Atsuko Ikeda's balsamic chicken wings

Otsumami: 4 Japanese-inspired small dishes to enjoy with drinks

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Forget supermarket party food and bags of crisps, these four otsumami recipes are ideal for the next time you’re entertaining.

The best kind of nights revolve around lots of different small plates of food – made for sharing and best enjoyed casually with friends. Of course, said dishes are usually accompanied by a drink (or several), which is why we’re fully behind otsumami, the Japanese term for snacks and simple dishes eaten alongside alcohol. 

And in her new book, Japanese chef, author and food photographer Atsuko Ikeda is giving us just that. With previous books including Sushi Made Simple and Atsuko’s Japanese Kitchen, the chef is well-versed in teaching the art of Japanese cookery – with Otsumami featuring over 70 recipes for small plates best enjoyed alongside beer, sake or whatever your tipple may be.

Much like tapas in Spain or antipasti in Italy, otsumami are a staple in Japan’s izakayas. Translating to ‘the nibbles you have while drinking’, (‘tsumamu’ means to grab something with your fingers or chopsticks), the collection of snacks will have you itching to organise a get-together as an excuse to eat them all. For a taste of what’s to come, we’ve selected four simple otsumami dishes for you to make at home – so you can forget bags of crisps and frozen party food the next time you’re having friends over. 

Otsumami by Atsuko Ikeda
Otsumami by Atsuko Ikeda

Gyoza always go down a treat, but rather than fiddling with filling and folding, Atsuko cleverly makes use of the wrappers by topping them like mini pizzas. Combining funky blue cheese with spicy, tangy kimchi, these savoury bites are guaranteed to be devilishly moreish.

While salad doesn’t usually scream the perfect accompaniment to your evening drinks, Atsuko’s miso minced meat on chicory definitely do. The crunch and bitterness of the leaves are complimented by the sweet umami richness of the meat – all held together in a handy mess-free bite. 

We’re never ones to turn down chicken wings: spicy, crispy, barbecued or slathered in sauce, they’re always a welcome side to enjoy with a beer. Atsuko’s version features a sweet and tangy soy sauce and balsamic glaze which makes for a deliciously caramelised bite. Finger bowls may be required.

Finally, we have Atsuko’s cigarette spring rolls. Filled with a combination of potato and cheese, the creamy, savoury filling is a perfect match for the crisp, fried wrappers. Serve with truffle mayo for a drinking snack you’ll make time and time again. 

  • Kimchi and blue cheese gyoza pizzas

    Atsuko Ikeda's kimchi and blue cheese gyoza pizzas
    Atsuko Ikeda's kimchi and blue cheese gyoza pizzas

    Atsuko says: “A real ‘East meets West’ recipe, I initially devised this one using leftover gyoza wrappers. I love how the wrappers become a pizza-like thin crust onto which I can slather some umami-rich toppings. My favourite is this unusual pairing of blue cheese and spicy kimchi: it shouldn’t work but it does and it’s incredible! The blue cheese actually offsets the strong kimchi flavour and adds a lot of tang. They’re always a hit at parties and so quick to do.”

    Makes 10

    Ingredients

    • 10 store-bought gyoza wrappers
    • Vegetable oil, for brushing
    • 100g kimchi, drained and finely chopped
    • 50g blue cheese, crumbled
    • 1 pear, thinly sliced into matchsticks
    • Baking sheet lined with baking parchment

    Method

    Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan.

    Space the gyoza wrappers out evenly on the lined baking sheet.

    Brush the surface of the wrappers with a little vegetable oil, then sprinkle each one with about 2 tsp of kimchi and 1 tsp of crumbled blue cheese.

    Place the baking sheet on the top rack of the preheated oven and cook for five to seven minutes until the edges of the gyoza wrappers turn golden brown.

    Remove from the oven and garnish the pizzas with the thin slices of pear. Serve warm.

  • Nikumiso: miso minced meat on chicory

    Atsuko Ikeda's miso minced meat on chicory
    Atsuko Ikeda's miso minced meat on chicory

    Atsuko says: “Nikumiso is traditionally miso mixed with minced meat (niku), and it is used as a condiment or a topping. For this recipe, I added pearl barley to the meat for a healthier version. The taste of the barley goes particularly well with the red miso, but it also adds volume and a comforting chewiness to the dish. You can, of course, substitute the barley with other cooked grains, beans, lentils or quinoa. I like eating nikumiso on top of some rice or tofu, or even wrapped in lettuce leaves. In this recipe, I use it in a slightly more elegant way: served on chicory ‘boats’– it’s the perfect mess-free canapé!”

    Serves 6

    Ingredients

    • 50g leek, white part only (the green part can be used to make stock)
    • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
    • 10g peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger
    • 250g minced beef
    • 80g cooked pearl barley
    • 2 tbsp sake
    • 3 tbsp red miso
    • 2 tbsp mirin
    • 1 tbsp light brown soft sugar

    To serve:

    • 2 red or green chicories
    • Shichimi spice mix

    Method

    Remove the outer layer of the leek if it is dry. Reserve the top five cm of white leek for the garnish. Cut it lengthwise into thin slices and leave to soak in cold water to remove the bitterness.

    Leaving the root still attached, thinly slice the remaining leek lengthwise so it doesn’t fall apart, then cut across in the opposite direction to very finely chop.

    Heat a frying pan over medium heat. Add the oil to the pan, then fry the chopped leek and ginger for two minutes, stirring constantly.

    Add the beef to the pan and break up the lumps of meat using a spatula. Cook until the meat is all browned, then add the cooked pearl barley, sake, red miso, mirin and brown sugar. Stir continuously while cooking for two minutes until the liquid has evaporated. Remove the mixture from the heat, tip into a bowl and leave to cool a little.

