If you've heard of ochazuke, you may know it is one of Japan's oldest forms of cooking. There is no exact equivalent meaning in English but roughly ochazuke means "put with tea" although "steeped in tea" might have a better resonance with English speakers. Anyway, linguistics apart, ochazuke as a dish probably started life with the use of water rather than tea. Until recent times, rice was a precious commodity and leftovers would have been recycled into other dishes and one way to do this was to rehydrate old rice using water. When the drinking of green tea became widespread in Japan in the sixteenth century, the modern name for the dish - ochazuke - was born out of the new fashion of adding green tea rather than water to rice. (At the time, adding expensive green tea to fresh rice was seen as a way of creating a luxurious food rather than way of making a scarce resource go further.)
Fast forward to modern times and although the name ochazuke persists, green tea is used only rarely and an everyday ochazuke is hydrated for the most part with water once again. Today, most Japanese see ochazuke as a fast, convenience food and will make up their dish with hot water and an instant packet (like the one on the left). These normally contain salt, sugar, a little green tea powder, seaweed powder and some mini-rice crackers along with the usual preservatives and flavour enhancers. You could call this a "one minute meal" as that is about the time it takes to prepare. It's fine for a late supper or as part of a lunch when you need to use up some leftover rice but an eating experience, it is not.
I am happy to say that on the other end of the scale, people are rediscovering the pleasures of a traditionally made ochazuke and making it into a centrepiece meal again. I wrote a post some time ago about new, up market instant ochazuke packs that you can buy in Japan.
(As I said at the time, these would make a great gift to bring back home from a trip to Japan.) The one you can see in the photo on the right is from a traditional Japanese tea shop - Yamane-en - that started the trend for packaging luxury instant ochazuke. The one in the photo even has a fillet of fugu, (blowfish.) You might have heard of this fish - its poison is potentially fatal to humans, so it has to be prepared by chefs licensed to correctly fillet the fish without exposing their diners to a fatal dose of poisoning! (Don't worry though, I actually ate the pack I used for the photo and lived to tell the tale! It was also a lot tastier than the cheap instant pack above.)
Which brings me to how to take the next step in ochazuke and prepare a luxuruious ochazuke yourself...
My good friend Yumiko Nikaido who lives in Japan sent me this recipe - sea bream ochazuke - and encouraged me to try it out. The dish involves buying some fresh sashimi grade sea bream - one of the most prized fish in Japan. This is presented on a bed of shredded nori and garnished with toasted white sesame and shiso leaves. I put in a little ball of wasabi for extra flavour but you may choose not to. Finally, the dish is steeped in a freshly made broth of dashi and soy sauce to make it a truly luxurious ochazuke experience. The only problem with this dish is that once you've tried it, you may struggle to find a better way of experiencing ochazuke.....
If you'd like to try this out, you can find the written recipe just below. The Youtube video tutorial is Sea Bream Ochazuke or scroll to the bottom of the page.
Happy cooking. Kurumi XXXX.
Sea Bream Ochazuke
(makes 2 servings)
350g / 12 oz cooked rice (wet weight)
150g / 5.3 oz fresh sashimi grade sea bream
2 tbsp white toasted sesame seeds, (roughly ground if you prefer)
2 tbsp mirin/honteri
2 tbsp _ 1 tsp soy sauce
400ml / 14 fl oz water
1 tsp Japanese dashi stock granules
1/2 tsp salt
1 nori sheet, cut into matchsticks
3 shredded shiso / oba leaves
a little wasabi (optional)
slice the sea bream diagonally in 3-4mm slices (or let the fishmonger do this for you)
place the sea bream in a bowl and add the sesame seeds, 2 tbsp of soy sauce and the mirin. marinade for 5 - 10 mins
put 1/2 the rice in each serving bowl
sprinkle nori shreds over the rice
remove the sea bream slices from the marinade and arrange them over the rice
garnish with the shredded oba and a small ball of wasabi
pour the 400ml of water into a pan. add the dashi stock granules, the salt and 1 tsp soy sauce and stir until the stock begins to simmer. remove from the heat as it comes to the boil
pour the dashi stock over the bream. your sea bream ochazuke is ready to enjoy