Bitter spring mountain vegetables
(Top) “Sansai” or mountain vegetables. (From left) “uni” (sea urchin), mountain vegetables, yellow sauce made with mustard, white miso and local vinegar, green “Kinome”sauce made with “sansho” pepper leaves.
The northern part of Kyushu island, in SouthWest Japan, has been a popular gourmet destination for decades. From blowfish to bamboo shoots, abalone to wild vegetables, restaurant Sato in Kokura serves a fine cuisine exclusively using local and seasonal ingredients. Author, editor, radio host and former editor in chief of Food & Wine magazine, Dana Cowin, visited chef Sato for a late spring lunch. (Blow fish dishes have been featured in a previous post.)
We are on the cusp of two seasons now, so today I’ll serve “Sansai”(mountain vegetables) and bamboo shoots (“Takenoko”).
For starters I’ve prepared 30 varieties of spring mountain vegetables. I first read about Michel Bras in an article about his “Gargouillou” made of many different vegetables cooked separately. It really looked beautiful. I will also cook these seasonal mountain vegetables separately to get an ideal texture for each.
In Japan we say “Spring is the season of bitter taste” because it’s the season when vegetables get rid of the toxin accumulated during winter. Bitterness is typical of spring vegetables. When bears wake up from hibernation they start by eating this kind of vegetables to slowly wake up and become active again.
Green “Kinome” or sansho pepper leaves used to prepare kinome sauce.
“Sansai” vegetables topping a sesame tofu: “urui”(hosta), “udo (aralla cordata), “wakegi”(scallion), “warabi” (fiddlehead).
Iseebi (Japanese spiny lobster)
Huge lobsters known as Japanese spiny lobster or Iseebi, are also in season in spring.
We will cut this lobster then grill it over a hot stone. I will cook it just on one side so that the upper side stays raw.
We took out the lobster’s guts we call “Miso”, it’s the best part. The flesh can be prepared raw and cooked, and also the other parts called “miso” are being used to prepare sauces. I cook the lobster on a hot stone put over charcoal. and serve them with a sauce prepared with the “miso”.
The savory and salty note added by the sauce made with the lobster “miso” offers a wonderful accent to the sweet and delicate lobster.
Sticky rice cakes filled with “Karasumi” (bottarga or cured mullet roe)
Mullet row cured in saltGrilled karasumi mochi served on a Sumo wrestler shaped dish
“Karasumi” is a traditional delicacy in japan and chef Sato prepares his own by curing mullet roe in salt. He fills sticky rice cakes with it, and grill it over charcoal for a surprisingly tasty contrast of rich and sticky textures.
Discover more about Deep Japan Culinary tour on Dana Cowin’s podcast on Heritage Radio Network: