I love New Years! Unlike other holidays, New Years is about possibility. Everything is fresh on January 1. You can have big dreams again and believe that yes, this year they will surely come true. In Japan, it’s the day you go to the shrine and get your fortune and pray for good luck in the coming year. But for me, the big draw has always been the food.
When I was young, we would spend New Years Day at my aunt’s mother-in-law’s house. By the time we got there, the Red and White Song Festival was on and a multitude of traditional Japanese New Years dishes patiently awaited us. Sadly, I don’t remember what we ate. There was too much food! But to this day, I can never forget her ozoni or mochi soup.
Ozoni is often times the first meal of the New Year and it differs by region in Japan. Some prefectures like Kyoto may use white miso, others may include lots and lots of seafood. But my aunt’s mother-in-law’s version was simple. It was just a clear broth with a few sprigs of mizuna and a toasted mochi. With so few ingredients, the broth is everything. I don’t know for sure if she used an instant broth or made her own, but it was so good. I’ve been making ozoni for a few years now and mine has never turned out as good as hers.
Here’s mine from this year. I used chicken, carrots, mizuna and of course, mochi. The broth was made from an instant dashi. I know, not homemade. But as you’ll see below, my time was taken up elsewhere. That’s what happens with New Years. We spend so much time on the other dishes that the ozoni suffers.
During New Years in Japan, families will eat special dishes called osechi. They are so beautiful to look at, especially when everything is packed so nicely into a lacquered box. But most of these items are pickled or preserved in some way because the family will be eating it over the next three days of celebration.
While I love to look at pictures of osechi meals, I really like simple for New Years. Konbu Maki is my favorite. It is usually chicken or pork and gobo (burdock root) rolled in konbu and tied with kanpyo (gourd). Then it is simmered in a shoyu sauce for a few hours. That’s what you see in the top picture.
Now, I’m not going to lie to you. This is not a quick weeknight dinner. It does take time. But it is well worth it. I love making konbu maki because it involves my whole family. My mother is the supervisor. She tells my father and I what is best. This is because she is logical, left-brain. My father and I are artists. We don’t mull over what is best. We just do. We’re very Yoda-like in that way.
Here is a Konbu Maki recipe based on the Honpa Hongwanji Favorite Island Cookery Book II. (Their recipe uses pork, which is also good.)
2 3oz. packages of Konbu Maki konbu (kelp) cut into 6-inch lengths
5 boneless skinless chicken thighs cut up into 2-inch strips
2 packages kanpyo (gourd) cut into 12-inch lengths
2/3 cup soy sauce (I like Kikkoman.)
1/2 cup sugar
4 T mirin
1 stalk gobo (burdock root) cut into 2-inch lengths
Soak konbu in water until pliable. Rinse off excess salt and dry. Cut konbu into 6-inch lengths. If your konbu is wide, you may have to cut it in half lengthwise. You want the width to be 2 inches. Soak the kanpyo. When pliable, cut into 12-inch lengths. Don’t skimp on this because you need the space to tie and this stuff can be slippery.
To cut the gobo, cut into 2-inch lengths first. Then cut it in half lengthwise and then cut that half in two. Soak in water to prevent discoloration.
Place a piece of chicken and gobo on the konbu. Roll it up and tie with the kanpyo. Cross the kanpyo on one side and then turn it over and tie it in a knot. Place konbu maki in a sauce pan. Add just enough water to cover and cook for an hour. Drain out the water. Add shoyu, sugar, and mirin and cook for another hour to hour and a half.
The length of time it will take to cook the konbu maki in the sauce depends a lot on the thickness of your konbu. If it is really thick, you need to cook it a little longer in the water and then in the shoyu mixture. Also, at the halfway point with the shoyu mixture, we shift all the konbu maki that’s been on top to the bottom of the pan and move the bottom to the top. That way, the taste is even all around. Now, if you have a super large sauce pan, you won’t have to do this.
Hope you all had a wonderful New Years! Make this year a good one, a kind one and one filled with love. (See my kagami mochi! The mochi is supposed to be bigger than the tangerine, but you work with what you have, you know what I mean?)