When a brunch day comes around and you find yourself longing for a healthier option than bacon and/or pancakes, why not go Japanese? The traditional Japanese breakfast is a balanced but infinitely variable feast, normally including healthy proteins, vegetables, pickles, rice and soup. That’s 2-3 of your five a day and potentially some oily fish to boot. If, like me, you can happily eat most things for breakfast but baulk at the sight of processed pork or desserts before midday, you’ll be very happy with a spread like this. The only downside is that I can’t manage to cook it on weekdays! My example menu contains:
- grilled mackerel and braised baby chicory
- rolled omelette / tamagoyaki (卵焼き)
- tomato salad
- rice, miso soup with wakame, radish misozuke (味噌漬け）
Read on for methods and tips!
grilled mackerel and braised baby chicory
When I’m cooking a full meal with Japanese dishes, I typically have a pot of dashi (stock) on the hob. It’s not only necessary for the soup, which I always prepare last, but it can be added to many other things. Take the baby chicory here for example: first I seasoned them with a hint of salt and sugar (both fight bitterness) and lightly caramelised them in a dry shallow pan; then I added a ladle of dashi, covered the pan and allowed them to gently poach/steam until tender and lightly flavoured.
The mackerel fillets here were salted, grilled on both sides and brushed with soy sauce just before finishing. Incredibly easy and delicious – and not a million miles away from smoked mackerel, that perennial brunch ingredient.
an aside on fish
A while back, I decided to learn how to fillet a fish. It felt, somewhat bizarrely, like an extreme thing to do as a home cook, but I was so exasperated by the selection of pre-filleted, farmed-in-Indonesia stuff on the supermarket fish shelves (mmm, fresh?!) that I had to expand my horizons somehow. So, like a true revolutionary, I grabbed a knife, propped open an old cookbook and spent a good half-hour swearing at a (decreasingly) whole, dead fish. If you eat fish yourself but haven’t tried this, I urge you to. The Japanese technique for tubular fish like mackerel is called ‘sanmai-oroshi’ and, as it turns out, you can learn it far more easily from YouTube. Even if the attempt puts you off one of the world’s healthiest foods, your new appreciation of fish anatomy will make you about 4% cooler, guaranteed.
rolled omelette / tamagoyaki (卵焼き)
I did a whole post on tamagoyaki ages ago, listing the ingredients as egg, soy sauce, sugar, and sleight of hand. I stand by this formula today! You can do crazy things with a rolled omelette if you like – for instance, rolling sheets of nori between the layers of omelette as you cook it – but I prefer it the classic way: just slightly sweetened and many-layered, like a nice yellow cushion. As part of a breakfast or brunch, I would use 1-1.5 eggs per person and serve one or two slices each, as pictured.
Refreshing tomatoes, sea salt, a little Pomora olive oil, home-grown basil. Not everything has to be Japanese, alright? Don’t be afraid to offset stronger and saltier side dishes with something bright and refreshing. Some of the best things I’ve been served with a Japanese breakfast were salads.
rice, miso soup with wakame, radish misozuke（味噌漬け）
Ordinary radishes, I’ve discovered, can in fact be used anywhere you might use daikon (giant radish) in Japanese cuisine. Peeled and cooked, they have a flavour almost indistinguishable from that of daikon. Unpeeled, they… turn everything pink. I’m yet to find a dish other than pickles where this doesn’t look weird. For misotsuke, it’s simply a case of covering the vegetables with some miso thinned with sake and sugar to taste. This time, I didn’t leave the radishes to pickle long enough for the colour to seep, but you can see the curling that shows they are dehydrated and extra crunchy!
how about that?
Rice, soup and pickles with three sides (ichiju-sansai) might just be a great formula for morning meals, too. It doesn’t have to be strictly interpreted, but it certainly guarantees a good balanced meal. Japanese breakfasts served in hotels are far more elaborate than this, of course – but for a leisurely brunch at home, I’d choose this basic Japanese meal over a fry-up every time.