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Mottainai: Sakekasu in the Winter Kitchen

Sakekasu, purchased at our local sake shop, ready to go to work!
Last year I discovered the culinary potential of sakekasu (sake lees). Left over at the end of the sake-making process, sakekasu is, literally, the dregs of the sake barrel. The rice by this time is turned to mush, the liquid resulting from the fermentation process drained off and poured into bottles ready to be drunk. What to do? Mottainai.

Amazake, a sweet usually hot beverage, is perhaps the best known and most popular use of sakekasu. However, a bevy of other recipes and ideas exist for making the most of this winter delight.

Grilled sakekasu
My Japanese tutor is a creative cook, to say the least, and her favorite method is to shape the kasu into small patties and fry it up in a pan. "It tastes and feels like cheese," she said and suggested serving it on bread. It does indeed resemble cheese, and it matches well with a dab of yuzu marmalade, too. Another option is to toast it along with some bread in the fish grill. Delightful.

Nabe is one of my favorite dishes in Japan, so it was with that in mind that I concocted this version of a classic dish. It would be easy to incorporate it into nabe, simply pre-soak the sakekasu before plopping it in the nabe.

200 grams, sakekasu (give or take)
200 ml water
600 ml dashi
4 Tara (cod) fillets, sliced into thirds*
Thinly sliced vegetables - squash, renkon (lotus root), potato, sweet potato, carrot, gobo (burdock root), and daikon - about 2 cm long matchsticks*
1 Tbsp miso*
Coarsely chopped winter greens - komatsuna, mizuna, karashina, arugula, etc.*

Set the sakekasu to soften with a bit of warm water and set aside. Simmer the cut vegetables in the water and dashi stock until soft. Add the fish and simmer another 5 minutes or so. Ladle some of the hot stock into the bowl of sakekasu and add the miso. Mix until smooth. Add the mixture to the vegetables and fish. Wait until it starts to bubble again and taste. Salt or add shoyu (soy sauce) to taste. Place winter greens in bottom of serving bowls. Ladle hot soup over the greens and serve.

I used tara (cod) fillets, but the fish of choice for this recipe is shiozake (salted salmon). In the old days, this salted fish would have been the best and perhaps only way to eat salmon during the winter months. I think tofu would also make a lovely addition here in lieu of or in addition to fish.

Classic versions of this recipe usually use only potatoes, carrots, and burdock, but I love a hearty soup so I tossed in the others, all of which are also seasonal.

Again, classic versions call for a white miso, but I didn't have any. Since we're moving soon, I decided to simply use what I had on hand. I used a red miso, which was tasty although the soup was a bit more cream-colored than pure white.

Many recipes suggest blanching the greens before adding to the soup, but unless I'm making something like Goma ai shungiku I want them to show off some. Coarsely chopping means less work for me (yeah!) and the resulting quick cooking by the hot soup means a brilliant green show of color. Just what one needs in winter!


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