In a perverse attempt to chase away winter, we made the great Japanese comfort dish, oden, this March, coinciding incidentally with predictions of snowfall. It was eaten to the dulcet tones of Stravinsky’s piece.

This isn’t something at all found in London restaurants, though Sakana-Tei do have nimono dishes that are not dissimilar. But my favourite oden has always been at Ogawa in Ginza, in the basement of an anonymous office building, quite hard to find and utterly traditional. Businessmen at the counter, not a single gaijin (other than your correspondent), and an occasional young lady in traditional costume, with an elderly companion, with equal probability her father or husband. The dish is also traditionally served from a cart, such as at the Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo.

Oden at Ogawa in Ginza, Tokyo

Oden at Ogawa in Ginza, Tokyo

Preparation starts with making dashi , the base stock for many Japanese dishes. I won’t try to get into the details of preparing dashi, as there are variations for each dish, but in simple terms: the giant sea kelp (kombu) and shaved bonito flakes are simmered (not boiled) in water. The first pass of the kombu and bonito make a delicate dashi that could be used for soups; the same ingredients are re-used for a second simmering, which gives a stronger, slightly bitter, stock, which is then the base for long-cooked dishes such as oden.

Kombu for dashi

Kombu for dashi

Bonito for dashi

Bonito for dashi

Dashi in the pot - do not boil !

Dashi in the pot – do not boil !

Primary dashi

Primary dashi

Secondary dashi

Secondary dashi

Oden typically has a range of ingredients: daikon radishes, kabocha pumpkins, taro roots, konyaku (evocatively called “devil’s tongue jelly”, made from a yam root and quite gelatinous yet crunchy, like certain clams or jellyfish), tofu (fresh or deep-fried), fish cakes of various types, eggs, and less conventionally, chicken or vegetables. The idea is to have a range of items, that are happy to absorb flavours, and cook them in a well-seasoned broth.

Things for oden

Things for oden

Daikon radish

Daikon radish

Cut up roasted fish rolls, and fish balls stuffed with edamame

Cut up roasted fish rolls, and fish balls stuffed with edamame

Konyaku - devil's tongue jelly, cut into triangles and braided

Konyaku – devil’s tongue jelly, cut into triangles and braided

The actual making of the dish is simple (this link is quite good http://norecipes.com/blog/oden-recipe/ ), boil the daikon and the egg, until both are mostly done. Take the second-pass of the dashi, a roughly equal amount of chicken stock, mix it with a little mirin (Japanese rice wine, but slightly sweet), light (usukuchi) soy sauce, and salt, adjusting the ingredients to get the desired flavour, round and rich with umami. Put in the desired ingredients (I used daikon, two types of fish cake, konyaku and a duck’s egg), and simmer on low heat for about 90 minutes until the sauce reduces by 20-30%. It goes best with Japanese mustard, and shouldn’t really need rice (more of a starter). I’ll find out tomorrow, but they say, like an Italian ragu, this is better on the second day once the flavours have really infused.

Not as pretty (or as good) as Ogawa, but perfectly satisfactory for London

Not as pretty (or as good) as Ogawa, but perfectly satisfactory for London

Serve with Japanese mustard or sansho pepper

Serve with Japanese mustard or sansho pepper

For the main course, I minced some chicken breast and a couple of prawns. I cooked the chicken with a little sake, dark soy sauce and sugar, stirring constantly (there’s no grease, so keep it moving). Once it was cooked through, I set it aside and mixed in some freshly-grated ginger.

Chicken, prawns, if this had the crumbled omelet, it would be "soboro donburi", a traditional "sarariman" lunch in a lovely lacquered box

Chicken, prawns, if this had the crumbled omelet, it would be “soboro donburi”, a traditional “sarariman” lunch in a lovely lacquered box

The minced prawns were cooked with sake, mirin, and salt, until just cooked.

I then use the dashi, mixed with dark soy sauce and sugar, to make a little broth. I place the prawns and the chicken on boiled rice, and irrigate with broth.

The side vegetable is horenso no ohitashi (soused spinach): lightly boiled greens, in a dressing of dashi, mirin, salt, chilled for a 1-2 hours, with bonito shavings on top.

Lovely spinach from hipster heaven - Broadway Market on a Saturday.

Lovely spinach from hipster heaven – Broadway Market on a Saturday.

Dinner. Coasters, incidentally, from a design store in Meguro (Tokyo).  CH via JP.

Dinner. Coasters, incidentally, from a design store in Meguro (Tokyo). CH via JP.

Wines: a blend of home-made plum and rhubarb wines to start; followed by a Ripasso di Valpolicella 2010