring to a boil, then lower heat and cover. Simmer for about 10 minutes.

Chicken and cabbage

Cut 100 grams of chicken thigh into bite-size pieces and sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper. Coarsely chop 120 grams of cabbage, and diagonally slice a 4-centimeter length of long green onion into 1-centimeter slices. Soak 10 grams of dried cellophane noodles in hot water to reconstitute them, then cut to an easy-to-eat length. Put 1½ teaspoons of sesame oil in a pan, cook chicken pieces on their skin side over high heat until brown, then turn over. Add the onion, then after it is partially browned, add the cabbage. Turn off the heat, add ½ cup of water, 1 teaspoon each of soy sauce and oyster sauce, and 1 tablespoon of sake. Cover and reheat. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the cellophane noodles and cook over medium heat for about two minutes.

Sawara Spanish mackerel and tomatoes

Slice ¼ of an onion thinly. Remove the strings of 50 grams of snap peas and cut in half lengthwise. Sprinkle a pinch of salt and pepper over a 100-gram piece of sawara Spanish mackerel. Put 1 teaspoon of olive oil in the pan and cook the mackerel over medium heat until brown. Turn over and add two thin slices of garlic and the sliced onion. Turn off heat, add 100 grams of canned tomatoes and ¼ cup of water, turn heat back on and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat for seven or eight minutes. Add snap peas, ½ teaspoon of soy sauce and a pinch of pepper, then simmer for about 1 minute.

(This is the final installment of the “Table for one” series.)

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