Potatoes of all shapes, sizes and colours – collectively called imo in Japanese – feature prominently in the country’s cuisine. There are naga-imo, long, pale yams that are eaten raw or grated into a sticky mass to be slurped up with udon; sato-imo, or eddoes, which become deliciously fudgy and rich when simmered in dashi; murasaki-imo, striking purple sweet potatoes commonly used in sweets; and, of course, jaga-imo, or what we know simply as potatoes. These are sometimes baked, yes, but ovens are uncommon in Japanese home kitchens, so potatoes are often cooked in more creative (and frankly more delicious) ways, taking on a role more like a vegetable side than the designated carb. (Rice will always reign supreme in Japan, after all.)
Baked potatoes with butter and salmon roe
A while ago, my friend and fellow Japanophile MiMi Aye, the author of the wonderful Burmese cookbook Mandalay, posted a photo on Instagram of one of her favourite indulgent comfort foods, a baked potato topped with butter, spring onions and copious amounts of salmon roe. Throughout the day, I kept returning to this image just to marvel at it (and drool a bit): it was at once rustic and luxurious, comforting yet exciting. The Ainu, an indigenous ethnic group from Hokkaido, make a similar dish called chiporo imo, a simple preparation of mashed potato studded with pearls of salmon roe and nothing else. There is something so satisfying about the combination, and I love how the two ingredients balance and complement each other: the little orange eggs season the bland potato with their salinity and add a lovely, textural “pop”, while the potato takes the edge off the roe’s fishy intensity. I know it’s just potato and fish eggs, but there’s something really beautiful about it.
Prep 5 min
Cook 1 hr+
2 baking potatoes, washed and dried
1 tsp oil
2 tsp soy sauce
50g salmon roe
½ tsp mirin
1 small handful chives, finely sliced, to garnish
Heat the oven to 200C (180C fan)/390F/gas 6. Rub the potatoes all over with the oil and half the soy sauce, then wrap them in kitchen foil and bake for 20 minutes. Turn down the oven to 180C (160C fan)/350F/gas 4 and cook for another 40 minutes to an hour, until they are soft throughout (test them with a chopstick or butter knife).
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix the remaining soy sauce with the salmon roe and mirin, and put in the fridge to marinate while the potatoes bake.
Remove the potatoes from the oven, leave to cool slightly, then unwrap and split open in large chunks. Melt the butter over the potatoes, spoon over the salmon roe mix and garnish with the chives.
Cheese dakgalbi is an indulgent Korean dish that’s incredibly popular in Japan. Its appeal is self-evident: chicken and vegetables sauteed in an intoxicatingly tasty chilli sauce, then pushed to the sides of the pan to make way for a lake of liquefied cheese. It’s like Korean barbecue meets fondue, and if that combination doesn’t immediately ring your bells, then I’m not sure we can be friends. To turn this into a full meal, serve with parboiled tteok (Korean rice cakes), or plain rice or noodles, with a lager or soju alongside.
Prep 15 min
Cook 20 min
For the sauce
3 tbsp gochujang
2 tbsp sake
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and grated
1cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
1 tsp Korean chilli powder (optional)
2 boned, skin-on chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces
1 tbsp oil
½ small sweet potato (about 100g), peeled and cut into 5mm-thick slices
1 small carrot, cut into 5mm-thick slices
1 small onion, peeled and finely sliced
½ sweetheart (hispi) cabbage, cored and roughly chopped
30g edam or similar mild cheese, grated
2 slices processed cheese, torn up
1 spring onion, trimmed and finely sliced
In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients for the sauce, then toss through the chicken pieces and leave to marinate while you prepare the rest of the dish.
Set a nonstick or well-seasoned cast-iron frying pan over a medium heat, then add the oil, sweet potato, carrot and onion, and saute for about five minutes until the vegetables have softened a bit and browned slightly. Add the cabbage and cook for another three minutes, until it has softened and wilted. Add the chicken and all of the sauce, and cook, stirring frequently, for eight to 10 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce has reduced to a nice, thick glaze.
Push the contents of the pan off to the sides to make a well in the centre, reduce the heat to as low as possible, then add the grated cheese followed by the processed cheese on top. Once the cheese has melted, garnish with the spring onion, then eat straight from the pan by dragging the chicken and vegetables through the molten cheese.