    Slice the root off the chicory and peel apart the petals or ‘boats’. Slice the bottom of the outer side of each chicory leaf to stabilize it so it won’t be wobbly.

    Spoon the beef and pearl barley mixture into the chicory boats. Drain the soaked leek and use it to garnish the dish along with a sprinkle of shichimi spice mix.

    Note: This dish is best served when the nikumiso is at room temperature. When it gets cold the fat in the meat will solidify, so heat it through again well before cooling slightly and serving.

  • Toritebasaki Balsamico Aji: balsamic chicken wings

    Atsuko Ikeda's balsamic chicken wings
    Atsuko Ikeda's balsamic chicken wings

    Atsuko says: “There’s nothing more comforting and satisfying than sitting across a plate full of glazed chicken wings ready to be picked apart with your fingers, whether you’re amongst friends or alone! Chicken wings or tebasaki are a hugely popular dish in Nagoya, where they are coated in a peppery glaze. In my recipe, I prefer to keep the heat out but I add some balsamic vinegar for a moreish sweet and sour taste. Let’s see now if you can pick up the skills of Nagoya residents who are famous for eating them without leaving any meat on the bones!”

    Serves 4

    Ingredients

    • 750g chicken wings
    • 40g plain flour
    • 750ml vegetable oil, for frying
    • Fine salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • 2 tbsp white sesame seeds, to serve

    For the amagara sauce:

    • 2 tbsp sake
    • 2 tbsp mirin
    • 2 tbsp soy sauce
    • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
    • 2 tsp light brown soft sugar
    • 1 tsp garlic puree
    • 1 tsp Tobanjan (Chinese chilli bean paste)

    Method 

    Wipe off any excess water from the chicken wings with kitchen paper and season them with salt and pepper. Coat the chicken wings in flour all over, then set aside.

    Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy-based saucepan to 170°C over high heat.

    To check that the oil is ready, stick the end of a wooden cooking chopstick (or wooden spatula) into the oil. If it creates bubbles around the utensil, your oil is ready for frying. If it is bubbling hard, the oil is too hot; let it cool a bit and check the temperature again. Once the correct temperature has been reached, reduce the heat to medium to maintain it.

    Add the chicken wings, six pieces at a time, and deep-fry for about 10 minutes per batch, turning over a few times in the oil until golden brown. When each batch is cooked, use a slotted spoon to transfer the wings from the hot oil to a cooling rack to drain the oil.

    To make the amagara sauce, add all the ingredients along with 60ml water to a large frying pan, stir to combine them and bring to the boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to medium. Add all the fried chicken wings to the pan and turn them over a few times to coat in the sauce until sticky and slightly caramelized all over.

    Tip the chicken wings out onto a large serving plate and sprinkle with sesame seeds to serve.

  • Hosoi Harumaki: cigarette spring rolls

    Atsuko Ikeda's cigarette spring rolls
    Atsuko Ikeda's cigarette spring rolls

    Atsuko says: “Harumaki are literally spring (haru) rolls (maki) and they fit into the wafu-chuka (Japanese-Chinese) category of dishes. They’re crisp on the outside but soft and flavourful on the inside. You can also make them with Jerusalem artichokes. The combination of Jerusalem artichoke with truffle mayo is to die for!”

    Makes 10

    Ingredients

    • 250g medium white potatoes
    • 1 vegetable stock cube
    • 30g mayonnaise
    • 10g grated Cheddar (optional)
    • Pinch of ground white pepper
    • Pinch of salt
    • 10 harumaki spring roll wrappers (19cm/7 inch square)
    • 2 tbsp plain flour, mixed with 2 tbsp water, for brushing
    • 20 coriander leaves
    • 750 ml vegetable oil, for frying
    • Truffle mayo, to serve (see below)

    Method

    Put the potatoes in a medium saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Add the stock cube, then reduce the heat to medium-high and simmer for 15 minutes until the potatoes are cooked. Drain and leave in a colander until completely dry and warm but cool enough to handle.

    Peel the skins off the boiled potatoes and discard. Dice the potatoes, then put them in a food processor with the mayonnaise, grated cheese (if using), white pepper and salt. Blend to make a thick, smooth paste. Alternatively, you can mash the ingredients together in a bowl.

    Place the harumaki wrappers on a flat work surface in front of you in a diamond position. Use a teaspoon to position the potato paste in a thin horizontal line, about five cm above the bottom corner on each wrapper from edge to edge.

    Brush the top corner of a wrapper with a little of the flour and water mixture. Fold the bottom corner of the wrapper up and tightly over the potato filling, then start rolling the wrapper up, removing as much air as possible, with the potato encased inside. Stop halfway and fold both ends of the pasty in. Place two coriander leaves in the middle, then finish rolling to the top corner and seal it down. Repeat for the remaining wrappers and filling.

    To fry the spring rolls, heat the vegetable oil in a heavy-based saucepan to 160°C over high heat. To check that the oil is ready, carefully dip a spring roll in the oil. If it gently sizzles, then it means the oil is ready. Reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain the temperature. Deep-fry the harumaki in two batches, for 3 minutes each, turning over a few times, until browned and crispy. Remove from the hot oil with tongs and transfer to a cooling rack to drain and cool slightly.

    Serve warm with some truffle mayo for dipping.

    Truffle Mayo

    Ingredients

    • 3 tbsp mayonnaise
    • 3 slices of fresh black truffle, finely chopped
    • A few drops of truffle oil (optional)

    Method

    Simply mix the ingredients together in a small bowl and serve.

    Otsumami by Atsuko Ikeda (£20, Ryland Peters & Small) is out now

Photography: Yuki Sugiura © Ryland Peters & Small

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