Keeping with our theme of quick, versatile, and easy to eat and make rice dishes (like Zosui), here is another traditional favorite of mine, chazuke. I like to make it when I am in a hurry to get dinner on the table and also when I have left-over rice.
What is Tai Chazuke?
Simply put, chazuke is either hot or cold cooked rice, topped with a variety of ingredients and then immersed in either hot strong green tea or dashi stock. We have samurai warriors and Buddhist priests to thank for chazuke, a venerable Japanese fast food that remains popular to this day.
This particular recipe uses tai (sea bream) and dashi stock, but of course, there are endless variations. If we use green tea instead of stock, then it would be called Taicha, which is quite popular at the moment. Cha meaning tea and zuke meaning to submerge. Most likely this dish originated in Kyushu, which is famous for its sea bream.
Chazuke remains a popular craze, with a variety of instant, dried and inexpensive toppings (furikake), such as the well-known Nagatanien brand used. There are even gift sets of more sophisticated and pricier chazuke flavors available.
The practice of mixing rice with a liquid began in earnest back in the Heian era (794-1185), when aristocrats poured hot water over cold rice in the winter and cold water over the rice in the summertime. This was thought to disguise the taste of rice that was occasionally poor in quality.
Fast Food From The Past
By the Muromachi era (1333-1568), the standard breakfast for samurai was rice, miso soup, and pickles. During the civil wars that raged in the latter half of this era, samurai were asked to be frugal as an example to the populace, so they often poured their soup over their rice to create a single dish. This was known as nekomeshi, or “cat’s meal,” because pouring soup on rice for cats is to soften the rice to make it easier for them to eat. Since it was filling and quick to make, this dish became a samurai staple.
The forerunner of modern Ochazuke
Hoban or hohan, the forerunner of modern chazuke, was also being eaten by Buddhist priests during the same period, and soon found its way onto the menus of high society. It was served to guests during the tea ceremony, which also developed during this time. The principle was the same: cooked or flavored ingredients (such as vegetables already cooked) were placed on top of rice, and then covered with either green tea or weak dashi stock. It was beautiful to look at and easy to prepare – a perfect offering for unexpected guests.
By the middle of the Edo era (1603-1867), a greater variety of colorful, flavorful toppings were in use, spurred on by the influence of kaiseki (Japanese haute cuisine) and newly sophisticated tastes. It didn’t matter if the rice was hot or cold, but the tea or stock had to be really hot, since it helped cook any raw toppings such as fish.
Regional Variations of Ochazuke
Regional versions of chazuke can also be sampled around Japan. On Shikoku Island, the local version is called bokkake. Bokkake’s main ingredient varies from place to place – rabbit and mackerel are two that come to mind. The main ingredient is cooked together with lots of different vegetables, almost like a stew, and then everything is laid over hot rice. In Okinawa, a number of chazuke variations with a Chinese influence are made. The only difference is that the stock is made from both pork and fish.
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Tai Chazuke Recipe
- 9 ozs (250g) sliced very fresh sashimi-grade tai (sea bream), cut sashimi style
- 3 tbsp soy sauce
- 3/4 tsp sansho (ground Japanese pepper), or to taste
- 3 cups firm, hot, freshly cooked Japanese white rice (can also use leftover or even cold rice)
- Kizami Nori (seaweed slivers) to taste
Dashi Stock (or use homemade)
- 2-1/2 cups water
- 1 tsp instant dashi granules
- 1/8 tsp salt
- Separate the fish slices and place in one layer on a flat dish. Combine the soy sauce and sansho pepper and pour the resulting mixture over the fish. Marinate for 15 minutes, turning once or twice. Meanwhile, prepare the dashi stock by bringing the water, stock granules, and salt in a saucepan to a boil. Cover and keep the stock very hot.
- Just before serving, place the rice in four bowls and top generously with the seaweed. Place the fish slices on top of the rice in a sunburst pattern, covering the seaweed. Pour enough hot dashi stock over the rice, fish, and seaweed to nearly cover the fish. Lightly mix the result with your chopsticks and eat immediately. Tsukemono (pickled vegetables) are a nice accompaniment to chazuke.