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Kombu

Okinawan Pig's Feet Soup (Ashitibichi)

Here's a soup that may not be for everyone. Ashitibichi (AHSH-teh-BEE-chee), or Okinawan Pig's Feet Soup, definitely warms the bones as the weather gets cooler. Having said that, I'm reminded that ashitibichi is also one of the most popular offerings at Honolulu's annual Okinawan Heritage Festival, and it's not exactly cool on Oahu, even in September when the Festival is usually held. I guess this is for the hard-core pork lovers! *Guilty!*

In ashitibichi, whole or sliced pig's feet, or trotters, are simmered with ginger to produce an incredibly savory and gelationous broth. Large cut vegetables are added to create a final dish that is more a stew than soup from a Western point of view. Either way, you will either love it or you won't even try it, depending on where you stand on the "odd meat-parts" divide of carnivorous dining. If you happen to fall on the other side of the divide, that's okay — more for the rest of us! *smile*

This is a dish that my mother did not make at home when we were growing up. I'm not sure why, because she enjoyed eating it whenever she came across it, I just don't remember seeing her make it. Ashitibichi is considerably more time-consuming to make than oden-style
Kombu, so that may be one reason. For this recipe I had to consult my trusty, well-worn copy of "Okinawan Cookery and Culture" produced by the Okinawan women's group of Hawaii called Hui O Laulima. (Here is another version prepared by Pomai at Tasty Island — he may not be Okinawan, but he's a fan, too!)

As with many Okinawan specialties, ashitibichi features kombu, or kelp, as well as pork. The type of kombu needed for this dish is the long dried strips which may be labelled "nishime kombu," "hayani kombu" or "ma kombu" — any one of these will work with this preparation. Preparing the kombu before it is added to the soup takes a bit of prep work and is not intuitive to anyone not accustomed to using kombu, so here's a quick guideline.

PREPARING KOMBU KNOTS

First, soak the dried kombu in cold water, using a container large enough that you don't have to bend the dried strips — bending the strips can cause them to snap and cut your kombu before you can knot it. Soak for 30-40 minutes, or until the strips become pliable. Don't soak too long (2 or more hours) or the kombu will start to become mushy and unworkable.

Reserve 2 cups of the soaking water. (You can use excess kombu water as the foundation for a vegetarian stock or to cook dried beans — the kombu water is said to make the beans easier to digest, I haven't tried this yet but will. I also water planted vegetables and shrubs with this mineral-rich water, if I don't have an immediate use for it in the kitchen.)


Knot each strip of kombu 4-5 times, depending on the length of the vegetable. If you leave about 5 inches, or one fist-length (see photo above), between the knots, you will leave just enough room to cut between them and leave an adequate "tail" on either side of the knot. The kombu will continue to expand as it cooks and if you cut too close to the knot, it will unravel as the vegetable cooks and become an unattractive blob of seaweed. Beware the Blob — leave a tail on both sides of the knot!


ASHITIBICHI, OKINAWAN PIG'S FEET SOUP
(Mrs. Yukihide Kohatsu's and Mrs. Fumiko Miyasato's recipes in "Okinawan Cookery and Culture" were the starting points for this version, although the method is my own. Photo here is from the 2007 Okinawan Heritage Festival in Kapiolani Park, Oahu)

Begin at least one day before you plan to serve, since broth is cooled overnight.

For the Broth
3.5-4 lbs/1.6-1.8kg pig's feet, whole or sliced lengthwise
2 large fingers of ginger, scrubbed well and sliced lengthwise (leave skin on)
Enough water to cover meat by 1-2 inches

Place meat and ginger in large (6 qt/L, or larger) crockpot. Set on HIGH setting for 2 hours. Skim top of broth to remove impurities as they rise to surface.

After 2 hours, set to LOW and allow to simmer for 5 hours for sliced feet, 6-7 hours for whole trotters. Meat should be tender and move around the joints easily.

Remove meat to separate container for cooling and storage. Discard ginger, and strain broth. Cool completely and store overnight separately from meat.

