Having been a restaurant co-judge with Hideo Dekura, I’ve had the pleasure of dining with him many times. On each occasion, we would exchange banter about food and I never fail to learn something new about Japanese cuisine.
For example, did you know that Japanese sashimi knives are always bevelled on one side to ensure that when the fish is sliced, it releases the flesh without bruising it to give you that clean mouth feel? Freshness of the fish is not the only factor that affects the taste of the fish, how it’s cut, handled and presented has a huge effect on its eventual enjoyment and that’s the beauty of Japanese cuisine.
Being a great fan of Japanese cuisine, I am always curious to learn about the many facets of this exquisite cuisine from this sushi master chef who has called Sydney home. So when Hideo invited Chopinand and I to the launch of his latest book, Encyclopedia of Japanese Cooking, I was delighted. I’ve been hearing so much about this book that he had been researching and writing for two years and it is his biggest labour of love to date at 560 pages!
Born in Tokyo, Hideo’s earliest cooking lessons were learnt from his father who was a playwright and restaurateur. Apart from the principles of sushi and kappou-ryori food preparation, cooking and presentation, Hideo also mastered calligraphy and flower arranging, which gives his food a somewhat simple yet artistic slant.
His culinary passion led him to Europe where he studied classical French cuisine and later to England and the USA where he was able to combine his skills in Japanese and European cuisine by working as a cooking demonstrator in California.
Since moving to Sydney in 1974, he has been working as a Japanese chef, caterer, food consultant and cookbook author and has acquired a large body of knowledge, which he graciously shared through his cooking classes at various locations throughout the city, including the Sydney Seafood School at the Sydney Fish Market in Pyrmont.
His latest book captures the breadth and depth of Japanese ingredients and presents their complexity in a user friendly A to Z Japanese food bible, complete with information on how to prepare, store and use hundreds of ingredients and many different utensils. You’ll learn the difference between the now well known konbu seaweed from the lesser known Koso red seaweed, the difference between ramen, udon, soba and somen and how to transform simple oysters with green tea miso sauce and liven up fish with umeboshi.
At the book launch, Hideo stressed the importance of mastering the basics and demonstrated the correct way to fillet a whole ocean trout with the flick of a sharp knife, like a samurai warrior. Within seconds, the fish is dissected with surgical precision and the super fresh sashimi grade trout slides away from the bones easily.
Hideo explains the trout is cut against the grain for sashimi for a firmer texture but along the grain for sushi for a smoother texture. He then scoops a small handful of vinegar sushi rice, smears a small dollop of wasabi, places the sliced trout and arcs two fingers over the fish to gently press it over the rice.
He stresses the need to be gentle and be respectful of the food so as to produce the best flavour.
Next, he shells a simple fresh prawn by removing its head and innards and slitting down the centre of the prawn while leaving the tail on. Then, he butterflies the prawn and places it on top of rice and wedges the head in the centre of the body and anoints it with a delicate slice of okra at the tip, transforming it yet into another work of art. A simple prawn now resembles a pretty butterfly, next to a cherry blossom carved out of radish.
Hideo’s food is not just about the traditional Japanese recipes as he demonstrates yet an interesting grilled squid with Japanese fried rice.
First, the squid is cleaned by pulling away the head and pulling back the skin with one hand and holding down the body with a clean cloth. Then, the cartilage is removed and the squid cleaned. He then runs the knife gently across the squid and scores the body with small horizontal stripes and stuffs it with the fried rice.
Once this is completed, the squid is brushed with a mixture of ginger, soy and mirin and grilled over high heat for 5 minutes till it’s slightly charred. The result is a slightly smoky yet tender squid, hiding a surprise parcel of unctuous fried rice – delicious!
Hideo’s latest book is a lifelong companion for any serious Japanese food lover, keen to learn about the myriad of Japanese ingredients. Discover these and more recipes in Hideo’s Encyclopedia of Japanese Cuisine and uncover the wonderful world of Japanese ingredients.
Available through New Holland Publishers at $49.95.