The Japanese, like other food-obsessed cultures, are great at incorporating outside influences into their cuisine. Some of the foreign-influenced dishes are obvious, such as kare (although Japanese curry is not like anything you would find in India), while others are not; ramen has its roots in Chinese noodle dishes, and tempura comes from the Portuguese. Here are two yoshoku (Japanese-style Western food) dishes that show that fusion food can be delicious.
Angelhair pasta aglio e olio with chirimen, karasumi and pickled peperoncini
This recipe takes the traditional Italian dish of pasta with olive oil and garlic and incorporates chirimen (dried tiny whitebait) and karasumi (dried fish roe), which is similar to bottarga. Chirimen and karasumi are sold in the refrigerated seafood section of supermarkets such as City’super and Apita. Pasta aglio e olio often calls for dried chilli flakes, but I like to add a bit of heat with pickled peperoncini (also spelled pepperoncini), which, because of the vinegar, adds a welcome acidity that balances the oiliness of the sauce.
The sauce takes a little longer to cook than the pasta.
100ml extra-virgin olive oil
80 grams chirimen
4-6 large garlic cloves
Several red or green peperoncini, or another type of whole, medium-spicy pickled chilli
Karasumi, to taste
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
200 grams angelhair, capellini or another very fine Italian pasta
Thinly slice the garlic. Slice the peperoncini into thin rings, discarding most of the seeds.
Pour the olive oil into a pan (I use a medium-sized wok) then add the chirimen. Place over a medium flame and heat until sizzling. Cook for about three minutes, adjusting the heat if needed – the oil should bubble gently, not vigorously. Stir in the sliced garlic. Cook for several minutes or until the garlic and chirimen are pale golden, stirring occasionally.
While the chirimen and garlic are cooking, boil the pasta in salted water until al dente. When it’s ready, ladle off about 100ml of the cooking liquid, then drain.
Stir the sliced peperoncini into the garlic-chirimen-oil mixture and cook for about a minute. Add the hot, cooked pasta and about 50ml of the cooking liquid. Immediately start to mix the ingredients using chopsticks (or metal tongs), until the water and oil combine to form a thin sauce that lightly coats the pasta. If the mixture seems dry, add more pasta water. Taste the ingredients and season very lightly with salt (it might not need any; it will be saltier when you add the karasumi). Turn off the flame.
Divide the ingredients between two shallow bowls, making sure each portion has an even amount of garlic, chirimen and peperoncini. Peel back the membrane from the karasumi then use a fine-toothed rasp-type grater (such as a Microplane) to grate the dried fish roe over the pasta. Sprinkle with black pepper and serve immediately.
Most tonkatsu restaurants offer at least two cuts, the most common of which are the hire (the tenderloin, which is lean) and rosu (loin, which is more moist). I always go for the more expensive rosu, and use it when I cook tonkatsu at home. If you prefer, use the tenderloin; just make sure you don’t overcook it.
4 boneless pork chops, each about 6mm thick and weighing about 250 grams
Plain (all-purpose) flour, for dredging
Panko, for coating
Fine sea salt
Steamed Japanese rice, finely shredded green head cabbage, Kewpie mayonnaise and lemon wedges
Sprinkle fine sea salt evenly over both sides of the pork chops and leave at room temperature for at least 30 minutes, and up to an hour.
Put some flour into one shallow, wide bowl, the eggs in a second bowl and the panko in another. Whisk the eggs. Pour cooking oil to the depth of about 1.5cm into a skillet, then place over a medium-high flame and heat to 180 degrees Celsius.
When the oil is almost at the correct temperature, dredge one of the pork chops in the flour to coat it evenly, then shake off the excess. Coat the pork chop with the beaten egg, then dip it into the panko, pressing on the breadcrumbs so they adhere to the meat. Carefully slide the meat into the hot oil and repeat with the remaining pork chops (unless your pan is very large, you’ll probably be able to cook only two at a time). Fry the pork chops, adjusting the flame as needed so the oil remains close to 180 degrees. If the panko browns too fast, lower the heat. The pork chops will take about three minutes on each side, perhaps longer.
When the pork chops are cooked, drain them on paper towels. Use a very sharp knife to slice the chops about 8mm thick. Serve the tonkatsu with steamed Japanese rice, lemon wedges and the shredded cabbage drizzled with Kewpie mayonnaise.