To Finish Soup:
2-3 strips of dried kombu strips, soaked and knotted (see Preparing Kombu, above)
2 cups reserved kombu soaking water above
2-3 TBL
awamori or sake
1 medium
daikon, peeled and cut crosswise into 2-inch thick slices
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch thick slices
8-10 dried
shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated
1 packet
dashinomoto, dried powdered fish stock
1-2 TBL sea salt
2 TBL soy sauce

If desired, remove fat layer from broth. Place broth in large soup pot or Dutch oven, and bring to hard boil over high heat. Add reserved kombu water and return to boil.

Add kombu knots, awamori or sake, and daikon, and bring to boil. Once broth is bubbling, lower heat to medium, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. Add cooked meat, carrots, rehydrated shiitake, dashi packet, salt and soy sauce. Continue simmering for another 30-45 minutes.

Test kombu knots: if a pointed chopstick easily pierces the center of the knots, the soup is ready. If kombu is not ready, remove carrots and daikon if you don't want these vegetables to get too mushy, and continue simmering additional 20-30 minutes. Different brands and grades of kombu will cook slower or faster, so cooking times will vary, and are dictated on when the kombu reaches the desired consistency. Consistency of the cooked kombu is also a matter of personal preference — texture can range from slightly firm (
al dente) to meltingly tender. I prefer the latter, but that's just me.

Serve in individual bowls, with a separate bowl of rice, pickles, and a dipping dish of grated ginger or hot mustard. Maa-san!



Happy Birthday, Mom...


More Okinawan dishes on this site:
Kombu, Rafute, Abura Miso, Yakisoba, Okayu with Yomogi

More dishes with Kelp and other Sea Vegetables:
Kombu, Hijiki no Nimono, Namasu, Crispy Nori-Wrapped Walu & Shrimp with Papaya Coulis, Curry-Glazed Cod with Wasabi-Sea Salad Soba, and Kajiki with Pomegranate Ogo


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E Komo Mai




I am a novice student of the Tao and a long-time student of food traditions of the world. Trained first and foremost in my parents' island kitchen, I learned early on that the soul of the family lies in its pots and pans.

My mother, Fumiko, was a reluctant cook, she learned to cook mostly from her husband, then her mother-in-law. But she learned recipes faithfully, and brought her love and attention to everything she made. She cooked to take care of people, and everyone among her family, friends, co-workers, and friends of her children found comfort and a listening ear around her table. Flore, my father, was the creative soul of the kitchen, introducing “exotic" dishes like Italian cacciatore and Spanish paella, to their Okinawan-Filipino household. He can still be found “riffing” on recipes with wild abandon (Emeril Lagasse is his role model) --- gaily substituting and making additions to recipes, albeit some where they should not go (sorry, but Worcestershire sauce has no place is chicken adobo. Ever). What these two cooks synthesized in their kitchen together for 44 years was a messy, happy and deep love for food and family. This they have passed on to their children and their families.

As an heir to this tradition, I’ve found my journey with the Tao keeps wending its way through the kitchen – cooking first to comfort and nourish self, then to gather and feed friends, now to nurture and heal family and friends, old and new. To cultivate the Tao in myself has been to understand that my kitchen is both my mirror and my canvas --- whether I’m feeling creative, adventurous, tired, obsessed, all these expressions find their way to my bowl and plate.

In the kitchen with Flore & Fumi

So how to combine a spiritual journey and a culinary quest? Tao in the kitchen? I think of it as the "Way of cooking." My goal is to have fun with food and stay open to new food cultures. In this forum let’s cultivate a connection to what we eat and how we cook it. Let's think of food not just as something to fill the belly, but to nourish the spirit, clear the body and heal the soul. Let’s make shopping for, preparing and enjoying meals simple and joyful exercises. Let’s learn about new foods, and think in different ways about foods we already love. This is what I propose to do and I welcome you to this shared journey!

