Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Cultural Inspirations: Japanese Kodawari

I'm obsessed with learning centuries old wisdom and customs of diverse cultures and today I learned a really amazing Japanese concept that I wanted to share with y'all.

I was reading an old issue (March, 2018) of Food&Wine and they had a fantastic feature on a the origins of Dashi, a deceptively simple rich broth of dried bonito and kelp that's the foundation of Japanese cooking that's also slowly disappearing.

Chef Shinobu' Namae is incorporating the broth into his cooking techniques, replacing the veal stock that he has traditionally cooked with from his Western cooking training.

The crazy thing is that technically, this broth is just two ingredients: seaweed and dried bonito "unami broth".

Just two ingredients? Yes, just two ingredients.

So what makes this broth so rich, culturally important and worthy of a feature in an illustrious publication like Food&Wine?

It has to do with the patient and committed preparation method for those two ingredients, which is where the Japanese term Kodawari comes in to this post.

Kodawari: an obsessive attention the the fine, subtle detail of one's craft that any artisan who takes pride in their work must have

The Two Ingredients
* Seaweed: summarizing the Food&Wine article, there are people who forage for kombu and gather it one strand at a time. Since the region only has two summer months, the kombu is dried for three days AND then "...moved indoors for three years to refine and concentrate its natural glutamates." Artisans talk about Kombu like wine.

* Katsuobushi: summarizing the Food&Wine article, the stages of smoking, fermenting and drying the fish is a three to six month process!

So collectively, this broth is fairly easy to make (Food&Wine: "...as easy as making tea"), but the preparations and patience required to be able to get to the "simple" stage is one where Kodawari is required.

Living Kodawari
Of course, all this fantastic breakdown to produce this centuries old cultural Japanese broth got me to thinking about how Kodawari fits into modern living.

Or does it?

As I mentioned above, Chef Namae featured Dashi because it's a method that is becoming extinct in place of convenience of powdered equivalents.

But what about the fine art of being an artisan of a craft and the life satisfaction that comes from the obsession of pride in work?

I'm not saying I by any means have the answer to this million dollar question but I even remember what it was like growing up with grandparents who had a valuable craft and the pride of earning a living from it.

And your Kodawari doesn't necessarily have to be your earned profession.

I once knew a man that was a busy sales executive and so in his down time, to maintain a sense of purpose in life and to alleviate the high stress, high pressure aspects of his job he had a wood shed where he made hand made furniture for his family, friends and neighbors. Although he was repeatedly encouraged to open up a shop or to monetize his passion, he never did.

For him, his Kodawari did not require income (nor marketing, nor business plans). He was completely satisfied with a pride of work of making furniture that his family and friends passed down to generations.

Master Dashi Recipe
And with the upcoming colder weather and holidays, I thought you'd love this Dashi recipe Food&Wine also shared...may it remind you to incorporate Kodawari in your lifestyle.  You deserve to know what a pride in work as an artisan of a craft feels like...it's irreplaceable.

Ingredients
2 qt. room-temperature water
1 oz. kombu
1 oz. katsuobushi

Pour 2 quarts water into a medium sauce pan and add kombu. Let stand until kombu doubles in size, about 30 minutes. Cook over medium-low until water is steaming and tiny bubbles collect on surface of kombu. Adjust heat to maintain water temperature below a simmer, and let steep for 30 minutes.

Remove from heat, and add katsuobushi.  Allow katsuobushi to settle at the bottom of pot, about 2 minutes.

Pour liquid through a fine wire-mesh strainer into a bowl. Discard solids.


And here are some of my favorite recipes using Dashi as a base broth...enjoy!


Dashi with Crab and Tofu (© Fredrika Stj√§rne)

Root Vegetables in Dashi (Eric Wolfinger)

Warm Soba Noodles with Pork, Shrimp & Cabbage  (© Tina Rupp)

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