Sunday, November 14, 2010

ingredient: SOY SAUCE

I shouldn’t be surprised that the Chinese developed a condiment as awesome as soy sauce 2,500 years ago, given the fact that they produced this at the same time:

They also solved mathematical problems I still can’t get my head around, including providing mathematical proof for the Pythagorean theorem, finding accurate approximations for pi, and using Gaussian elimination to solve linear equations. I have to admit, however, that while I appreciate that some people out there can thank the Han Dynasty for decimal fractions, the creation of soy sauce impacts my life in a far more significant way.

Soy sauce was made as a preservative or jiang. Of the many types of jiang on the ancient market, soy sauce became one of the most popular because it was made from relatively inexpensive soybeans. To make soy sauce, a farmer would mix fermented soy beans with a grain such as rice, then he would add mold and some salt to the mixture. The sauce was left to age for several months before being strained into a smooth brown liquid and served with everything from rice to turtle (sad). Soy sauce was quite the invention: delicious, cheap, great as a preservative, and a good way to get as much salt for your buck as possible.

Japan hopped on the soy sauce train in the 17th century. Kikkoman opened its first soy sauce sales base in the US in 1957. I don’t know when they started packaging soy sauce in easy to transport ketchup packets, but that was a good day too.

There are innumerous types of soy sauce produced around the world. Thin and thick, regular and low sodium, naturally brewed and chemically produced, made with wheat versus rice versus barely, and on and on. In America, we tend to shy away from “dark soy sauce” which has a richer, more pungent flavor and a much more viscous texture. However more varieties of soy sauce, like mushroom, tuong (Vietnamese soy sauce), ponzu (soy sauce with citrus), and tamari (Japanese soy sauce made from miso), are becoming easier to find, and if you want to have fun, purchase a few and do a soy sauce tasting. It’s a good excuse to buy a boat load of dumplings!

Soba with Mixed Vegetables and Wasabi-Ponzu Sauce
(served with Salmon with Soy-Honey sauce, see below)

I was lucky enough to visit Japan this summer, where people are a bit obsessed with soba. Soba are noodles made from buckwheat flower, and they are nutty, toothsome, and versatile. You can eat them hot or cold, plain, in a soup or with tempura, or in a soup with tempura. In Japan, you’ll basically find them on planes, trains, and automobiles. People slurp them in the fanciest restaurants and the lowliest izakaya (a bar with food). Though they claim that “it will take you one year to learn about soba” you’d do well to start with this dish, which comes together easily and saves beautifully.


2 tablespoon sesame oil
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 knob ginger root, finely shredded (I blitzed it in the food processor)
2 larges carrot, coarsely grated, or 20ish baby carrots, finely chopped
1 cup snow peas
10 crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 head of broccoli, cut into florets
4 scallions, finely chopped
1 teaspoon wasabi paste (more or less to taste)
1 cup ponzu sauce (substitute soy sauce and 1/4 cup lemon juice)
6 portions buckwheat soba

Note: In my choice of vegetables, I was acting on a desire to use some of the shocking amount of broccoli I bought at the farmer's market. And I saw snow peas at Whole Foods, which is a destination-shop, and went, ooh, well, how often am I here? And I love mushrooms. And I always have a bag of baby carrots hanging around. But if you don't like mushrooms, or you love bell pepper, feel free to switch it up. Next time I'll add some edamame. Why not?

Put some water on to boil for the noodles. Prepare all your veggies.

Sauté the veggies in a large pan with the sesame oil. The sesame oil will give them a nice, nutty flavor which compliments the soba, so I’d really encourage you to use this instead of olive or canola oil. Sauté the veggies until they’re soft, about 10 minutes.

When they’re almost done, plunk in the noodles and cook according to the package, which should be for about 6 minutes.

In a medium bowl, mix the ponzu sauce and the wasabi paste.

Drain the noodles and put in a large bowl.

Toss the noodles with the wasabi-ponzu sauce, then mix in the veggies. Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold!

Salmon with Soy-Honey Sauce

This salmon dish was inspired by a dinner I had a few years ago. It was one of the nights- which thankfully still happen with abundance- when I get together with my friends from home and do a pot-luck style dinner. These girls can cook. My friend Miyoko was in charge of the main, and she made some salmon ginger dish that was very delicious and pops into my head now and then with a resounding mmm. Given that she’s been super busy lately saving the world, I didn’t call to ask for the recipe, but rather used my taste-memory and my preference for all things with honey. The result was a salmon which marinates in and then is covered with a spicy-salty-sweet sauce made from soy sauce, ginger, scallions, rice wine vinegar, and honey. P.S. the salmon marinates in only 15 minutes! Much faster than meat!

Serves 6


2 scallions, thinly sliced
6 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons honey (preferably something a little more mild, and definitely not raw: I used a wild flower honey)
2 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
3 pounds salmon fillet, cut into 6 pieces


Put all of the ingredients (except the salmon) together in a small bowl. Whisk together until the honey has dissolved.

Put 4 tablespoons of the sauce in a ziplock bag and add the salmon (or you can put the salmon and sauce in a bowl, I just like having one less thing to wash). Squish everything around to coat the salmon and let it marinate for 15 minutes. Keep the rest of the sauce to the side.

You could really cook the salmon however you like; stovetop, grill, oven. I did it on the stove top and it was a bit of a mess, so I tried again in the oven, and that’s what I suggest. If you’re doing it in the oven, then preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Take the salmon out of the fridge and add it to an oven safe dish, discarding the marinade. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until cooked through. NB: cooking time will depend on how thick your fillet is. James Beard says allow ten minutes per inch of fish, no matter how you cook it. So there you go.

After your fish is cooked through, spoon some of the reserved sauce over each piece.

1 comment:

  1. That was one of my favorite meals ever!! Can't wait for your cookie post...which should come directly after the baking of the, soon.