Small Plates: Four Easy Japanese Izakaya Dishes

This post is part of our Small Plates series, which is brought to you by California Pizza Kitchen.

Clockwise from top left: Agedashi dofu, yaki nasu, karaaga, and tuna and avocado nuta. [Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

"Only in Japan have they taken the simple concept of bar snacks and transformed them into a culinary and social art form."


Despite their proclivity for wacked-out pizza toppings (cheese-stuffed shrimp, anyone?) and un-useless gadgets, if the Japanese excel at one thing, it's taking a good idea, and elevating it to its highest, purest, and often craziest form.

Take izakaya, for example, the Japanese watering hole-cum-eateries that dot Tokyo's nighttime foodscape. It's not like Japan invented beer, bars, or even small plates, for that matter. But only in Japan have they taken the simple concept of bar snacks—small, often salty treats designed to get you to drink more—and transformed them into a culinary and social art form.

It's not uncommon to find izakaya menus dozens, even hundreds of items long, with everything from sashimi and pickles to yakitori—every manner of chicken part skewered and grilled over charcoal.

Karaage is Japanese style fried chicken that's got everything you'd want in a bar snack: crispy, juicy, and salty.

If you've got friends who've yet to be converted to tofu, try serving them agedashi dofu—fried is a pretty tough thing to argue with.

The mayonnaise-obsessed Japanese will squeeze the baby-shaped Kewpie bottles onto just about anything (yes, including pizza), but as the base for a creamy, nuta-style dressing, it's acidity and slight sweetness pair remarkably well with sashimi-quality fish and avocado.

Finally, for something a little lighter, yaki nasu is broiled eggplant that is marinated post-cooking in a dashi and soy-based cold soup. The charred eggplant soaks up the broth like a sponge, resulting in an intense smoky, salty, sweet, and savory snack.

Serve any of these snacks along with good cold sake, or a light, crisp beer.

Small Plates: Four Easy Japanese Izakaya Dishes

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About This Recipe

Yield:4 to 6 as an appetizer, or a dozen at a party
This recipe appears in: This Week's Tasty 10

Ingredients

  • For Karaage (Japanese Style Fried Chicken)
  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken thighs (about 4 thighs), trimmed of excess fat, and cut into rough 1-inch chunks
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced on microplane or pressed through garlic press
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
  • 1 quart peanut oil
  • 1/4 cup corn starch
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 scallion, sliced fine, slices stored in ice water until ready to use (optional)
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges
  • For Agedashi Dofu (Deep Fried Tofu with Dashi Broth)
  • 2 cups dashi (see recipe, bottom)
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons mirin
  • One (12.3-ounce) package of firm or extra-firm silken-style tofu, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
  • 1/4 cup corn starch
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 quart peanut oil
  • Salt
  • 2 scallions, sliced fine, slices stored in ice water until ready to use (optional)
  • Large pinch katsuobushi (dried, shaved bonito) (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon white or light red miso paste
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise (preferably Japanese Kewpie-style)
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • For Tuna and Avocado Nuta (Tuna and Avocado in Miso Dressing)
  • 1 tablespoon dashi
  • 1 pound sashimi-grade tuna, cut into 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch cubes
  • 1 ripe avocado, cut into 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch cubes
  • 2 scallions, sliced thin
  • 1/4 cup picked cilantro leaves
  • For Yaki Nasu (Roasted Eggplant with Soy-Dashi Marinade)
  • 1 pound Japanese eggplant (about 3 medium)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 cup dashi
  • 3 tablespoons cup soy sauce

Procedures

  1. 1

    To Make Karaage:

  2. 2

    Combine chicken, soy sauce, garlic, and ginger in medium bowl and toss until chicken is thoroughly coated in marinade. Cover and refrigerate at least 30 minutes, and up to 8 hours.

  3. 3

    Heat vegetable oil in large Dutch oven or wok set over high heat until it reaches 350 degrees F. Meanwhile, combine corn starch and flour in medium bowl. Remove chicken pieces from marinade and toss in flour mixture until well coated. Place in strainer basket and shake to remove excess flour. Add chicken to oil. Oil temperature should drop to around 300 degrees F. Adjust burner to maintain 300 degree temperature and cook, stirring occasionally with chopsticks or wire mesh spider until chicken is cooked through and burnished golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes.

