Asari no Takikomi Gohan (Japanese Pilaf with Short-necked Clams)
When it starts getting cooler and more and more autumn fruits start occupying the shelves at local grocers and supermarkets, I feel this strong urge to make takikomi gohan (Japanese pilaf) with my donabe (clay pot). Today I went for asari (short-necked clam) takikomi gohan, which was actually part of the course meal at our kaiseki place last month.
When it comes to takikomi gohan, there is one rule that I always follow: I never make takikomi gohan without sake and mirin. Well, actually I might go for it if I had either one of them, but if I run out of both, I never make takikomi gohan. For me these two ingredients make a lot of difference. As I probably wrote somewhere before (did I? I don’t remember exactly…) alcohol and amino acids they contain contribute in adding extra flavors as well as helping the food absorb flavors of the seasonings.
And what’s more, mirin prevents food from being mushy while being cooked. It is said that it prevents certain binding substance between cells from melting when heated. So, for me, mirin is a crucial ingredient for this kind of dish because I cannot stand mushy rice, especially mushy takikomi gohan. (I heard that professional Japanese chefs often add a little mirin or salad oil when they cook rice for making donburi, because mushy rice is a big no-no for that type of dish.)
For this takikomi gohan, I used asari and wakame kelp. The topping -- sansho (Japanese pepper) leaves and minced ginger -- were supposed to reduce the fishiness and bring out the flavor of asari clams. I made nameko mushroom miso soup to accompany this rice dish.
Oh, there’s one more thing: To make this takikomi gohan, I used the new rice harvested just recently. Actually, here in Kochi, it’s not a big deal to be able to eat new rice in September, because it is usually available in late August. Here people plant rice earlier so that they can harvest it before the typhoon season comes. One thing you have to be careful about cooking new rice is using a little less amount of water. New rice contains more water than older rice, so adjustment is necessary. Well, I’m talking about the sticky short-grain rice we eat here in Japan, but I wonder if it is the same with long-grain rice.