On Sunday, I took part in my first ever Zoom cook-along. The session was sponsored by Hakutsuru hon mirin, who provided me with some complimentary samples of their product. The host and teacher were from Sozai Cookery School, in London.
Introduction to the cook-along
Our host for the afternoon was Izumi Nakamura, who was beautifully dressed in a traditional yukata (or possibly a kimono). Izumi is a chef at the Sozai Cookery School, but her role in the cook-along was to introduce the chef and the representative from Hakutsuru Sake. She also was keeping an eye on the chat and answering our questions or asking the chef on our behalf.
In advance of the cook-along, I gathered together the ingredients that I thought I would need. In the red tub, I had some baby corn and mangetout for steaming. The small bottles were soy sauce. If you’re going to do a cook-along, I would recommend gathering all of your ingredients and then doing any initial preparations. (I definitely should have chopped the vegetables in advance of the session). I would also recommend getting out the required cooking utensils and laying the table ready to eat!
About the Hakutsuru brand
Masafumi Futatsugi, a representative from Hakutsuru joined the call to tell us a little more about this famous brand. The brand name means ‘white crane, which is why their logo is a white crane.
We watched a short video to learn more about how sake and mirin are produced. I found this interesting as I’d not considered it before.
It is possible to visit the Hakutsuru Brewery Museum in Kobe, Japan.
The tour is highly regarded. It would definitely be worth visiting if you are in Kobe (which is only an hour away from Kyoto via shinkansen).
Meeting the chef
We were introduced to our chef for the afternoon: Kinu Yukawa. She is a private chef from Kobe who trained in Kyoto and Paris.
Kinu told us a little more about Hakutsuru hon mirin (or ‘true’ mirin). She also explained how it enhances ‘umami’. Umami is one of the five tastes – the others are sweet, sour, bitter and salty. Umami means â€œessence of deliciousnessâ€ in Japanese.
Making the minestrone soup
We had been provided with a list of ingredients in advance, so I’d gathered everything together. I chose bouillon powder instead of a stock cube. There was no cabbage in the supermarket and I detest pre-chopped kale, so I had spinach. I bought some vegetarian hard cheese (but forgot to add it!)
- 1 onion
- 2 carrots
- 1 leek
- 400g tin of tomatoes
- 400g tin of canellini beans
- 3 tbsp Hakutsuru Hon Mirin
- 1 tsp bouillon powder
- 70g spinach
- Sea salt and black pepper
- Olive oil
I was surprised that we were cooking an Italian soup in a Japanese cookery class. We were told that Western-style soups are popular in Japan. These are known as yoshoku (foreign-influenced food). The most popular ones are corn soup, onion soup and minestrone.
I added oil to a frying pan and heated it before adding the chopped vegetables. We should have cooked the onion a little before adding the carrots and then the leeks. I had put them in a bowl together, so ended up cooking them together. We were told that we could add garlic and that if someone wanted a different version, bacon could be added.
After five minutes, we added the tinned tomatoes and then refilled the tin with water and added it to the pan. We also added the drained rinsed beans and bouillon. Finally, we added the Hon Mirin to the soup to add a delicious umami flavour.
Another variation would be adding pasta – but not too much as it will absorb the liquid from the soup. We were advised that about 10 sticks of spaghetti (broken into pieces) would be enough.
We left the soup to simmer for a while (possibly 30 minutes) whilst preparing the teriyaki dish.
Five minutes before serving, I added the spinach. Adding leaves earlier would have ruined their texture. I added some salt and pepper before serving… but forgot to add the cheese.
Making the teriyaki aubergine
The second dish that we cooked was a much more traditional Japanese meal: teriyaki. There were options for everyone: meat-eaters, pescatarians and vegetarians/vegans.
