As a side note to this week's review of Izakaya Yuzuki, a 2-month-old Japanese restaurant in the Mission, I spoke to its chef, Takashi Saito, a alumnus of Ame and Kyo-Ya. In addition to making exquisite chawanmushi, fish cakes, and braised pork belly, Saito is starting a few culturing projects few American Japanese restaurants undertake. Here's a excerpt from our discussion last week:
SFoodie: On the menu, it mentions that you're culturing your own koji [rice innoculated with Aspergillus oryzae].
Saito: Yes. I'm seasoning with koji. For example, with meat or fish, I don't use regular salt, I use koji salt. The flavor of koji is kind of sweet, like sweet cooked chestnuts. To make it, I make a rice koji mixed with sea salt and mineral water, then keep it at room temperature for two to three weeks. Then the taste and the flavor of the koji comes out.
Is this something a lot of restaurants in Japan make?
A long time ago, every family cultured its own koji and used it, people of my grandmother's age. But now, it's not so popular. They've lost the use.
Koji is also used to make soy sauce, sake, and miso, right? Are you making any of those?
I'm making miso, but not soy sauce.
I've heard you also bury vegetables in your own nukadoko (cultured bed of rice bran) to pickle them. How long have you been doing that?
Our restaurant has a nukadoko that is only 4 months old, but it's in very good condition. Every day we mix it to push fresh air in, and sometimes we add more rice bran powder. The pickling time depends on the vegetable -- eggplant takes one and a half days, a little bit longer than cucumber, which takes less than a day. Right now we're also using baby rainbow carrots, breakfast radishes, and watermelon radishes.
Do you have other projects you're working on?
I'm trying to make sake lees, too.