Thursday, June 22, 2006

Matcha and Azuki Separated...

Matcha Mizu-Yokan

Now, this is something you don’t see very often. Lucky you! ;) I mean, most people in Japan do not make tokoroten AND mizu-yokan at one time from scratch like this. Yes, when I say from scratch, I’m not talking about making them from kanten bars. I’m talking about making them from SEAWEED.

If you are not familiar with tokoroten (agar noodles), this post tells you how we make/eat the noodles, as well as how my mom is involved in this tokoroten project (?!).

OK, then, what is mizu-yokan? Here is a good explanation of what it is with a recipe and nice photo by Reid of Ono Kine Grindz. His recipe calls for kanten bars, of course. I bet any other yokan or mizu-yokan recipes call for kanten bars or kanten powder; no recipe would tell you to go to the beach and pick tengusa seaweed first. Of course not everyone lives near the beach, and the seaweed has to be dried for several weeks, but that’s not the only reason. For the better taste of kanten desserts, using kanten bars/powder is recommended over gelatin liquid just extracted from tengusa seaweed.

When we cook the seaweed to obtain the gelatin liquid, we add a little amount of vinegar. I’m not quite sure why, but they say that it probably won’t set well without the vinegar. Thus, the seaweed gelatin liquid is largely tasteless but has a slight hint of the flavor/smell of the seaweed and vinegar, which you don’t really want for your desserts. Kanten bars do not have that problem because such unwanted flavors are taken away during the repeated freezing process. That's why kanten bars are more ideal for making wagashi.

But looks like many housewives in my hometown did not care too much about such a minor(?) problem. If you cook tengusa seaweed once, you usually end up with quite a bit of gelatin liquid. If agar noodles was the only thing you can make out of it, you and your family will get tired of the noodles. Then why not go for more variety? Maybe you can hide the slight hint of the seaweed and vinegar by adding a lot of sugar and something with a strong flavor. Yeah, why not? So, in my hometown, it has been quite popular, when making agar noodles, to set aside some of the seaweed gelatin liquid and use it for making desserts like coffee-kan, umeshu-kan, nikkei cinnamon-kan and Soda-kan. For today’s experiment, I decided to go for mizu-yokan, and to give it a stronger flavor, I chose matcha mizu-yokan.

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Now I'll show you how I made tokoroten and matcha mizu-yokan.

The left photo is dried tengusa seaweed. (It looks like this when in the ocean, but after repeated washing and drying, it turns beige.) First, you need to wash it well. Then it'll look like the right photo.

I added water and cooked the seaweed for apx. 30 minutes. In the beginning it looked like the left photo. Then I added vinegar and cooked for another 30 minutes. The seaweed became very soft and the soup was thickened as in the right photo. BTW, the smell of cooking seaweed and vinegar was not very pleasant!

I drained it in a cloth bag, waited until it cooled a little, and while the seaweed was still warm, squeezed out the liquid as much as possible. The tengusa seaweed looked like this after squeezing (above left photo) and I got the tasteless and colorless gelatin liquid (above right photo). To make tokoroten noodles, the liquid needs to be poured in a flat container. What’s fascinating is that, unlike animal gelatin, kanten sets at room temperature and turns out very firm. But it tastes better when chilled, so I put it in the fridge after it was set.

Now, from here, it gets in a real experimental phase.
I added shiroan (sweetened white bean paste), sugar and pinch of salt to the remaining warm gelatin liquid and stirred well over low heat to dissolve them completely. In another bowl, I mixed matcha, sugar and a little hot water, then added some gelatin liquid and mixed well. The matcha mixture was then poured into the rest of the gelatin-shiroan mixture which had been removed from heat. When the whole mixture was properly flavored with matcha and colored dark green, I strained it through a sieve twice to remove tiny matcha lumps. So far, so good.

To make it look good and taste good, I wanted to add some boiled azuki beans to my matcha mizu-yokan. But actually that was the beginning of the tragedy. When I opened the can of boiled azuki beans, I found that it was half-mashed, almost paste-like beans, not the boiled azuki beans I had in mind. There was no way they could elegantly float here and there in my mizu-yokan, so I changed my plan and tried to make a thin layer of azuki at the bottom of the matcha mizu-yokan (left photo). I poured the rest of the mixture on top, and again, when it was almost set at room temperature (right photo), I put it in the fridge.

After a few hours, I sliced the mizu-yokan, and…


That’s why I had to present it the way you see in the photo at the top of this post. With a hydrangea leaf, doesn’t it look somewhat like a hydrangea flower? :P

Taste-wise, the matcha mizu-yokan was OK, since I couldn’t detect the taste of vinegar. But to tell you the truth, I felt a little strange aftertaste… or a slight sensation on my tongue. Maybe it was a vinegar effect? Next time I’ll try this with less vinegar and a less amount of non-mashed type of boiled azuki beans. Oh yes, there will be a next time, because I have plenty of dried tengusa seaweed left...

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lance-s said...

Wow!!! Very interesting!!! Thanks for sharing the process.

J said...

hi obachan, wow! fascinating post; thanks so much for sharing...i can only imagine the possibilities...

Crazy Gaijin said...

WOW - you can never say anything again about me making dashi from scratch! THis is VERY impressive.

Anonymous said...

oh my, this is exactly what i need! A recipe for the dried tengusa seaweed i have at home! I bought this from Japan last december because i thought i just had to dissolve this in water to make the agar solution.
I'm so excited to try this recipe out, but my main problem: how much vinegar should i add? Could you please enlighten?... thx!

obachan said...

No problem. Glad that someone found this interesting. :)

With your creativity, I bet you come up with millions of great ideas ;)
I guess I’d better not stick with sweets too much and look for ideas of something savory…

Yeah, right. Next time I make miso soup, I might go fishing first to catch bonito and make bonito flakes myself for making dashi broth. ;P

anonymous commenter
Wow! You have dried tengusa seaweed?!
OK. The “official” recipe in my hometown says: for 60 g dried seaweed, add 14 cups (1 cup= 200 mL) water and 2 Tbsp vinegar. For this experiment, I reduced the recipe to half. And if you want to experiment with sweets, I don’t really recommend using matcha. That’s what I learned from this experiment. My guess is that a slightest hint of vinegar will remain no matter what, and something very sweet or savory may be alright with it, but the bitterness of matcha does not seem to be a good match. I’m thinking about trying something savory next time, with dashi or consommé and seafood/vegetables.

Amanda said...

Wow, how neat! I just bought matcha and azuki yokan, and now I'm feeling like such a slacker for just going down to the store to pick some up!

obachan said...

anonymous commenter, again
Additional info. Mom said that she once reduced the amount of vinegar to 2/3 of what the above recipe calls for, and still it set OK. If you are going to experiment with sweets, you might want to try that.

Oh, come on, you are not a slacker. I bet the yokan you got tasted much better than mine and the matcha and azuki were not separated ;)