Japan Centre Launches Bake-at-Home and Cooking Box Kits

To Celebrate its 45th Birthday the UK’s premier Japanese Food Hall is giving you the chance to create authentic Japanese food at home. Peter Morrell gets a taste by cooking a Katsu Curry

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I have been a fan of Japan Centre for a long time and feel that they have instrumental in helping to demystify Japanese food and increasing its availability. I was at the opening of Ichiba, their Food Hall in Westfield White City, which is the largest of its kind in Europe.

Although I cook a lot my repertoire has never extended as far as Japanese food. I was therefore very interested to see that for its birthday celebrations Japan Centre has released a range of cooking kits to help people better understand and cook genuine Japanese food.

There are five kits to choose from, a Japanese Cooking Essentials Kit, Miso Kit Beginner, Katsu Curry Kit, Okonomiyaki Kit, and a Sushi Kit. I chose the Katsu Curry Kit and the Japanese Cooking Essentials Kit.

Japan Centre Katsu Curry Kit

I will concentrate first on the Katsu Curry Kit. The kit arrived well packaged with full instructions. It contains one Japanese mild curry sauce, one Japanese hot curry sauce, a kilo of Japonica short grain rice, one bag of panko breadcrumbs and a jar of Fukujinzuke pickles. The kit makes eight servings, I split the ingredients in two and made a meal for four people. You source your own fresh ingredients, potatoes, carrots, onions, chicken thighs or other protein, an egg, flour, and oil.

I de-boned the chicken thighs and beat it to make it thinner, then, like a schnitzel, coated it in flour, put it in a beaten egg bath and finally covered it in panko breadcrumbs. The onions were browned in a saucepan, then diced potatoes and carrot added. After a few minutes 700ml of boiling water was added, when the vegetables were tender the mild curry sauce which is in a block was dissolved in the pan. This melted, created the sauce, and thicken it.

In the meantime, the rice is cooked using the absorption method, full instructions are in the recipe leaflet. Finally, the chicken was fried on both sides until golden brown. The chicken was then sliced, rice spooned onto a plate, the curry sauce put round the rice, and the finished dish was garnished with the Fukujinzuke pickles.

We all thought it was delicious, and it had been so simple to put together. The rice is slightly more sticky than long grain rice, and the flavour was very different from an Indian curry. The process gave me a lot of confidence and it was time to move onto the ingredients kit, when I would find my own recipe to create another Japanese dish.

The Japan Centre Japanese Cooking Essentials Kit

The Japan Centre Japanese Cooking Essentials Kit is the start point for your journey of discovery into the world of Japanese Food. Detailed below are the ingredients in the kit and how they are used

Dried Kombu Kelp
This is broadleaf seaweed and has a variety of uses. It is always soaked before use, and can be used in salads and stir fries. One of its main roles is in the making Dashi Stock, which we will talk about later.

Katsuobushi Dried Bonito Flakes
These flakes are made from skipjack tuna that has been simmered, smoked, and fermented. They have an intense smell of the sea which makes food cooked with them taste very moreish. They can be used as a garnished or a topping on things like rice when its being steamed. One of its most important uses is with kombu kelp to make Dashi Stock.

Miso Paste
This is made from fermented soya beans and when stirred into a sauce or stew imparts a very savoury taste. It’s also the base for Miso Soup

Kikkoman Soy Sauce
This is one of the world’s premier brands made in the traditional way, by slow fermentation. This process creates an umami rich liquid that can be used as a condiment, marinade or added to sauces, soups and stews.

This is a sweet, fermented rice wine that can be used to enhance the flavours of any dish

Cooking Sake
This is added to soups and stews to tenderise meat and add a slightly salty component to food.

You will notice that all these ingredients are either dried or fermented, and its these preservation techniques that give Japanese food its unique and irresistible flavour.

My task was to find a recipe that would use all these ingredients in one dish. The internet has a vast array of recipes and techniques for Japanese food. I found one quite quickly, Gyudon – Japanese beef bowl. The recipe called for Dashi stock made with Kombu Kelp and Bonito Flakes, two of the kit ingredients. The Japan Centre website is a mine of information about cooking, and you can find the Dashi Stock recipe here…. Dashi Stock is the base point for many dishes, it is very savoury, and ladened with umami.

The next job was to cut rib-eye steak into ultra-thin slices, put the meat in the freezer for a couple of hours before slicing to make this easier. Chop up an onion, mince three garlic cloves and fry these with the meat. When everything is nicely browned, add the stock, stir in a tablespoon each of Miso, Soy Sauce, Mirin, Sake and sugar.

While this is bubbling away cook the short grain rice, see the Japan Centre recipe here… When everything is finished put the rice in a bowl, add the steak and then garnish with sliced spring onion and toasted sesame seeds. 召し上がれ!Meshiagare (Bon Appetit)

Thanks to these Japan Centre Kits I now feel confident about moving on from here and make more of Japanese dishes.

These cooking kits are idea as Christmas presents, or can be bought by people keen to expand their knowledge of Japanese Food

The kits can be bought at Japan Centre Food Halls in Westfield White City, Westfield Stratford and in Panton Street near Leicester Square and online.

Details of the Cook Boxes
  • Japanese Cooking Essentials Kit (£29.95) – box which features all the essential Japanese ingredients to create a range of classics including traditional miso soup and sushi to street food favourite takoyaki. This brilliant box will inspire you to add Japanese flavours to your cooking
  • Miso Kit Beginner (£19.95) – Make a whopping 30 portions of traditional miso soup from this kit. Famed for its superfood qualities and source of antioxidant goodness, this box comes with a traditional miso recipe plus all essential ingredients to become a miso pro
  • Katsu Curry Kit (£19.95) – Create one of Japan’s most iconic dishes with this kit featuring hand-picked quality ingredients including Japan Centre’s tasty curry sauce and crispy deep-fried katsu
  • Okonomiyaki Kit (£19.95) – This savoury Japanese pancake originates from the Kansai district of Japan. The name literally means ‘grilled as you like it’. Featuring all the base ingredients to make your favourite Okonomiyaki including flour, sauce, tempura flakes and mayonnaise.
  • Sushi Kit (£19.95) – All the essential ingredients to make sushi rolls, from Japan grown rice to nori seaweed sheets. Just add in your choice of fresh ingredients for the fillings and impress friends and family with your sushi know how. Makes 6-7 rolls.
Details of the Bake-At-Home Boxes
  • Melon Pan – Original, Matcha, Variety (x6, £8.49) – now you can enjoy Japan Centre’s signature melon pans at home. These ready to make melon pans are fluffy in the middle and topped with a crispy, biscuit-like exterior (bake for 12-14 minutes).
  • Ogura Pan – (x6, £8.49) ready to make bread buns are filled with a chunky sweet red bean paste, creating a delicious texture together with the fluffy bread (12-14 minutes).
  • Curry Bread – (x6, £8.49) known as Kare Pan in Japan, they can be oven baked or fried. Made of fluffy dough filled with Japanese spiced curry paste and topped with crunchy breadcrumbs. (bake for 12-14 minutes for a golden finish).
  • Cookies – Matcha, Sakura, Variety (x4, £4.49), this ready to bake cookie collection features Matcha green tea blended with luxurious Belgian white chocolate and Sakura, a gently sweetened cookie dough mixed with sticky treacle molasses and white chocolate to draw out the subtle fragrant sweet blossom essence (bake 15 minutes).
  • Hirata Bao Buns – (x6, £3.49), cloud-like, fluffy treats of stuffing and a firm Japan Centre faourite! Simply steam your own baos at home for five minutes and fill with any fillings you desire.

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