Kama meshi is rice (meshi) cooked in individual little pots (kama) and often served table side directly from the cooking vessel. Seen since the late 1800s in Tokyo, this dish appears as a popular train station bento boxed lunch. The home-style version, takikomi gohan, is often prepared in an electric rice cooker for similar results. Whether you cook this delightful dish on the stove, in an electric cooker or over a flame in a traditional kama, you will certainly bring to the table a clear message of the changing seasons.

Here are the three steps to successful kama meshi:

Preparing the rice

The key to good cooked rice lies in the correct washing of the rice. These instructions only apply to unwashed short-grain rice. If the rice has been prewashed, skip to step 6. After these steps, you will have what is called arai gome (washed rice). Arai gome keeps for two or three days refrigerated.

1) Measure rice into bowl and cover with water.

2) Drain this initial water and return rice to bowl to polish (togu).

3) With the palm of your hand and extended fingers, work the rice upon itself for several minutes.

4) Cover in water and strain.

5) Repeat steps 3 and 4 until water runs clear.

6) Cover rice in water and let stand for 10 minutes.

7) Finally, strain rice well.

Precooking the garnish

There are two parts to the garnish: the main ingredient, which is seasonal, and the supporting garnish, which is constant all year.

Ita konnyaku (devil’s tongue) is an ideal garnish for kama meishi.

Main garnish: The rules for the main garnish are simple. Hard vegetables, like carrots, that will not cook in the time it takes to cook the rice (20-30 minutes) should be cut into small pieces and precooked briefly before adding them to the pot. Vegetables such as thinly sliced new ginger or mushrooms may be added raw at the time of cooking. More delicate vegetables, julienne of leeks, for example, should be added just before the rice is done.

Fish and other meat proteins should almost always be at least partially cooked before adding to the rice pot. Clams and oysters should be briefly steamed as well as other white fish. Conger and other eels may be grilled and basted in teriyaki before being used. Some small fish such as sweetfish may be grilled whole and placed right on top of the rice before cooking.

Supporting garnish: There are many supporting garnishes that may be added; try these for a good start.

For the main topping, follow the season.

Usuage (thin, deep-fried tofu): Place the tofu in boiling water to remove the oil that it has been fried in. Drain the tofu and squeeze out excess water. Cut into thin strips, then finely dice. The residual oil in the tofu gives the finished kama meshi a rounded smoothness.

Ita konnyaku (devil’s tongue): Konnyaku is sold in bricks (ita) or in noodles (ito). For this preparation, buy the brick and slice it in half lengthwise, and cut each half across about the thickness of cardboard. Then julienne these sheets on the short side to make little strips. Cover the cut strips in cold water and bring to a boil on the stove. Drain and let dry. Replace to a clean saucepan and add 30 ml each of sake, mirin and usukuchi shoyu (light soy sauce). Cook down the liquid over a high flame until it is gone. You may want lower the flame near the end in order to not burn the konnyaku. Cool and set aside.

Shiromi and kashiwa (white fish and chicken): For flavor and body, small pieces of any white fish or chicken may be added after being lightly salted, sprinkled with sake and steamed. You may use both fish and chicken or one or the other depending on the main ingredient and the stock used.

Making the stock

The basic stock for a good kama meshi consists of 11 parts stock (dashi or a light chicken stock), 11 parts water, and 1 part each mirin and usukuchi shoyu. Whether using a kama or an electric cooker, equal parts by volume of stock and washed rice (washed rice has a volume of 1.2 times unwashed rice) will give you the best results.

Kama meshi of grilled trout

4 1/2 cups uncooked rice (810 cc)
4 small trout fillets, grilled
1 usuage 1 itakonnyaku
20 grams white fish meat
440 ml stock
440 ml water
40 ml mirin
40 ml usukuchi shoyu

Wash rice and prepare garnishes as above. Combine liquids and set aside. In electric rice cooker, place washed drained rice and arrange grilled trout and other garnishes. Add stock carefully so as not to disturb garnish, and cook as you would regular white rice. Serves four to six. Refrigerate unused portion.

Here are some garnishes that you can use for each of the four seasons:

In fall — wild mushroom (kinoko); matsutake mushroom (mattake); ginkgo nut (ginnan); chestnut (kuri); conger eel (anago).

In winter — carrot (ningin); oyster (kaki); salmon roe (ikura); octopus (tako); sea bream (tai).

In spring — bamboo shoot (takenoko); bracken fern (warabi); mountain vegetables (sansai); new ginger (shinshoga).

In summer — taro root (satoimo); soybean (daizu); leek (shiranegi); sweetfish (ayu); eel (unagi).

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