THE GOCHISO GOURMET: The seafood of Oshogatsu

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Osechi Ryori seafood tier. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

columnist-logo_ryantatsumoto_FINALI grew up with a mixture of Oshogatsu (Japanese New Year) traditions in the 1960s and 1970s. But for the most part, I didn’t know the significance of these traditions. Though Ojiichan (Grandpa) was Issei from Hiroshima, his only tradition was serving scalding sake from Mom’s gold anodized tea kettle just past midnight, as it was supposed to protect you from illness in the new year. Because the sake was Mom’s “cooking” sake that was likely well over a year old and Ojiichan inadvertently didn’t allow the heated sake to cool, I never embraced that tradition until early adulthood. We always tied bamboo at the entryways, but again, we were simply told it was for “good luck.” We never sampled toshikoshi soba right before the new year, and in the 50th that tradition was likely local-style saimin instead of soba, though we always had some type of red colored fish, both right before the new year (aku or ahi sashimi) and on the first day of the year (steamed onaga or menpachi served with somen) that I again assumed was simply for good luck.

Fertility, Longevity and Abundance

Mom Tatsumoto always enjoyed kazunoko or marinated herring roe during the holiday season, though it was never a regular part of our Oshogatsu, mainly due to the cost. I’ll admit when I now purchase kazunoko for Mom during Oshogatsu, I save money as she prefers the kazunoko that’s attached to kelp instead of the pricier whole egg sacs. I never really developed a taste for either version as the shoyu and katsuo in the marination always seemed to clash with the Champagne that I usually imbibed on the eve or the day. The strong flavor also seemed to clash with floral Daiginjo sake, though likely would have paired with a Junmai sake. However, for a brief period I did consume shishamo or pregnant capellin fish as a traditional Oshogatsu dish, but once I discovered that people consumed both kazunoko and shishamo during Oshogatsu so that you could be blessed with many children during the new year, I switched to other traditional dishes.

Osechi Ryori seafood tier. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

hough we never prepared lobster or shrimp as a traditional Oshogatsu dish, we have sampled them in osechi ryori jubako, including last year’s three-tiered box from 22Kailua. The curved tails of crustaceans signify the curved back of an old person, so consuming shellfish during Oshogatsu is said to ensure a long life. Though we’ll continue to enjoy any type of shellfish at Oshogatsu, it won’t be for the significance of living a long life, as we’d both rather focus on the quality of life in the remaining years than simply the quantity. In the classic osechi ryori jubako, the shrimp are usually prepared complete with the attached heads, but as whole fresh shrimp aren’t usually readily available, I simply use the unshelled tails. And while garlic isn’t traditionally used in osechi ryori recipes, since garlic shrimp are found in many food trucks and plate lunch joints in the 50th, I added my own Hawai‘i touch to osechi ryori.

Simmered Garlic Shrimp
12 (16 to 20 size) shrimp tails
1/2 cup dashi
1/2 cup awamori
2 tbsp black garlic shoyu
3 tbsp mirin
1 heaping tbsp minced garlic

Bring all the ingredients except shrimp to a boil then lower temperature to simmer and let simmer for five to 10 minutes. Add the shrimp and simmer for another three to five minutes, just until the shrimp are cooked. Place the shrimp in a storage container then pour the filtered simmering liquid to cover the shrimp and let sit overnight in the refrigerator before serving.
Those slightly sweet and satisfying sardines or niboshi symbolize abundance in the new year. The dish itself, tazukuri, literally translates to “making rice field,” as sardines were originally used as fertilizer for the rice fields. Other than the making of a great ramen broth, candying these dried sardines as a snack to accompany sake or biru are its next best use. I’ve even seen recipes adding various nuts instead of the traditional sesame seeds.

Tazukuri (Candied Sardines)
1 cup dried sardines
1 tbsp white sesame seeds
2 tbsp awamori
1 tbsp shoyu
1 tbsp mirin
1 tbsp honey

In a small frying pan on medium-low heat, toast the sardines for five to seven minutes, then add the sesame seeds and toast for another two to three minutes, but remove and set aside before they burn. In the same pan, add the next four liquids and thicken to a glaze then add back the sardines and thoroughly coat then let cool. Consume once cooled or store in the refrigerator.
Finally, there’s one traditional dish that doesn’t require any kitchen time at all and it simply depends on how much you want to spend. The red and white color of Kohaku kamaboko symbolizes the rising sun of the new year and symbolizes happiness and purity as well as protection from evil spirits. In the 50th, you can spend as little as $1.99 for Amano kamaboko made on Hawai‘i island or Okuhara kamaboko made on Oahu, and up to $20 or more for the frozen variety imported from the Motherland. And if I haven’t rocked the boat enough by adding garlic to osechi ryori cuisine, here’s a popular use for kamaboko in the 50th.

Kamaboko Dip

The Gochiso Gourmet’s Kamaboko Dip. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

1 block kamaboko
3⁄4 cups mayonnaise
1⁄2 cup cream cheese, softened
1⁄4 cup green onions, thinly sliced
1⁄4 cup chopped water chestnuts
1⁄4 tsp hondashi powder
Furikake, to taste

Grate the kamaboko using a box grater on the finest setting. Combine the rest of the ingredients and refrigerate. Serve with Ritz crackers.

Hope for Year of the Tiger
It’s amazing that a mere 13 years ago, I felt so much hope for the country and the world and in just the past five years, it seems we’ve taken several miles, never mind steps back from that inauguration in 2009. So once again, I wish you health, happiness and peace of mind in the Year of the Tiger. And with the ongoing pandemic and charged political climate, keep your friends and family closer than ever. Shinnen Akemashite Omedetou Gozamasu!

The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the University of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kane‘ohe, HI and can be reached at gochisogourmet@gmail.com. The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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