During the last few years London has seen a drought of epic proportions.
Due to some nonsensical EU legislation possibly THE most important ingredient we know, love and depend on was banned from entering the UK .
Without a suitable alternative chefs from Japanese restaurants across the capital have taken the law into their own hands.
We’ve been forced into a life of crime, thrown into an underworld of smuggling, dealing, and black market trading, we have become desperados.
Chefs have stopped at absolutely nothing to get hold of it, stories of illegal round-the-world boat trips, bribed JAL cabin crew and even a rumour of one yakitori chef who flew back from Tokyo with it stuffed into his children’s soft toys [COUGH ahem].
When it has found its way into the country it's been traded on back doors of restaurants, stolen, gambled with, even talk of one chef losing fingers in a yakuza style hit for simply trying to protect his stash.
I’m talking about Katsuobushi
Nicknamed Odoru [dancing] Katsuobushi for the erie performance it makes when sprinkled on a warm plate of yakisoba or okonomiyaki, it is basically dried bonito [skipjack tuna].
To keep it simple the bonito is simmered for an hour, deboned and then smoked for 2-4 weeks. A natural mould is then added and it is left to dry in the sun – [ a more detailed description is here] this process as you can imagine completely transforms the appearance and more importantly the flavour.
These small blocks are then shaved into ‘wood shavings’ maximising surface area and allowing flavour extraction – GENIUS
It's jam-packed with inosinic acid which gives intense umami, adding complexity and depth to anything in its path, Most importantly for chefs it's at the base of every good Dashi – the foundation stock that so many Japanese restaurants depend on.
It’s dynamite on a salad, even a simple sliced tomato or humble plate of tofu succumb to its magical powers and slowly but surely its creeping onto the international fine dining scene.
Fortunately for the chefs such as us the bloodshed is over.
A month ago a rumour was circulated that one of Tsukiji markets most famous producers and shrewd business man, Mr Wada, was setting up a factory in a north London ghetto called Enfield.
Familiar with this particularly un-glamorous part of London it didn’t take me long to track him down.
Seems Wadasan, A.K.A Mr Bonito, had been alerted to the UK famine and decided to do something about it.
He had contacts in a top Japanese supply company over here called Tazaki foods.
Together they recruited and trained a crack team of food mad, bearded scientists and with state of the art equipment imported from Japan, they began to shave.
Wadasan – a stickler for quality, oversees the whole operation himself during his regular visits. He imports the fish from the clean waters off Vietnam, where he also spends time developing the cooking and drying process.
Wadasan himself is amazed at the quality of the British product, he told me that while over here he eats it sprinkled on mozzarella every day for breakfast.
Believe that or not but by all accounts the British product is every bit as good as the Japanese version, [well come on, they're never going to say its better] and it looks like its here to stay.
Need more info ? – Essential reading Dashi and Umami the heart of Japanese cuisine