Couple of things before we get into the meat and potatoes of this post:
I recently did a redesign of my blog layout. I wanted it to be easier for everyone to read, I tagged similar posts so you could read specific posts and hopefully made this a better experience for you. Any feedback you have would be appreciated!
I did change my URL for this blog, so if you keep me bookmarked please update with the new URL above!
It’s still a work in progress, and I plan on doing more redesign work in the next few weeks. Stay tuned!
In my last post, one of the things I said I wanted to discuss was the flavor profiles of the food for this feast. The food here will be different than what most people with a Western palate are used to dining on, even more so for period food in the SCA. Japan, and other “Eastern” cultures in many extents, had a unique flavoring and seasoning palate for their food. For Japan, especially during the Edo Period, this style of cooking was already well settled into the cultural ideals and thus we have a fantastic view on not just how they viewed food but culture as well.
In French of English cooking, the use of spice and varied cooking techniques was designed to transform the food. Take the steak and vegetables, change the flavor with spice and styles of cooking, adjust and transform. All this is wonderful food, and I have cooked plenty Western styles of dish to a rousing success. But I can’t do that here...that’s not how it was done in Japan. In their style of cooking, the Japanese did not test their culinary art in how they could change the flavor of the dish but how they could accept and highlight the natural flavor of the ingredients and dish. This has been a challenge!
Take for example my Fresh Crane Soup. There are a number of challenges involved with this dish that I had to struggle with, and I want to use this as an example of Japanese flavor profiling. The Japanese viewed crane as a delicacy, something for the upper nobility, and thus this was a carefully crafted dish. The soups of Japan were more like broths, meant to prep the body for a meal and not to be a meal unto itself, so had light flavor and were served warm-to-hot to enhance the flavor. You boil and cook with natural complimenting ingredients so the flavor isn’t lost, and the soup is the lead in of another major dish. Had miso before? That’s another great example.
And thus the challenge begins. Crane is not something viable for me to get in bulk, so I had to substitute for duck (which one document I read says happened regularly as the the flavors were very close in taste). I had to unlearn everything I knew about making soup, just to perfect this dish. Instead of a chunky meal-type dish, I had to minimalize the amount of meat that would be in the soup without sacrificing flavor. To enhance I’m adding mushrooms and light spice to season, these will compliment the taste of the bird as well as enhance the flavor of the soup. I will serve is more on the warm side than the hot, to mellow a bit of the sharpness from one of the ingredients added as it blends best when warmed. The portions will be small, maybe 4/6oz of soup at MAX to not overindulge the flavor onto the guest. This way you are getting the natural, enhanced flavor of the soup expressed how it “should be”. This will be done for every dish.
That’s another thing I feel needs to be discussed with flavor, portion sizes. Along with the correct flavor, the correct AMOUNT of the flavor is also an important thing to take note on. In Western styles of cooking you would pile meats and sauces and vegetables high, you ate larger portions because there would be (on average) less dish options available. In this Japanese style each portion is carefully measured and weighed out to match not just the flavor but its place in the meal. My first course is SEVEN dishes, which means portion sizes will be small and gradually increase in small doses as the meal progresses. What that means is each guest will be given a 4/6oz portion of soup, 2/3 bites of pickle, 2 bird skewers, 3/4 chestnuts, one long and thick chopstick wrap of oolong noodle, etc. Each bite is carefully planned for so by the end of the meal the guest is comfortably full, each flavor is appreciated in kind and no one dish overpowers another.
On my next post I will be discussing the illusion food aspect that I will attempt with each dish, how important it was to the dining experience and what you can expect to see at the event!