I'd like to begin by sharing with you a dish that will always remind me of that first kitchen of my heart, my mom and dad's. This dish may be wholly foreign to you, but it is the epitome of comfort food for my family. Warm and soupy, nutritious and familiar, it is the "chicken soup" for the Okinawan soul. My mother just called it Kombu, which is the Japanese name for the dried sea kelp that is the basis for this dish. In Okinawa, kombu features much more prominently in the local diet than in mainland Japan, and this particular preparation is unique to that island's tastes. In the mainland, similar dishes called nishime or oden feature nearly identical ingredients, but the proportions of the ingredients are what make the distinction (for instance, oden has more kamaboko). And the Okinawan version is always cooked with lots of pork. Okinawans are notoriously dedicated pork eaters. I remember during childhood visits to Okinawa, having to squeeze myself into tiny doorways as massive 400-500lb. pigs were led down the narrow cobble streets of my grandmother’s village. Pork broth steaming from huge bowls of soba, laden with fish cake and pork ribs; succulent slices of double-cooked pork glazed with a hint of sweet soy….but I digress, more about these in future.

Sea kelp is a good source of calcium, iodine, magnesium, iron and folate, as well as glutamic acid -- a rich source of natural umami; and it is the foundation of the famed Okinawan Diet for good health and longevity. A quick google of "kombu" will yield some references to its use to make dashi (a flavoring broth essential to Japanese cooking), and a few recipes where it may play a small part. In this Okinawan dish, however, Kombu is clearly the star.

Chicken souup for the Okinawan soul
(clockwise: fried tofu, konnyaku, kombu, shiitake, carrot, kamaboko)

KOMBU
Prepare the pork and broth
1.5-2lb whole pork belly or shoulder
1 small hand ginger, washed well and sliced in ½ inch slices
3 TBL whisky, sake, or awamori (Okinawan sake)

1 packet
dashi no moto
2 tsp.
mirin
1 tsp. sugar, prefereably demerara or light brown

Broth preparation
Wash pork well and place in large (8qt or larger) pot with ginger. Cover meat with water and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium and skim foam off top. Add liquor, then cover with lid and let simmer for 45 minutes. Remove meat and set aside. Discard ginger. Add dashi no moto, mirin and sugar to broth and keep at simmer.

2 strands of Hayani
kombu, soaked in 6 qts water for at least 20 minutes (save soaking water)
1 piece
konnyaku
1 small
daikon (white radish), peeled and cut in 3 in. pieces
2 large carrots, peeled and cut on diagonal
4-6 pieces fresh or canned whole bamboo tips, cut into 3-in pieces
8 pieces dried shiitake mushroom, soaked in 4 cups water until completely rehydrated -- about 1 hour
(save soaking water and strain) (fresh shiitake may be used, but dried is preferred for its intense flavor)
1 stick
chikuwa kamaboko (fishcake), sliced on diagonal (optional)
1 large firm block of tofu, wrapped in towel and drained in fridge at least 1 hr., then cut in 2-in. cubes
2-3 tsp. Kikkoman soy sauce

Kombu preparation
Depending on type of kombu, may need longer soak – it should be pliable but not disintegrating. Remove kombu and save water, if you like. If rehydrated kombu is more than 6” across, cut lengthwise before proceeding. Start tying knots in kombu strand, leaving about 4” between each knot. Now cut evenly between knots.

Konnyaku preparation
Rinse well. Slice cross-wise into ½” slices -- about 12 slices. Cut a lengthwise slit in the center of each slice, leaving ¾” uncut at top and bottom -- you should be able to put a finger through the hole. Now the fun part --- hold one slice in your left hand, and with your right, push the bottom of the slice through the slit and out. It will create a very attractive spiral pattern in the center. After you’re done admiring your handiwork, add to broth.

Add kombu, 1 cup saved kombu water, konnyaku, shiitake and shiitake water to broth. Simmer about 30 minutes. Add carrots, daikon, bamboo, kamaboko and tofu. Slice pork into 2” pieces and add to broth with soy sauce. Simmer another 20 minutes or until kombu is tender at the knotted middle (test the thickest part with fork -- it should slide easily through).

Serve with rice, and Japanese hot mustard or wasabi, and soy sauce for dipping. Pickled vegetables, called
tsukemono, are also lovely with this. Enjoy!
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