Chicken Namban from 'Hiroko's American Kitchen'

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[Photograph: Frances Janisch]

I'm probably not the only American cook unfamiliar with the Japanese namban technique of cooking. Namban refers to a two-step process in which meat and vegetables are fried in oil and then marinated in vinegar and soy sauce. This style of cooking was introduced to Japan by the Portugese in the mid-16th century and subsequently adapted to suit Japanese-style cuisine.

In the spirit of continuing to adapt traditional Japanese dishes to contemporary American palates, Hiroko Shimbo has herself created a twist on this dish. The chicken namban in her new cookbook, Hiroko's American Kitchen, infuses sweet curry flavor into boneless, skinless chicken thighs that are pan-seared and then baked. Her sauce contains the requisite vinegar, of course, but is amped up with her signature "super sauce." This super sauce is a viscous, concentrated mixture of soy, bonito, and kelp that truly makes the chicken pop.

Why I picked this recipe: I'm a sucker for chicken thighs and thick, vinegary pan sauces.

What worked: The super sauce adds an explosive jolt of umami to an otherwise simple chicken and sweet potato dish.

What didn't: I needed to fry the sweet potatoes in smaller batches, in less oil, in order to fry them safely in my skillet. I also needed to reduce the sauce for a little longer than directed in order to thicken it sufficiently. Use your best judgement as you're finishing the dish, and taste as you go!

Suggested tweaks: Instead of serving the plain sweet potatoes alongside the chicken, consider adding them back in to the skillet once chicken comes out of the oven. This will re-heat the potatoes and coat them in the sauce. You can substitute garnet yams for the Japanese sweet potato if they're easier to find.

As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of Hiroko's American Kitchen to give away this week.

About the author: Kate Williams is a freelance writer and personal chef living in Berkeley, CA. She is a contributor to The Oxford American and Berkeleyside NOSH, and she blogs at cookingwolves.wordpress.com.

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