Seasonal Japanese Ingredients and How To Use Them: Shiso

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The seasonality of Japanese vegetables is a part of what makes them so special. A summertime produce, shiso appears fresh on shelves for a few short weeks before disappearing for another year. The limited availability of this mysterious herb makes it all the more popular when it makes its yearly rounds.

Full of calcium and iron, shiso (シソ), or “perilla leaf” in English, is a Japanese herb that we all may have unwittingly eaten at one point or another. With a flavor reminiscent of cinnamon or cloves this Japanese herb can add an extra dimension to dishes, be they meat or vegetarian. With such a unique flavor it’s important to understand which ingredients pair well with shiso before we liberally sprinkle this Japanese herb over every meal, so let’s take a deeper look at shiso and see which dishes bring out the best of our seasonal friend.

Tsukune

Those who love Japanese izakaya know of this staple. Tsukune is minced chicken grilled with either a tare sauce or a mild salt rub, served with an egg yolk for dipping. Tsukune is easily recreated at home with a few simple ingredients.

  • Ground chicken 180g
  • Shiso 2 leaves finely sliced
  • A pinch of salt and pepper
  • 2 egg yolks
  • Panko bread crumbs for binding

After combining the ingredients in a bowl and setting aside 1 egg yolk for later, the chicken mixture is then placed onto skewers. Pro-tip for anyone using wooden surfaces, the chicken mixture can be quite sticky and a little flour on your hands and surfaces will make this process go a lot smoother.

For those without a grill, a kitchen and a hot pan work just the same. Fry the chicken on all sides until golden brown, then, add a little water into the pan and cover with a lid to steam. Let the chicken steam for around 7-12 minutes depending on the size of your tsukune.

Remove from the heat and coat the tsukune with either a sprinkle of salt or a healthy coating of tare sauce. Plate with an egg yolk for dipping.

Hamburger Steak with Shiso

The classic Japanese hamburger steak is a staple in most family homes in Japan. Although loved by kids and adults alike this staple can be brought to a whole new level with the help of the humble shiso leaf. Although every household in Japan seems to have a different idea of what makes the best hamburger steak here is a basic recipe which you are, of course, free to customize.

  • Ground beef and pork 400 grams 
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Panko for binding
  • Salt and pepper
  • Tablespoon of ketchup
  • 1 shiso leaf per patty

In a bowl, mix together beef and pork mince, all of your spices, ketchup (trust me), panko for binding and one egg yolk. Let the mixture rest in the fridge for around 20 minutes before you begin to form the hamburger patties. This allows for the ingredients to get to know one another but this step is optional. The lack of shiso shouldn’t cause you any concern as this will come later.

Mold your meat mixture into patties remembering to make an indentation in the center of each patty in order to even out cooking time. Just an indentation, not a hole – we’re not making meat donuts here. Place your patties into a hot pan and as they fry on one side, press a whole shiso leaf onto the raw side of the patty. Flip the patty and add a little water to the pan. Cover the pan with a lid to let the steam circulate and repeating until cooked.

The shiso adds a fantastic flavor to the hamburger and works wonderfully when paired with freshly steamed rice.

Pork Belly (Bacon) with Shiso

Probably one of the more simple recipes on the list, this dish is super easy to prepare and even easier to cook. Also an easy dish to customize, this delicious Japanese dish is brought to new levels with the addition of the humble shiso.

  • Pork belly
  • Pepper
  • Shiso leaves
  • Cheese (dealers choice)
  • Tare sauce for serving (optional)

Flatten out strips of pork belly and on the side with the most surface area add a shiso leaf and a piece of cheese. Add a second shiso leaf just below the first and then roll. Simple as that. In a hot pan, place the rolls being sure to brown all sides equally. After all sides have darkened, add a little water to the pan and allow the rolls to steam for around 10-15 minutes, checking and turning the rolls to keep their color even.

Once the cheese is melted and the pork is cooked all the way through, serve on a stylish long plate or cut them into bite-size pieces for the perfect starter to any dinner party.

Agedashi Tofu with Shiso

For those who want more of a challenge – agedashi tofu. This seemingly simple dish can go wrong during so many stages making it annoyingly, a pain to make, but worth every second.

  • Tofu 300g
  • Flour (enough to coat the tofu)
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp dashi
  • 1 tbsp mirin
  • Shiso
  • Green onions
  • Shredded daikon for garnish (optional)

Wrap a block of tofu in kitchen paper to remove as much moisture as possible. After around 20 minutes cut the tofu into slightly larger than bite-size pieces and dust them with a mixture of flour. There is always a temptation to salt the flour but one must resist, as the sauce in which the tofu is served will have all the necessary flavor. The tofu pieces are then fried in a pan until all sides are golden and crispy. Pro-tip here is patience. Allow the tofu to turn golden brown in its own time and don’t be tempted to blast the heat as this can quickly cause burning.

Onto the dashi, in a bowl mix 1 tablespoon of dashi, mirin and 1 or 2 tablespoons of soy sauce depending on how deep you want the flavor. Allow the mixture to sit as the tofu is fried to completion. Add the tofu to a bowl and the sauce mixture to a pan with 50ml of water. Mix the sauce until combined and pour over the tofu, just enough to coat the tofu, you don’t want it swimming in sauce.

Top with sliced shiso, bonito flakes and an optional extra dose of shredded daikon and spring onions. These light crispy tofu bites make an excellent side dish to any meal.

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