Japanese cuisine is known for its precision. Maki, sashimi and bento are just a few preparation that exhibit the unique Japanese aesthetic — an aesthetic that requires specific tools to create. Here are a few of the most commonly used tools and utensils in Japanese cuisine.
Automatic Rice Cooker (Suihanki)
If you find yourself in a Japanese home without an automatic rice cooker, double-check to make sure you’re in the right country. They’re that prolific. Stabilization of Japan’s electrical grid in the 1950s and 1960s brought a boom in rice cooker use.
Prior to rice cookers, most households used a dedicated wood-burning stove (kamado) and cast-iron pot, the use of which required a lot of skill at managing heat. Panasonic and Toshiba, who introduced rice cookers to Japan, still produce an array of high-quality machines, as does Zojirushi.
If you have the sushi-rice technique down, you already know you need a hangiri and paddles. Hangiri, bamboo baskets used for mixing and cooling sushi rice, are as important to preparing authentic sushi rice as any other piece of cookware in the process.
You need a wide, flat, breathable container to properly cool sushi rice, and a bowl just won’t do. If you make sushi rice in a rice cooker, do not use the warming function; all too often, it turns the already-glutinous rice gluey.
Non-lacquered Long Chopsticks (Saibashi)
Chopsticks can economize your collection of cooking utensils and relieve your kitchen junk drawer of many superfluous tools and gadgets, if you wanted them to. With a little practice, you can use chopsticks for making creamy scrambled eggs, checking the temperature of frying oil (bubbles form around the point a chopstick meets the oil) and turning simmering and frying foods.
When using chopsticks as a cooking utensil, use long (around 12 to 17 inches) and non-lacquered chopsticks. Non-lacquered to hold up to the heat and long to keep your hands away from the heat source.
Wooden Drop-lid (Otoshibuta)
Precise preparation earns Japanese food a reverence rarely seen in other styles of cuisine. The delicacy of simmered dishes like chanko-nabe (sumo stew), saba nitsuke (mackerel) and kinmedai nitsuke (splendid Alfonso), for example, get their delightfully light texture with the help of an otoshibuta, an ultra-lightweight wooden drop-lid.
An otoshibuta rests on the surface of a cooking liquid while food simmers. This holds the food in place while causing the water to circulate around it as opposed to circulating with it, as happens when using a traditional lid. The otoshibuta is a true tool of finesse.
Bamboo Mat (Makisu)
This one speaks for itself. Without makisu, rolled sushi would not have the aesthetic appeal that contributes to its specialness. But sushi mats do far more than just roll sushi rolls. You can use them to shape various types of French roulades and Japanese tamagoyaki (Japanese rolled omelet). You can also press water from tofu, among other applications.
Bamboo Sieve (Zaru)
Think of zaru as the Japanese version of a sieve. Not only can you use it to drain, rinse, cool and dry foods, you can use it to serve dishes like zaru soba and zaru udon. Zaru come in a range of sizes.
Grater Box (Oroshigane)
As anyone who has tried to grate ginger or wasabi on a box grater or Microplane knows, you need a specific tool for grating coarse, fibrous foods. Sharkskin graters have a lovely aesthetic and perform the task capably, but are a pain to clean. That’s part of the appeal of an oroshigane.
Oroshigane has two work surfaces: one side of it purees while the other roughly grates. And, unlike other graters, food stays on top of the grater instead of falling through it. An oroshigane can handle a variety of foods, including carrots, garlic, daikon radish and horseradish root.