It's grilling season, which means cookbooks on the topic have been front and center on bookstore displays for weeks. The thing is, many of them say the same thing, and few bring anything unique to the grilling party. There's a lot to love about beer-can chicken, grilled pizza, and London broil, but most grilling books include those dishes and there aren't many ways to reinvent the recipes. Thankfully a new cookbook, The Japanese Grill, has arrived, and will blow the lid off your grill.
The authors, chef Tadashi Ono and writer Harris Salat, introduce readers to what many in Japan already know: A hot grill plus soy sauce and miso equals deliciousness. They include familiar Japanese dishes like yakitori and teriyaki, but introduce you to new techniques and sauces like shioyaki (salt grilling), ponzu sauce, and yaki onigiri (grilled rice balls).
In the introduction of The Japanese Grill, readers are introduced to typical Japanese ingredients used throughout the book, like sansho, ume paste, yuzu kosho, and several varieties of miso. Included is a full-page photo showing most of them, so you know what to look for at the store. Throughout the book are insights into Japanese cooking and flavors--like how fermented ingredients such as soy sauce, mirin, miso, and sake add instant flavor to sauces so you can cook the food faster and still get flavorful results. Or how old-school yakitori joints in Japan reuse their tare, or yakitori sauce, again and again, creating a unique bacterial balance that won't kill you (they recommend boiling your own sauce, however).
While they prefer charcoal grills, they give you permission to use a gas grill, admitting that they are quicker and easier to use in most cases. But they also recommend checking out the traditional small Japanese grills called shichirin, which don't use American charcoal but rather binchotan, an artisanal white charcoal made from Japanese oak. Photos throughout the book show techniques for skewering, breaking down a whole chicken, and forming onigiri. A handy temperature chart tells you how to check the heat level based on how long you can hold your hand six inches above a fire.
Many recipes in The Japanese Grill are based on "master recipes" of sauces like ponzu, yuzu kosho marinade, yakitori, garlic-soy sauce, gyu dare, and garlic-miso dipping sauce. These sauces are applied to the handful of recipes that follow--dishes like Yuzu Kosho Scallops, Whole Red Snapper With Ponzu, and Porterhouse With Garlic-Soy Sauce Marinade, the dish whose photo graces the cover of the book. Other recipes, like crispy chicken wings, are simply chicken wings with soy sauce, sesame oil, salt, and shichimi togarashi spice mix. By introducing you to a handful of new ingredients and sauces and some key techniques and insights, The Japanese Grill may make this your most successful summer at the grill.
Check back tomorrow for Part II of this week's Cooking the Books and a recipe from The Japanese Grill.