For the teriyaki sauce:
- 6 tbsp Hakutsuru hon mirin
- 3 tbsp soy sauce
- 3 tbsp sake or white wine
- 7 tbsp Hakutsuru hon mirin
- 3 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tbsp water
- 2 chicken thighs, deboned
- 2 salmon fillets, skin on
- 1 large aubergine, cut in half lengthways
- 2tbsp cornflour
- Steamed vegetables and freshly cooked rice, to serve
The first step was to measure out the liquid ingredients and combine them in a bowl. Although I had a bottle of sake out, I decided to use the second option with more mirin.
Chef Kinu encouraged us to try to Hakutsuru Hon Mirin whilst we were measuring it out. I poured a little onto a teaspoon and was pleasantly surprised by how delicious it was. (I reckon I could enjoy a sherry schooner of it with a pudding!)
The next step was to prepare the main ingredient. As a vegetarian, I had chosen to cook aubergine. As I was cooking for three of us, I thought I had better cook two aubergines.
Kinu taught us how to prepare the aubergine, so that the heat would penetrate its dense flesh. She demonstrated a cutting technique called kakushi bochi or hidden knife.
The images show my first attempts at kakushi bocho. I scored around the edge of my aubergines and then crosshatched them to about 1/3 depth.
After scoring the aubergines, I coated them in cornflour. I think this was to prevent them from soaking up too much oil. However, I might be wrong.
Cooking the aubergines
I heated oil in a heavy non-stick frying pan and then added the aubergines. A slightly larger pan would have been better for my 4 pieces. I was able to rearrange them to cook them better.
Whilst we were cooking our main ingredient, we were also keeping an eye on our soup. I was really enjoying the cook-along. I could see the other participants and we were able to chat with each other via Zoom.
When the aubergines were cooked, we transferred them to a plate and cleaned out the pan, ready to add the sauce.
Finishing the dish
I poured the sauce into the pan and heated it. Then added the aubergines.
I simmered the aubergines in the sauce until it had thickened slightly. Whilst they were simmering, I spooned the sauce over the aubergines.
How did I do?
I normally end my running posts and race reviews with a summary of how I did and that seems to be an apt way to round off this post.
My minestrone soup may not look impressive, but the taste was unbelievable. The hakutsuru hon mirin really balanced out the acidic tomatoes, so it was some of the best soup I’ve ever tasted. I completely forgot to add the vegetarian hard cheese, but I think the soup didn’t need it. This means that my soup was suitable for vegans.
The soup made four large portions.
Chef Kinu’s teriyaki chicken and teriyaki aubergine were beautifully presented.
My teriyaki aubergine definitely wasn’t as beautifully presented as Kinu’s, but it tasted amazing. I’ve only cooked with aubergine a couple of times before… and have never cooked it well. I felt really proud of how well I did.
I would definitely make both of these dishes again and would be happy to serve them to friends and family. Using the hon mirin really enhanced the flavours.
More about cooking with Hon Mirin
Whilst the cook-along participants sat down and started eating our food, we were told a little bit more about hon mirin.
Mirin was originally a sweet sake drink for ladies (I guess a bit like sherry in the UK!) It can be drunk warm or cold. Sake is usually drunk as a meal accompaniment.
I was pleasantly surprised to learn the price of Hakutsuru Hon Mirin. I used 10 tbsp cooking these two dishes, which is about half a bottle. It’s also good to know that it is gluten free, allergen free and vegan, so I could serve the minestrone soup to any of my friends.
It is possible to buy Hakutsuru Hon Mirin from TK Trading.
Masafumi Futatsugi talked us through the different kinds of sake that are produced by Hakutsuru. The three on the left of the image are casual drinks whereas the three on the right are premium drinks. I like the sho-une (soaring clouds) bottle.
Chef Kinu talked about why she likes using hon mirin in cooking.
What else could I use hon mirin for?
I think I might try replacing the sherry in one of my butternut squash soup recipes and also wonder whether it would work in risotto. BBC Food has a lot of recipes that use mirin, so I think I might explore them.
What would you use it in?
Who else joined the cook-along?
I think there were around 15 of us in the cook-along, which seemed like the right number. I noted down a few people’s names and have had a look at their blogs. Check them out to see what they thought of the cook-along.