  4. 4

    Drain chicken pieces on paper towel-lined plate and season immediately with salt. Serve immediately, garnished with scallion and lemon slices.

    Agedashi Dofu (Deep Fried Tofu with Dashi Broth)

  5. 5

    To Make Agedashi Dofu:

  6. 6

    Note: For best flavor, use homemade dashi (recipe follows). Alternatively, you can use powdered hon-dashi, available at Asian markets or occasionally in the international aisle of a well-stocked supermarket. Japanese-style ready-made tsuyu can be used in place of the dashi, soy, and mirin mixture in step one. Just dilute according to package directions. Mirin is a sweet japanese liquor available in most supermarkets. If unavailable, substitute 3 tablespoons sake and 3 tablespoons granulated sugar.

  7. 7

    Combine dashi, soy, and mirin in small saucepot and heat over medium-high heat until barely simmering. Reduce heat, cover, and keep warm until ready to use.

  8. 8

    Heat oil in large Dutch oven or wok set over high heat until it reaches 350 degrees F. Meanwhile, combine corn starch and flour in medium bowl. Toss tofu pieces in flour mixture until well coated. Place in strainer basket and shake to remove excess flour. Add tofu to oil. Oil temperature should drop to around 300 degrees F. Adjust burner to maintain 300 degree temperature and cook, stiring occasionally with chopsticks or wire mesh spider until pale golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes.

  9. 9

    Transfer tofu to paper towel-lined plate and season with salt. Divide tofu between small serving bowls and pour warm broth on top. Garnish with scallions, katsuobushi, and grated daikon if desired. Serve warm.

  10. 10

    To Make Tuna and Avocado Nuta:

  11. 11

    Note: Use only sashimi-quality tuna for this dish from a responsibly fished source. Salmon may be substituted in place of the tuna. Traditionally, Nuta is made with miso, sugar, and vinegar. Japanese mayonnaise gives is a creamy, sweet and acidic tang. Regular American mayo can be used in its place. Water or stock can be used in place of dashi, though the dressing will be slightly less flavorful.

  12. 12

    Combine miso, mayo, sugar, and dashi in small bowl until homogenous. Toss gently with tuna, avocado, scallions, and cilantro. Serve immediately.

  13. 13

    To Make Yaki Nasu:

  14. 14

    Note: For best flavor, use homemade dashi (recipe follows). Alternatively, you can use powdered hon-dashi, available at Asian markets or occasionally in the international aisle of a well-stocked supermarket. Small American or Italian eggplants can be used in place of the Japanese—extend cooking time until eggplant is fully softened.

  15. 15

    Toss eggplant in olive oil and season with salt. Set broiler to high. Place eggplant on foil-lined broiler plan and place 6-inches under broiler element. Broil, turning every 5 minutes until well charred and fully softened, 15-25 minutes total (to test for doneness, insert paring knife into area underneath stem. Knife should pull in and out effortlessly). Transfer to large plate and allow to cool.

  16. 16

    Meanwhile, combine dashi, soy sauce, mirin, and ginger in medium bowl. When eggplant is cool enough to handle, carefully peel and pull into rough large strips. Place in marinade, mix gently to combine, cover, and allow to rest for at least 30 minutes and up to overnight in refrigerator until completely cool.

  17. 17

    To serve, place eggplant in individual serving bowls, pour excess sauce on top, and garnish with scallions, katsuobushi, sesame seeds, and additional soy sauce if desired.

  18. 18

    To Make Dashi:

  19. 19

    Note: This broth is the basis for many traditional Japanese dishes. In addition to the recipes above, miso soup can be easily made by adding 1 tablespoon miso per cup of dashi and whisking to combine. Konbu is giant sea kelp. It is available in most Asian markets. Look for kelp with a powdery white finish, which indicates a large presence of glutamic acid. Katsuobushi is dried, smoked, shaved bonito. It can also be found in Asian markets.

  20. 20

    Add kombu to water in medium saucepan. Place over medium heat and slowly bring to 180 degrees (a bare simmer). Shut off heat and immediately add katsuobushi. Allow to steep for 20 minutes. Strain through fine mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth or paper towels. Reserve bonito flakes and kombu to make second stock, if desired. Store in airtight container in refrigerator and use within 5 days.

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