In a previous post, we looked at the Japanese cooking technique referred to as nimono, where vegetables, seafood, tofu, and meats (together or separately) are simmered in a stock flavored with soy sauce, sake, and some sweetening. The resulting dish is light, moist, and succulent, highlighting the flavor of the ingredients rather than smothering them with sauce. So, here we are again, returning to this cooking technique once again, this time with a simple but delicious recipe for kabocha nimono.
In anime, kabocha-ni (the ni is short for nimono) is seen every now and then, usually tucked into a corner of a bento. Some anime that have featured kabocha-ni include Shirobako, Garden of Words (movie), and Koufuku Graffiti!
About the recipe:
Kabocha-ni is a very simple dish that is all about amplifying the sweet, pumpkin-like flavor of the soft and almost fluffy kabocha. A great combination of sweet and salty, this dish is very easy to make, and is usually eaten at room temperature (or slightly warmed), making it an ideal addition to your Japanese-styled bento or meal.
Here are a few things to keep in mind while making kabocha-ni:
1. Do not vigorously stir the kabocha during cooking: doing so may cause the kabocha to break into small pieces. Arranging the kabocha pieces in a single layer in the pot will make it so you won’t have to stir it at all… so definitely try to find a pot with a surface area that is large enough!
2. Use a drop lid: a drop lid (also known as otoshi buta in Japanese) is a lid that sits directly on top of the foods simmering in a pot. It’s function is to distribute heat evenly around the pot, and to help to stop the items from moving around too much while cooking, thus keeping fragile foods intact.
If you don’t have a drop lid (usually made of wood), you can make one out of tinfoil, a small pot lid, a piece of parchment paper, or even a steaming basket. Just poke a few holes in the paper, or arrange the foil along the edges of the pot so that there is an uncovered space in the middle, so as to allow any steam to escape.
About the ingredients:
Kabocha (also called a Japanese pumpkin) is a type of sweet winter squash that is a dark, dull green on the outside (sometimes with a few lighter stripes) and a bright orange on the inside. It can be quite firm to cut through, the skin is edible, and it contains seeds in its center, which should be removed before cooking. Kabocha can be found in most Asian grocery stores, but I seldom find them at general grocery stores.
Kabocha keeps very well, even after being cut, so if you wish to make a smaller half recipe, simply wrap the unused portion up in plastic wrap (do not remove the seeds) and store in the refrigerator for use at a later time.
Kabocha-ni (Simmered squash)
Makes about 6 servings
- 1 small kabocha (~2 lbs)
- 1 1/4 cup water
- 3 tbsp sugar
- 3 tbsp soy sauce
- 3 tbsp sake
- 3 tbsp mirin
1. Scrub the skin of the kabocha clean using a vegetable brush under cold water. Cut in half and use a spoon to remove the seeds. Cut the kabocha into large bite-sized pieces (1 to 1½ inch squares), removing any marred or damaged skin as needed.
2. In a large saucepan, bring water, sugar, soy sauce, sake, and mirin to a boil over high heat. Add the kabocha pieces (in one layer if possible) and turn the heat down to low. Cover the kabocha with a drop lid.
3. Gently simmer until the liquid reduced by ⅓ (about 12 minutes) and the kabocha is soft. Turn off the heat and let sit until cooled to room temperature. Much of the remaining liquid will be absorbed into the kabocha as it cools. Gently remove the kabocha from the liquid.
Serve at room temperature (or slightly warmed) as a side to a Japanese-inspired meal or in a bento.
Store in an airtight container kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.