One of the questions that renowned Japanese food expert and author Elizabeth Andoh asked me when I visited her in Tokyo last month was this: “Have you ever made my soy sauce concentrate? Come on, tell me the truth.”
Yikes, talk about putting someone on the spot. And there I was, a guest in her home. I truthfully responded that I’d never made it from her earlier book, award-winning Washoku, though I had studied the recipe several times. Elizabeth, the consummate teacher and provocateur, pulled out a couple of small bottles of inky, slightly syrupy sauces from her fridge. One contained dried fish and the other was vegan, she explained.
She had me taste both. Wow. I was sold. The soy concentrates, brewed at home, were savory sweet and delectable. I wanted to lick the spoon but stopped short of acting improperly.
The concentrates were addictively good, thanks to a fair amount of umami in the liquid. Japanese cuisine is much about laying an umami foundation. For the concentrates, glutamate-rich ingredients such as dried kelp, fish, and shiitake mushroom are used. They’re rehydrated and then simmered with soy sauce and other ingredients to create flavor bomb.
I like both versions that Elizabeth had me taste in Tokyo, but the vegan version published her new cookbook, Kansha, is easy to prepare from ingredients available at specialty markets or health food stores. I now keep the seasoned soy concentrate in my fridge to add instant flavor boosts to marinades or cook foods. You can use it as a finishing or dipping sauce.
In fact, the Japanese seasoned soy concentrate works like magic to make food super tasty. For example, last week, I hacked up a kabocha squash, rubbed oil all over the flesh and roasted the pieces, cut side down, at 400F for about 45 minutes, until it was soft and cooked through. I served it with a heavy drizzle of the soy concentrate. A great autumnal vegetable side. I ate half of the squash.
It’s so cool that you can brew your own soy sauce. Today, I'm wonderinfg if this Japanese seasoned soy sauce can be used for a vegetarian 'nuoc mam'? We've discussed and ruled out commercially made veggie fish sauce so maybe this may be the ticket? I'm going back into the kitchen to tinker.
Japanese Seasoned Soy Concentrate
Shojin Tsuyu No Moto
The recipe below was adapted from Kansha, a term that means appreciation in Japanese. It denotes a resourceful and clever approach to cooking. That is, respect and make the most of what you have. (If you want to learn more, check out the online Kansha Cooking workshop.)
To that end, when making this soy concentrate, feel free to use regular dried kelp that you’d use for dashi. Once you get the hang of it, step up to a high-glutamate variety, such as ma kombu, available at Japanese markets. As Elizabeth also suggests, you can even use old soy sauce (Japanese shoyu) that’s been sitting around and gotten super salty! The point to Kansha is: Don’t throw stuff away so easily. Repurpose it well.
Makes about 1/4 cup
12 square inches dried kelp (kombu)
4 or 5 stems dried shiitake mushrooms, or 1 large dried shiitake mushroom
1/3 to 1/2 cup Japanese soy sauce (shoyu)
2 1/2 to 3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons sake
1 tablespoon mirin or maple syrup (optional)
1. Put the kombu, mushroom stems, and soy sauce in a small deep saucepan. Cover and let stand at room temperature for at least 1 hour or up to 12 hours.
2. Add the sugar and sake to the pan and place over low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid begins simmering. Taste, and if very salty, add the mirin to mellow the flavor. Adjust the heat to maintain a slow, steady simmer. Expect the sauce to foam.
Simmer for 3 to 4 minutes, or until reduced by nearly half, and the sauce has become a bit syrupy. Remove from the heat and let the sauce cool naturally to room temperature.
3. Pour the cooled concentrate into a small glass jar, leaving the kombu and mushroom stems behind. Cap the jar tightly and refrigerate for up to 1 month.
Note: To recycle the kombu and mushroom, add 2 to 3 cups of cold water to the pan. Let it all soak in for 10 minutes, then simmer for 10 to 30 minutes to produce a stock for soup, etc. Strain and discard the solids.
From: Kansha: Celebrating Japan’s Vegan and Vegetarian Traditions by Elizabeth Andoh (Ten Speed Press, 2010)