Japanese Food Wine Pairing -- Seasonal Flavors

In the '80s, the mini-series "Shogun" was a big hit. My father, who was Japanese, and Japanese friends had little regard for it due to the many inaccuracies and anachronisms it contained. Most glaring was the idea that a noblewoman could have fallen in love with one of the foreign men of that time. Cleanliness has always been a top priority for Japanese, they bathed every day and scrubbed their houses clean. Europeans in the 1500s rarely bathed, perhaps once a month if they were wealthy and once a year if they were poor. The streets in Europe ran with raw sewage and heavy perfume was used to mask body odor. The Japanese were horrified by the foreigners lack of hygiene and called them nanban: "barbarians".  Besides cleanliness, Japanese value visual harmony, artistry and simplicity; these values are reflected in their cuisine which is always presented as a feast for the eyes as well as the palate. Their art and culture revolve around the appreciation of nature and her seasons. Thus, the “haute cuisine” of Japan is kaiseki where the freshest possible seasonal vegetables, fruits and seafood are presented on exquisite dishes decorated with seasonal motifs in an elaborate service of multiple courses. If one has kaiseki in a traditional ryokan, one is served in one's room, a process that takes two to four hours. My daughter and I had the opportunity to sample kaiseki at the Hiiragiya Ryokan in Kyoto and the Kankaso Ryokan in Nara on a trip a couple of years ago which were highlights of the experience.

So, when I had the honor of having two chefs this weekend at my dining room table--Chef Skip and Chef Stephane Rapp of SBCC's Culinary Arts, I thought of making a Japanese-American version of kaiseki (non-traditional with homegrown and local ingredients).  I normally just drink green tea as it pairs perfectly with the traditional Japanese flavors and find sake' too sweet as there is already quite a bit of sweetness in most Japanese dishes. But, a grand occasion demanded fine wines. Fortunately, Paul Arganbright, president of Touring & Tasting brought a lovely bottle of the 2006 Bouchard Pere et Fils Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru which we had learned about from the Henry Wine Group Trade Tasting. Its crisp, clean acidity was perfect with oysters on the half-shell with lemon/rice vinegar/green onion flavoring, dobin mushi (matsutake soup with black cod and kamaboko) and a seafood salad with crab claw, shrimp, tamago and red ginger and nasturtium flower.
A bottle of the 2006 Matthews Syrah, which had been a Touring & Tasting World Class wine club shipment, was perfect with the NY steak teriyaki, sake/citrus marinated grilled salmon, and white asparagus with roasted sesame/miso dressing. The Matthews Columbia Valley is a powerful blackberry and black currant Syrah with no rough edges. Japanese seasoning comes from the following five principle flavors: soy sauce, miso (a salty fermented bean paste), mirin (a sweet cooking sake), dashi (fish broth) and ginger. Soy sauce comes in different levels of saltiness and can be tempered with sugar for a softer flavor. Miso comes in two basic varieties—aka miso (red) and shiro miso (white), and is used for soups, sauces and marinades. Mirin is a sweet cooking sake usually used for teriyaki, sushi rice and salad dressing though the dryer drinking sake can be used for seasoning seafood. Dashi is used in all soups, including miso soup, and as the stock for boiling and braising. Ginger is minced to add spiciness to dishes or pickled for a salty/spicy relish. Secondary flavors are seawood—either wet or dry, sesame seed, and chili powder usually in a seven-spice chili mixture called togarashi. Aromatic white wines such as Viognier and blends with Semillion conflict with these flavors and oaked California Chardonnays are too "oily". The French white Burgundy was perfect with the fish dishes. If I have the opportunity in the future, I'd love to try it with sashimi! Strongly flavored dishes like teriyaki and ones flavored with aka miso need a smooth red; tannic wines like Cab clash. After tasting the Matthews Syrah with teriyaki, I would say it is the #1 wine pairing for all teriyaki dishes!
From St. Supery Winery, a family-owned estate winery in the heart of Napa Valley, recognized for outstanding Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and their Élu and Virtú blends:

3 tablespoons unsalted butter plus some to coat the ramekins
¾ cup Panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 cup half and half
12 ounces fresh goat cheese
4 egg yolks
8 egg whites from large eggs
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
Pinch of white pepper
Preheat oven to 425 degrees and place the rack in the middle. Butter the bottom and sides of ten 4-ounce ramekins. Coat the ramekins with the Panko and tap out the excess.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan, whisk in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Add the half & half, stir constantly, and cook for one minute or until the mixture thickens.
Place 9 ounces of the goat cheese in a large mixing bowl.
Pour the hot half/half mixture over and mix well. Stir in the egg yolks and season with salt and pepper.
Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks using a mixer. Gently fold the whites into the cheese mixture. Half fill the ramekins with the cheese mixture and divide the remaining 3 ounces of goat cheese equally among the ramekins.
Top with the remaining cheese mixture and sprinkle lightly with Panko.
Place the ramekins in a baking pan and fill with hot water to about half way up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for about 25 – 30 minutes or until the soufflés are golden brown. Makes 10 servings.

Pair with the 2006 St. Supery Virtu'.

In Colorado, where I grew up, we would have just planted our vegetable garden in May and tender plants would just be beginning to mature out of the tender baby shoot stage into vigourous "teen year" growth. In sunny Southern California, I planted my first summer vegetables in late April; tomatoes are already ripening. I gathered a precious harvest for yesterday's dinner. Minced onion mixed with goat cheese, panko and a bit of egg were wrapped in squash blossoms, coated with egg and fried in olive oil with onion and garlic flowers (the round white puffs left of the tomato in the photo), quartered artichoke and slivered green onion. The rest comprised a salad and the flowers decorated our table. Ahh, the joys of summer!


  1. Being at your table with those special folks you love was such an honor for me --- and the act of preparing the food for was a ritual of caring and respect

    Ichi ban, Tama-san!

    Best to you --



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