Lonely Planet presents Japan’s most authentic dishes – direct from the kitchens where they were perfected.
Crisp-fried prawn balls
Zaiyu Hasegawa puts a playful spin on kaiseki, multi-course meals, at the ultra-refined yet relaxed Jimbocho Den. His signature is taking humble dishes, like ebishinjyo, to new heights.
Chef: Zaiyu Hasegawa
Location: Jimbocho Den, Tokyo
Kaiseki is a culinary tradition blending regional cooking with the ritual traditions of imperial banquet and Buddhist temple cuisines. Kaiseki chefs follow the philosophy of shun, using ingredients at their most flavourful and vibrant. Ingredients are used not simply for the way they taste but also for what they symbolise, from the seasons to prosperity and success. The result is an elaborate procession of breathtaking plates that tell a story. Prominent French chefs visiting Japan in the 1970s were so blown away, they returned to France with ideas for the degustation menu, which in turn spawned the tasting menus that define today’s Western high-end cuisine.
At Den, even salad isn’t simple. Zaiyu prepares each vegetable differently: one is raw, another pickled, braised, roasted, fermented or fried. To keep things from getting too serious, a surprise soybean or two branded with a smiley face hides among the leaves.
Zaiyu grew up in the fine-dining world, eating sushi his mother brought home from a renowned ryotei (luxury restaurant) in Kagurazaka, where she performed as a geisha. Eventually, he began cooking as an apprentice there.
This style of ebishinjyo is distinct to the Tokyo region, he says, as it traditionally uses succulent shiba-ebi, a strongly flavoured prawn once fished in the Tokyo Bay.
‘It is a dish I learned at the ryotei, the first dish I was permitted to serve to guests,’ Zaiyu says. He was 18 and nervous, and his leap towards innovation had not yet begun. Even so, he says, ‘I still cook this whenever I have the right ingredients available as it reminds me of my beginnings.’
Though the recipe is simple, getting the ebishinjyo crisp and light is a matter of mastery. Zaiyu’ s speciality is precisely this, transforming the humble fried prawn ball into something of sophistication.
Crisp-fried prawn balls
Preparation time: 30 min
Cooking time: 10–15 min
200g prawns, shelled and deveined
½ small onion, very finely chopped
50g katakuriko (potato starch)
½ egg yolk, about 30g
125ml vegetable oil plus extra for deep-frying
2 generous pinches salt plus extra to serve
1. Take half the prawns and use a sharp knife to finely chop them into a smooth paste. This will take about 10 minutes of continuous chopping. Alternatively, use a food processor.
2. Chop the remaining prawns more coarsely, leaving the pieces about the size of rice grains.
3. Gently squeeze the onion in a clean cloth to remove excess moisture. Put the onion in a small bowl with about 10g of the katakuriko, just enough to coat the onion evenly. Set aside.
4. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolk. Pour in the oil gradually, a drop at a time, whisking continuously, to make an emulsion. Once emulsified, continue to add the rest of the oil slightly faster, whisking continuously to form a mayonnaise-like consistency. Set aside.
5. In a large bowl, combine both types of chopped prawns, the onion and starch mixture and the egg. Shape the prawn mixture into golfball-sized balls (weighing about 40g each) and place on a plate.
6. Pour enough oil in a deep, wide pan to come up to about 3cm. Place over medium heat and bring up to 180°C (use a thermometer). The very hot oil should bubble vigorously when a chopstick is inserted.
7. Slide in the prawn balls, adding them in batches so as not to overcrowd the pan. Cook for 3–5 minutes, turning using a wooden spoon, until the balls are golden brown all over. Season with salt and serve hot.
This is an extract from From the Source: Japan, written by Tienlon Ho, Rebecca Milner & Ippo Nakahara; photographed by Junichi Miyazaki © Lonely Planet 2016. In stores now, RRP: $34.99, www.lonelyplanet.com
Reproduced with permission from From the Source: Japan, © 2016 Lonely Planet.