The Yomiuri ShimbunThis series provides everyday techniques to make bento lunches.
With summer in full swing, it is getting increasingly important to pay attention to food safety issues when preparing bento lunch boxes.
Reiko Tsunabuchi, a cooking instructor at the Ecole de Cuisine Egami in Tokyo who contributed to our previous piece on summer bento has taught how to prepare dishes with the prevention of food poisoning in mind.
The key points this time are how to cool down rice, and ways of using spices that are believed to have antibacterial properties.
Before placing cooked rice in a bento box, first allow it to cool completely. Hot rice can maintain a constant temperature for long periods inside a bento box, in which bacteria can easily multiply.
To cool cooked rice, spread it out on tray, a plate or another container. The rice can be cooled down more easily by putting a zaru bamboo basket under a tray and making a space between them. Using a fan is also recommended.
Cooking sheets in a tray or on a plate also help it cool down because steam from the rice passes through them.
Furthermore, during cooking, add vinegar to the rice to more effectively prevent it from spoiling. About 1 or 2 teaspoons of vinegar per 2 cups of uncooked rice is an appropriate amount. When cooking other ingredients along with rice, Tsunabuchi said: “Let’s use food that is expected to have antimicrobial or bactericidal action such as umeboshi pickled plums, green shiso leaves or ginger pickled in sweetened vinegar.”
When cooking side dishes and seasonings, use condiments and spices that are said to have preservative qualities. Tsunabuchi proposed dishes, including spicy honey mustard chicken. Pickled boiled egg with vinegar, fried eggplant with curry powder, and kinpira made with simmered young ginger and bell pepper are suggested side dishes.
Sandwiches are unsuitable in summer as they spoil easily because of the amount of unheated foodstuffs commonly used such as ham, cheese and fresh vegetables as well as seasonings — including mayonnaise and butter — that need to be refrigerated.
“When using food that requires refrigeration such as meat, processed food and fish cakes, heat them at any time, even if they include preservatives,” Tsunabuchi said.
■ Cool cooked rice sufficiently. Setting a cooking sheet or a zaru helps extract water from the rice and release heat.
■ Use vinegar, umeboshi, ginger and spices to season rice dishes and side dishes.
Ingredients and directions
Honey mustard chicken
1 chicken thigh / ½ tsp salt / pinch of pepper / plain flour / 2 tsp whole-grain mustard / 1 tbsp honey / 1 tbsp olive oil
1. Rub chicken with salt and pepper. Cut into bite-size pieces and sprinkle them with a pinch of flour.
2. Heat olive oil in a pan, place chicken skin-side down. Fry the skin-side until crisp, turn over and fry until chicken is sufficiently cooked.
3. Add mustard and honey to the pan and mix the ingredients together.
Pickled boiled egg
2 eggs / 50 grams vinegar / ½ tbsp sugar / ¼tsp salt / 5 grain peppers / 1 piece bay leaf
1. Prepare hard-boiled eggs and shell them.
2. Place vinegar, sugar, salt, grain peppers and a bay leaf in a small pan and boil. Add the eggs.
3. After the eggs cool, place in container and refrigerate for several hours to half a day.
Fried eggplant with curry powder
2 eggplants / ⅓ tsp salt / ⅓-½ tsp curry powder / 1 tsp oyster sauce / pinch of pepper / 1-2 tbsp salad oil
1. Cut eggplants into smallish pieces and soak in water. Drain excess liquid.
2. Mix curry powder and oyster sauce.
3. Put salad oil in a pan and fry eggplants over medium heat.
4. When dressing all eggplant pieces with oil, sprinkle salt and pepper. After the eggplant becomes tender, add sauce and mix well while continuing fry.
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