Flavours of Fall
Fall /Autumn is the season of the rice harvest in Japan and of seasonal produce like sweet potatoes, chestnuts, persimmons and mushrooms.
In Japan Matsutake mushrooms which grow under pine trees are especially prized. Matsu= pine Take= mushroom. They have a pungent earthy aroma with a meaty texture, however they are extremely expensive with some going for ¥14,000.00 around £70-£80 just for one single mushroom making them one of the most expensive ingredients in the world.
One of the ways that Matsutake is enjoyed is by gently steaming in a Dobin teapot 土瓶. The idea is to appreciate the intensely flavourful broth in which the mushrooms are cooked by tipping out the cooking liquid first into a small sipping choko cup 猪口.
There are four parts to a Dobin teapot the pot itself where the food is placed which comes with a detachable handle, a saucer on which the teapot sits, and a choko cup.
As Matsutake are so expensive and also not available to me I decided to show you how to savour the flavours of fall by making this umami rich seasonal dish.
Dobin= teapot and Mushi= steamed so this is how we make Dobin Mushi (steamed in a teapot) 土瓶蒸し.
First I want to talk about ingredients I will be using with my mushrooms. You do not want to add anything that will take away from the aroma of the mushrooms you are using so do not use strong flavoured vegetables like onions, you can add if you like some ginkgo nuts to add extra colour and finish with some green vegetables like watercress or mitsuba. For the broth a good quality kombu kelp is needed along with salt and some sake.
To make the meal more filling I’m going to be adding shimi-dofu. Shimi-dofu 凍み豆腐 is tofu that has been frozen then thawed and pressed. The result is a completely different texture of the tofu which becomes more like a sponge and is perfect for soaking up the aromatic broth.
To make Shimi-dofu place a pack of tofu still in its original water in the freezer and freeze until completely hard.
Then remove from the freezer and leave to defrost (I normally do this over night, along with making a kombu dashi). When the tofu is completely defrosted take it out of its container and slice into pieces. I then like to wrap the tofu in a cloth and press out as much liquid as i can. Wrap again in a clean dry cloth and leave to dry out for a few hours. The tofu I used was the Shizenno Megumi tofu by dragonfly foods which I have spoken about in a previous post.
The kombu I used was rausu kombu from Hokkaido which creates a flavourful dashi that is rich in minerals and will enhance the umami of the meal. You will need to use one piece of kombu soaked in as pure water as you can over night like filtered water. Rausu normally comes in a roll so I cut off a piece about two-three inches.
You have your tofu and your dashi now you need your mushrooms. You can use what ever mushrooms you like but try to use ones that have a good earthy flavour like shiitake and maitake mushrooms. I’m lucky that I can visit a Japanese grocery store that imports Japanese grown mushrooms so I chose to use organic shiitake, maitake and shimeji mushrooms.
Place your mushrooms on a plate and sprinkle with salt and sake and gently rub it into the mushrooms. Cut a few small squares of kombu and place these in the bottom of your Dobin or teapot. To steam the teapot the Dobin has a removable handle so if you are using a normal teapot make sure it can fit in a steamer with the lid on. Add a splash of sake and a few slithers of citrus rind.
Place a piece of tofu in the Dobin and stuff as many mushrooms inside as you can. I added some ginkgo nuts as well.
Pour boiling water into a pan and place the steamer basket onto the top of the pan. Place your dobin into the steamer basket and pour the kombu dashi into the dobin until it’s full and place the lid on the dobin and then the lid on the steamer. Steam for ten minutes.
While it’s steaming cut a lime or citrus in half and gather a little greens to wilt in the dobin when it’s cooked. Just before serving lift the lid slightly and poke in your greens close the lid on the dobin to steam a few more minutes.
Put the detachable handle on the dobin and lift out of the steamer onto the dish.
Enjoy straight away, by first pouring some of the dashi into the choko cup and enjoying a few cups of broth.
Then open the lid smell the aroma of the steam from the fragrance of the mushrooms. Add a squeeze of citrus sudachi, yuzu or lime and using chop sticks pick up the morsels of mushrooms. To stop any drips from the food use the choko cup in your other hand.
I think this is a perfect way to welcome the changing seasons. No wonder the Japanese call autumn “Shokuyoku no Aki” Autumn the season of appetites.