“Chikinjiru” – Butajiru with Chicken

July 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

E: We at Nombudsman felt like we were getting into a bit of a rut in terms of creativity. The food photo blog thing has a habit of reminding one of how easy it is to slip into the rut of making practically the same thing over and over and over again. Repeated bouts of gastronomic déja vu plus a solid helping of Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto and a distinct lack of anything remotely Japanese on this blog led us to try something new, and invent our own version of butajiru (a.k.a. tonjiru i.e. miso soup with pork and lots of other stuff that miso soup doesn’t have). We aren’t really pork people, so we substituted chicken for the pork. We also found our local market to be not exactly overflowing with taro root, so we went the route of Japanese skiing soup and decided to substitute sweet potatoes. So if you are familiar with real butajiru, pardon us our liberties.

more kickass than miso

The first step toward some more-or-less authentic soup, be it “chikinjiru” or butajiru or what have you is having a decent dashi broth. Traditionally made with kombu (kelp) and katsuobushi (preserved tuna), dashi is the main flavor base for a variety of Japanese soups and broths. The supermarkets didn’t have dashi powder (and the local Asian market was a bit out of our way) so we made our own from some dried kombu and dried shiitake mushrooms (katsuobushi was also, regrettably, rather thin on the ground in your average grocery store—even the local Whole Foods didn’t have it). This was our first time making dashi, and we followed the instructions for “Japanese-style dashi” on the back of an overly-glossy English-language package of kombu harvested in China (which called for shiitakes but made no mention whatsoever of katsuobushi) leading me to believe that the broth itself may be somewhat inauthentic. Getting it right is really important for this soup, so I think that while what we have here is a good place to start, after you’ve made it this way once I suggest searching around for a more legitimate dashi recipe. I know I will.

That said the soup was great. It was the sort of thing that I think one could enjoy in any season, and though we were both in perfect health when we ate it, we both agreed that it was the sort of thing we’d want made for us if we were sick. A note however, before we begin:  if you cut everything thin like we did, it cooks very quickly. We simmered the soup for probably twice as long as it needed, and the vegetables suffered for it. I’ve adjusted the recommended times here, and I suggest being fairly diligent about testing for done-ness, at least the first time you make it. You want the veggies to still have some snap to them.

We got our recipe for butajiru from Kanako’s Kitchen, and we suggest you take a look there for some more authentic ingredient ideas, if you have the inclination to go find taro, gobou or aburaage. But if you want to make this out of stuff you can find at your local grocery store, look no further.

Ingredients (serves 4 as a large main course, 6+ as an appetizer)

For the dashi broth:
4 c. water
1 four-inch piece of kombu
3 dried shiitake mushrooms
2 tbsp soy sauce

For the soup:
3/4 lb chicken (or pork)
2 carrots
2 sweet potatoes or yams
1 onion
1 bunch scallions
2 tbsp miso paste (could use more, to taste)

you may as well soak them in the pot and fish them out by hand

So start off by adding 4 cups of water to a large pot, and placing the kombu and dried shiitake mushrooms into the water. It is best to rinse the kombu under running water and wipe dry first, to remove anything that might be on the surface. Let these soak for 15 minutes or so (then, if you are using whole dried shiitake mushrooms, rather than pre-sliced ones, remove the mushrooms, cut off and discard the stems, thinly slice the caps, and then return them to the pot). Now, turn up the heat, and simmer the kombu and shiitakes in the broth for another 10 to 15 minutes (keep the heat just below a boil).

pick your favorite type of miso paste, we used this

Just as an aside, here’s the miso paste we used. They had two kinds, one darker than the other. We picked this one, which is reddish brown. The darker paste used buckwheat, which has a different flavor. I think you can probably use whatever miso paste you want and get a good result, but someone familiar with the dish could weigh in on what would be most correct.

ready for chopping

While your broth is soaking/simmering away, prep your other ingredients. Peel your sweet potatoes and get ready to slice.

we meant it when we said thin slices

Wash your chicken and cut it thinly into strips. Thin strips will cook faster, which will be a good thing for all your ingredients. This is a “fresh” soup, not a savory, slow-cooked stew.

prepped to go

Cut the carrots and sweet potatoes into little sticks, and slice the onions thinly. Once the broth has simmered for 15 minutes with the kombu and shiitake mushrooms, fish them all out with a slotted spoon. Add the soy sauce to the broth, and then the chicken, carrots, sweet potatoes, and onion.

there's a lot--don't worry it cooks down

This won’t all go below the liquid level right away, but it works out. Boil, covered, for just 15 minutes, such that the chicken and everything else is cooked. Check the carrots, onions, and sweet potato, and only add more time if something is too al dente for you.

it ends up something like this

It should look more like this now. If it doesn’t, you can add more water. We added about a cup when we put in the vegetables, because we were worried about how much they would cook down, but I’m not sure if it was entirely necessary so I guess it is up to your judgment. Turn down to a simmer, and add the miso paste. If you want to make sure it distributes evenly, mix it with 2 tbsp of water first to form a slurry, and then pour that in. Keeping the soup at a gentle simmer, cook for another 2 minutes or so. Don’t boil miso! It loses its flavor and a lot of its nutrients.

ready to eat!

Toss the scallions in right before serving.

You can serve the soup alone, with a spoon, as a Westerner would eat it. Or, serve it with rice so you can eat the chicken and veggies with chopsticks, and consume the delicious broth afterward by pouring it on the rice. Enjoy!

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