My comfort foods [1] 豚汁 Tonjiru (Japanese pork stew)

22 May

My humble 豚汁 Tonjiru

I know my recent posts have been kind of heavy. Yes, I am dealing with some big issues but rest assured, on a day to day basis we’re actually doing pretty well, except for having to fight off and recover from minor colds just about once a month.

But I think that’s how life is – each of us face certain “bigger than life” challenges that require us to develop and stretch in order to move on to the next chapter of our lives. At the same time, life doesn’t stop so we can focus entirely on just those issues/crisis. And this is good. In the midst of handling life’s messy and endless to-do tasks, I cry and laugh a little each day. Some days there are more tears but other days are full of laughter. Hopefully with each passing day, there will be more joy and less sorrow…

Anyway, whenever I’m in need of something nourishing – both for the body and soul – there are a few dishes I turn to and 豚汁 (Tonjiru) is one of them. It’s relatively simple to make and uses common ingredients but the result is quit tasty and in my opinion, amazingly comforting on a cold or tiring day.

Even though 豚汁 is common and found everywhere in Japan, I don’t see it on menus here as often so I don’t know how popular or well-known it is in the US. Last time we ate at Hana Katsu in Torrance, the soup that came with the meal sets was 豚汁 except it was so “humble” (very basic, with few ingredients) that some people might have had it without knowing what it is, which is such a shame.

So even if you’re not normally a fan of miso-based soups, I hope that you will try this recipe just once. On a cold day served with a bowl of hot rice, it really is “chicken” soup for the soul.

The basic recipe I follow is from my trusty old “Better Home” cookbook for beginners (ベータホームの料理の2年生.) If you do a google seach, you will find many varieties of 豚汁 but if you want to start with the classic, try the recipe below:

Ingredients:

  • Sliced pork belly meat 100g – cut into 1 inch pieces
  • Gobo 50g or about 1/4 of a stalk
  • Carrots 30g(about 1/3 of a stick)
  • Daikon 70g
  • Satoimo (or small taro root) 2 medium
  • Shiitake (fresh, not dried ones) 2
  • Konjac 50g (about 1/4 of a piece)
  • Green onion 5 cm (chopped to top at the end)
  • Dashi (bonito fish stock) 2 cups
  • Miso a little less than 2 T (about 30g)
  • Optional – shichimi togarashi

As for cooking instructions, they are simple as well. Basically, you cut all of the ingredients into the size you like. If you plan to serve it as a main dish, cut everything in larger chunks, maybe a little less than 1 inch or 2 cm long. If you plan to serve it as a side dish or don’t like your soups chunky, then you can actually use less ingredients (overall, I wouldn’t reduce any one particular item so you can maintain the balance between the flavors) and cut them in smaller pieces maybe around 1 cm big.

The Better Home recipe suggest that you slice everything into oval discs, strips, or rectangles (for the konjac) but the more traditional recipes tend to have you break up the konjac by hand (into small chunks with uneven surfaces). Also, you want to keep the skin of the gobo (you can use the flat, unsharp end of your knife to scrape the skin a little) and pre-soak it before cooking.

Next, you heat up some oil in the pot (over medium heat) and lightly saute everything except for the meat and the green onion. After everything’s had a chance to get coated with some oil, you add the meat, which should help keep it from sticking to the pot.

After the meat changes color (in about 1 – 2 min), you add the dashi. (I don’t make my own bonito dashi and use Ajinomoto Hon Dashi, which even Amazon now sells). Of course you can just use plain water, but making it with dashi will taste so much better.

Then at this point, you just wait for everything to boil and simmer for a little. If you’ve sliced everything then this would only take about 10 min. If your cuts are chunkier, add another 5 – 10 min depending on how soft you like your vegetables. Keep in mind that some things like carrots and satoimo break apart more easily so you don’t want to cook it to the point where those ingredients crumble.

Once the vegetables reach the level of desired softness, you add the miso a little at a time, until the soup reaches the right balance of savory and umami that you like. Please note, no other seasoning is necessary. The vegetables should lend a natural umami to the stew while the miso provides the saltiness.

Then to serve you just sprinkle some chopped green onion on top (or if you don’t like your green onion raw, you can throw it in the soup after turning off the heat). The shichimi tograrashi adds some spice to the dish and works like fresh black pepper for Western stews.

And that’s it. Simple, right?

What’s great about this soup is that you can make it for just one person or a large group of people. If you are adventurous, I’m sure you can just dig into your fridge for leftover ingredients that you can throw in. Try one new ingredient at a time and see what combos you like best.

If my enthusiastic recommendation still doesn’t convince you to try the soup, take a look at the following video from the Japanese TV drama, 深夜食堂 and see if it doesn’t make you hungry for some 豚汁!

(Note: for some reason, I don’t have many photos of my 豚汁 so I posted one that is missing the green onion but definitely add the green onion to get the most traditional flavor!)

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2 Responses to “My comfort foods [1] 豚汁 Tonjiru (Japanese pork stew)”

  1. TY May 23, 2011 at 3:37 pm #

    excellent, i love tonjiru! so that’s what i’ll be looking forward to when i visit ya next time! :)

    good to know you are keeping yourself busy & balanced!

    • jenjapan June 4, 2011 at 5:05 am #

      How many dishes do you want to eat? You’re going to have to move back to the area to fit in that many meals, no? ^_^

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