Hello, bento friends! On this 4th day of Okazu Marathon week I chose the term AMAKARA as its theme. AMA is a shortened form of AMAI which means sweet in taste and KARA or karai which means spicy hot, salty or dry in taste. AMAKARA I talk about today is the combination of sweet taste and salty taste.
Amakara is really a popular flavor in Japan and there are indeed many Amakara dishes. Maybe you wonder “what kind of taste is it?” If you already like Chicken or Salmon Teriyaki, you know how Amakara flavor tastes like. A good Teriyaki sauce is shiny and thick, almost sticky. Mirin and Japanese Sake are the important condiments to make a good Teriyaki sauce and when they meet sugar and soy sauce over the heat, the magic happens.
There are indeed many dishes in the Japanese cuisine that we cook with sugar and soy sauce. Sukiyaki is a very good example. I can almost imagine the beautiful beef is simmering on the iron skillet with sugar and soy sauce. Sushi, too. Sushi rice is seasoned with vinegar and sugar and we dip in soy sauce to taste. Many simmered dishes, grilled chicken or eel are served with sweet and salty sauces. In a way maybe we can say we Japanese are very used to AMAKARA flavor.
I was curious of this magic and looked for any logical explanation hopefully supported by a scientific or chemical evidence. I always say cooking is love but I also believe cooking is chemistry, too. It took a long time but I managed to find the chemical explanation of the magic which is called Maillard Reaction and the magical substance is called Melanoidin. The explanation was very difficult but I understood the fact that a special substance is created when soy sauce and sugar are heated together and this magical substance smells good. I wish I could explain well but my poor knowledge of chemistry is not supporting it but it looks like AMAKARA’s magic is really endorsed by chemistry as well.
Sweetness in the traditional Japanese cooking does not come only from sugar. I read traditional Japanese cooking books and was very amazed to see it is more indirect and complex kind of sweetness. Many great Japanese chefs do not use so much sugar. Their traditional recipes use more of fine Japanese Sake and Mirin instead of sugar. When excellent top-class raw ingredients of high quality meet top-class broth (Dashi) and Japanese Sake you really don’t need so much sugar to bring about the best flavor. Good Japanese Sake will taste sweet when it is boiled down and top-class local vegetables have wonderful sweetness in themselves. Really Japanese cooking is full of magics.
Potato in Amakara sauce (じゃがいものきんぴら）
2 medium-sized potatoes (about 200g in total)
Sesame oil 1 table spoon
* Amakara Sauce*
Japanese sake 2 table spoons
Mirin 1 and 1/3 table spoon
Soy sauce 1 and 1/3 table spoon
Sugar 1 tea spoon
1. Mix all the ingredients of Amakara sauce in a cup and stir well. Set aside.
2. Peel potatoes and cut into slices about 2 mm thick.
3. Cut in strips about 2mm wide, like match sticks.
4. Toss into cold water. Leave for 5 minutes. Drain and pat dry on kitchen paper.
If you are serving this for dinner and like to save some for the next day’s bento, you can take some potatoes and sauce and set them together like this in the fridge.
5. Heat sesame oil in a pan and sautee the potatoes for 3 minutes.
6. Add the sauce and stir.
7. Stir until the potatoes are cooked and become tender and the sauce has gone into the potatoes.
8. Sprinkle some white sesame seeds. Bon Appetite!