Faced with a longing for her native Japan but few of the ingredients found there, culinary consultant and cookbook author Hiroko Shimbo set out to find ways to meld Japanese and American cuisine to satisfy cravings for the flavors of her childhood.
Shimbo will discuss her third book, Hiroko's American Kitchen during Miami Book Fair International. At 2 p.m. on Sunday, November 18, she'll speak alongside local culinary hero Norman Van Aken at Miami Dade College (Building 6, first floor on NE Second Ave between Fourth and Fifth streets).
In this latest book, Shimbo isn't tethered to concepts of authenticity and fusion. "As I lived and worked in America, I went to the American supermarkets, I went to the Union Square Farmers Market and I bought American produce," she said. "The cuts of meat are very different from ones in Japan and the seafood availability is very limited."
We spoke with Shimbo on the phone from her apartment in New York City to discuss how the six sauces that form the base of her book came about, and the ever-growing popularity of Asian cuisine in America.
Short Order: What's your first memory in the kitchen?
Hiroko Shimbo: When I was in elementary school, maybe fourth grade, we had a cooking class once a week. They taught us how to make eggplant pickles, and after I went back home and made them for my mother. [She] was cooking traditional, older food and was very impressed. My father was a doctor and we had a clean house. After he did surgery they would stay in patients' quarters and she was talking about my cooking to all of the patients. My mother was a very good cook, she taught me how to appreciate food and how important it is to know what we eat.
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How long have you been developing these sauces?
About two-and-a-half, three years. I had to use readily available ingredients and at the same time I had been working long hours. I was tired and looking for a way to cook quick and simply. So I made two stocks and four sauces and put them in the fridge or freezer. When I wanted to make a simple udon [noodle] soup in the past I had to make the broth. You have to have the fish stock, sugar, mirin, shoyu, it is simple but time consuming. In this book I have a kind of mother sauce which is used to make the soup so I just have to cook the noodles.
Where are the elements of authentic Japanese cooking in these recipes?
These sauces are made from key Japanese staples. Then the preparation techniques I use are very Japanese. For example I have a short rib recipe cooked in kelp stock. I first brown the meat. After browning what I do, and in Japanese cooking this is done, is I have a pot of hot water boiling and put this browned meat in water, swish-swash to remove the excess oil and anything burned. When people see this technique they say 'you are rinsing off good flavor are you crazy?" In Japanese cooking at the end of the dish we have to have clean flavor.
How do you feel about Japanese and Asian food in America?
I sometimes consult for university dining companies. Every place has sushi, every place has teriyaki and more and more universities are having ramen. But sushi at universities is not Japanese sushi. Inside-out sushi was invented in America. Teriyaki was invented in America. More and more people are looking for the real authentic traditional flavors and preparation. The people who really understand authentic Japanese are in New York or Boston or Los Angeles and San Francisco.