They’ve been part of our takeaway orders for generations. We explore the history of Chinese/Australian takeaway classics, including the dim sim, lemon chicken and sweet & sour pork.
Great food is like an onion – it has many layers. Basically, great food layers different flavour profiles, textures and even colours as it aims for perfection.
One of the most overlooked aspects of great food, however, is seasoning. If you’ve been to a great restaurant you may have noticed the lack of salt and pepper on the table. This is because the chefs believe they have seasoned the dish so well in the kitchen that adding anything extra to it would adversely affect the balance.
But you don’t need to go Michelin star hunting to benefit from the way seasoning lifts food. Head down to your local fish and chip shop and you can see first hand how a scattering of salt can lift the humble chip from a prism of bland potato to a delicious parcel of savoury crunch, or how dukkah turn a piece of plain bread into a flavour explosion or the way soy sauce cuts through the rich meatiness of tuna sashimi.
When it comes to seasoning, the Japanese know more than just about anybody. If you have a Netflix subscription I strongly suggest you check out Samin Nosrati’s wonderful series Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. There’s a whole episode dedicated to the hundreds of different types of salt produced in Japan and how their use can vastly change flavour profiles.
But there’s more to seasoning in Japanese cuisine than just a bunch of different salts. As for flavour profile masters, they’ve developed some of the best dish lifters going around, and that’s what we’re here to talk about.
Furikake is most often used as rice seasoning. You have to search pretty far and wide to find a plainer and blander dish than a bowl of rice so you can trust furikake to hit you like a flavourful punch to the palate.
The main ingredients are salt, sesame seeds, sugar and sometimes some chilli, but like all wonderful things, there’s many a variation of furikake. Some include wasabi furikake (with dried wasabi as sprinkled through), nori komi furikake (containing tiny pieces of seasoned nori seaweed), shiso furikake (made from seasoned, dried, and crushed red perilla leaves), and salmon furikake (with dried salmon crumbs added). You can even find some Furikake containing dried omelette pieces, roasted sesame seeds, bonito fish flakes and even matcha green tea, which can really change up a dessert.
A mix of seven ingredients: two kinds each of chilli flakes and sesame seeds, orange zest, ginger, hemp seeds and seaweed. This little beauty is delicious on everything, even chips! Togarashi combines heat, acid and crunch, which immediately lifts any dish, but it’s traditionally sprinkled over soba or udon noodles, rice or yakitori.
I think it works best on seafood, where the subtle sea flavours marry beautifully with togarashi flavour punch.
Katsuobushi is dried, fermented, and smoked fish, also known as bonito flakes.
Katsuobushi – along with dried kelp – is the main ingredient in one of the great building blocks of Japanese cuisine – Dashi broth. Traditionally made katsuobushi, known as karebushi, is deliberately fermented with fungus in order to reduce moisture.
Katsuobushi’s is loved for its ability to instantly inject umami into any dish, that wonderful 5th flavour that makes so many of the best savoury dishes irresistible. When katsuobushi is not being used to make dashi, it’s added to rice, is a key element of furikake, is used to top cold tofu and in a whole bunch of noodle dishes. Basically, if what your making needs a quick hit of umami, grab some katsuobushi.