Itadakimasu! – 大根のそぼろに Daikon no Soboroni
大根のそぼろに Daikon no Soboroni, like 肉じゃが Nikujaga , is another signature dish in Japanese home-styled cooking. Ironically like many such dishes, Daikon no soboroni is unfamiliar to many who are accustomed to relating Japanese cuisine to the dishes which are available in Japanese restaurants and delis, not places where one would readily find dishes of the Japanese home, especially in Singapore. But I love these dishes for their simplicity in technique, yet so full of おふくろの味 “flavours of the home”, just what one needs to warm the stomach and the heart after being so tired of eating out. It is extremely easy to prepare and takes very little time to do so.
The flavours presented in this dish are kept very clean and basic, allowing the sweetness of the white radish to shine through, against the umami backdrop of the dashi stock. And this dish is incredibly healthy as it is literally oil-free!
Daikon takes centrestage in this dish. It is very suitable for 煮物 nimono, simmering dishes as the flavours imparted from the other ingredients can be absorbed completely during the slow-cooking process. The daikon are first peeled and then cut into thick discs. The surface is scored with a cross and this helps to cook the radish more quickly, especially the core in the middle and help it absorb the flavours from the dashi stock and seasoning more fully.
The daikon discs are then boiled briefly in starchy water made with a pot of water and a small amount of rice. Its purpose is to remove any form of pungency or bittertaste from the radish. White radish when it is very fresh does have a slightly “spiciness” to it. This process reminds me of the first few episodes of “Oshin” which showed the scenes of the young Oshin and her family seated around a cindering hearth, eating “daikon porridge”, a flashback narrated by the old Oshin to her grandson Kei. When asked by Kei how it tasted like, she exclaimed that it tasted terrible, but remains true to her heart as flavours of her childhood. The rice and its cooking water is discarded after use but to have a go at what Oshin probably ate, you can eat the soupy rice mixture of course!
大根のそぼろに Daikon no Soboroni (White Radish Simmered in Mince Meat Sauce) Recipe (serves 4)
500g daikon (one large or 2 medium sized ones)
1/4 cup of Japanese rice (raw or cooked)
water for boiling rice
150g minced chicken (can be replaced with minced pork)
2 tbsp Japanese light soya sauce (Usukuchi shoyu)
1 tbsp mirin
1 tbsp cooking sake
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp ginger juice
1 1/2 tbsp 片栗粉 Japanese potato starch， mixed with 2 tbsp water to form a slurry.
2 cups of dashi stock
shredded ginger and chopped spring onions for garnish
Peel daikon and cut into 2.5 cm thick discs.
Score both sides of each dish with a cross but take note not to cut through.
Bring cooked or raw rice and water in a small pot to a boil. Let the mixture continue to boil for a while to allow the rice grains to soften. Use a ladle to break up the rice grains if necessary. The amount of water added should be just sufficient for the daikon to be completely submerged and it should look cloudy from the starch released from the cooking rice which should now have a slightly porridge-like consistency. Add daikon discs and simmer with lid on for about 10-15 min until radish softens slightly but is not cooked throughly. Remove daikon from pot and drain. Discard rice cooking water.
In a separate pot, add 2 cups of dashi stock, light soya sauce, sugar, mirin and cooking sake, and bring to a strong boil to let the alcohol vaporise. Lower flame to medium and place daikon discs into the dashi stock. Simmer with lid on for 10-15 min until completely cooked and just tender. Turn off flame and allow the daikon discs to steep in the hot broth for about 20-30 min or so.
In a small bowl, add minced meat (I’d used chicken but it can be replaced with pork) and some dashi broth from the pot of daikon discs. Using a spoon, break up the minced meat into very small chunks. This process has to be done before adding the minced meat into the pot or the meat would clump up when it is being rapidly cooked if it was introduced directly. One would have a hard time “mincing” the cooked chunks in the broth later.
Turn on the heat below the pot and when the broth is about to come to a boil again, add minced meat and dashi broth mixture. Gently stir the mixture into the pot taking care not to break up the daikon chunks.
When the pot comes to a boil, lower flame, add potato starch slurry and stir gently until the broth begins to thicken. Adjust flavours with salt or light soya sauce if necessary.
Turn off flame, ladle daikon discs with minced meat dashi broth into a bowl and garnish with shredded ginger and chopped spring onions. Serve with the other homemade Japanese dishes and a bowl of piping hot Japanese rice. I heavily recommend 肉じゃが Nikujaga!