Japanese Cooking 101

Learning about Japanese cuisine is about learning to think small and intense rather than big and explosive, the way many Americans cook (think jambalayas, burgers with five toppings, chilies with seven toppings, Chicago-style hot dogs with too many toppings to even count).

Cookbook author and food consultant Hiroko Shimbo, who is running the demonstration kitchen at the ongoing Japanese Food and Restaurant Show in New York, dropped by The Early Show to give co-anchor Harry Smith a quick taste of some of the small dishes with huge flavors. "Japanese cooking is very light," she explained, "because it is based on water and fire."

The 14-year-old Japanese Food and Restaurant Show features Japanese food products, including rare artisanal ingredients made by small family owned businesses -- many of them several generations old. Among the products on display are real Wagyu beef, sea salt smoked over cherry wood fires, live miso, and soy sauce aged in 100-year-old cider barrels, crispy "soy salt" made of freeze-dried soy sauce, smoky brown sugar cubes from Okinawa Island, and much more.

Shimbo, a trained sushi chef and author of "The Sushi Experience" and "The Japanese Kitchen," showed Harry how to quickly sear thin slices of Wagyu beef ($90 a pound!) on hot stones, then dip the slices in smoked sea salts. The sea salts have been used in Japanese cuisine for more than 2,500 years, Shimbo said. The smoky flavor is developed from roasting the salt with cherry wood.

Another unusual ingredient Shimbo introduced to Harry is purple sweet potato vinegar (called benimosu, pronounced beh-nee-mosu). There are two versions -- one to accompany savory dishes and one sweetened with honey that can be used in cocktails or desserts. According to Shimbo, the deep red vinegar has "a pleasant sharp taste and aroma." Benimosu is made from purple sweet potatoes, which centuries ago traveled with the Portuguese to Japan from their native Central and South America, she explained.

And shoyu (pronounced show-you) Shiro Shibori is a wheat soy sauce made from 80 percent wheat and 20 percent soybeans. It originates from the city of Yuasa, where Japanese soy sauce was born 750 years ago. Soy sauce was originally developed to pickle local summer vegetables such as melon, eggplant, ginger and cucumber in a pickling base consisting of a combination of wheat, rice, soybeans and salt in a wooden vat, much as it is done in China. That's because a Japanese monk, Kakushin, visited China to study Buddhism, and returned to Japan with this easy preserving method. For more, go here.

Shimbo passed along some simple Japanese recipes to try at home:

Grilled Chicken with Yuzu-flavored Mutenka Mugi Miso Sauce
(recipe by Hiroko Shimbo)

For the Yuzu-flavored sauce:
1/4 cup sake (rice wine)
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons dashi (fish stock)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons yuzu juice
Grated rind of yuzu

For the chicken:
Chicken breast, skin attached
Sea salt
Grilled seasonal vegetables

Place all sauce ingredients in a pot, except yuzu juice and rind; cook over medium-low heat until no longer watery. Add yuzu juice and rind; continue to cook until no longer watery.

Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Salt the chicken on both sides. Place the chicken, skin-side down, on the skillet and cook it until the skin is golden. Turn over the chicken and cook until the other side is golden. Transfer the chicken to the heated oven (325 degrees F) and cook additional 12 minutes.

Two minutes before the end of cooking remove the chicken from the oven and spread 2 tablespoons yuzu sauce over each chicken breast. Put the chicken back to the oven. Serve the chicken with grilled vegetables on the side.

SHIRO SHIBORI flavored Tuna Tartar
7 ounces sashimi tuna, cut into tiny cubes
1 tablespoon pickled ginger, minced
1 tablespoon chive, minced
10 shiso leaves
Lemon or yuzu juice to taste
Shiro Shibori, wheat soy sauce, to taste
Pinch sea salt
Baguette, sliced thin and cooked with a little olive oil until crisp

In a bowl gently toss tuna, pickled ginger and chive. Flavor the mixture with lemon or yuzu juice and wheat soy sauce. Add sea salt if needed. Place one shiso leaf on top of each baguette slice. Scoop 1/20th portion of tuna from the bowl and arrange it on top of shiso leaf.

Benimosu Yogurt
1/2 cup mixed blueberries, raspberries and blackberries
1 cup Greek style yogurt
2 tablespoons Benimosu, purple sweet potato vinegar, honey sweetened

In a dessert glass bowl arrange yogurt and mixed berries. Drizzle Benimosu over yogurt and berries.