1. Ingredients In Depth 4:

    Maguey (Agave americana)

    Miel de maguey (sweet maguey sap):

    Production begins with la raspa, the scraping of the center of the plant to begin the flow of liquid, which is then sucked out into an acocote or gourd. Nowadays, plastic containers are used in place of squash gourds, but the process is essentially the same. The aguamiel is deposited in buckets and brought to la pala, where it is boiled down to syrup. La pala gets its name from the Spanish word for paddle, since a wooden paddle is used to stir the aguamiel constantly until it reaches the desired consistency. This is hard work, requiring constant movement in a room that fills with white smoke as the aguamiel is boiled. More >

    Pulque (fermented maquey sap):

    Generally speaking, producing pulque is a little like caring for a sourdough starter. It is a process of natural fermentation that must be kept in balance by consistent care of the stock. The tlachiquero — the person who harvests aguamiel (sap) — must collect the sap aguamiel from his maguey plant two times a day, and three times in the hot season. Aguamiel is thin and tastes sweet with a hint of that bitter flavor that aloe vera juice has.

    Don Joaquin told us that there are a number of maguey species and that each one produces a pulque of a different flavor and consistency. The names of maguey varieties appear to vary from region to region, and he calls the three varieties that he prefers, Chalmeca, Malinalqueño, and Verde. More >

    Mixiotes (meat steamed in maguey leaves):

    The word mixiotes refers to one of the most delectable dishes within the wide spectrum of Mexican cooking, as well as the wrapping used to contain these steamed individual meat stews.

    This wrapping, also known as a mixiote, is the outermost layer of a maguey leaf, called a penca. This thin outer leaf layer is similiar to parchment paper in thickness and consistency. More >



  2. Ingredients In Depth 3:

    Ishiri (いしり), Japanese Fish Sauce

    Japanese Fish Sauce, or Ishiri, from the heart of the Noto Penninsula in Ishikawa has been traditionally crafted since olden times. Ishiri has been used for generations in the traditional cooking of the Noto area.

    There are two general types of Ishiri, divided by the ingredients used. In the area of the peninsula that faces Toyama, the liver of the Japanese squid (surumeika) is used. On the Sea of Japan side, the principal ingredient is the Japanese sardine (iwashi).

    • When Ishiri is made using squid, a mixture of 18% salt and the intestines of the squid (goro) is agitated occasional over a period of one or two years, fermentation takes place and the final product is completed.
    • When Ishiri is made using sardines, the entire fish is used in a 20% salt mixture and the process takes about 6 months or a year to complete.

    At the time of Ishiri production, lipids and residue of Ishiri are found at the upper layer of the barrel. The mixture is sealed in storage and anaerobic fermentation progresses until maturity. Which is to say that the addition of high concentrate of salt holds in check the putrefaction bacteria. Autolysis enzyme allows for protein and fermentation to occur as volatile compounds generate the unique characteristic taste of Ishiri.

    Ishiri goes by many names: Ishiru, Yoshiri, Yoshiru, Shioshiri, Shioshiru.




  3. Ingredients In Depth 2:

    Dried Bonito (Katsuobushi) - Japan

    Having developed from ancient times as a dried food, katsuobushi first came to be made by smoke drying in 1674. A well-known anecdote about the birth of this method tells of a fisherman from Kishu (present-day Wakayama Prefecture) named Jintaro who was shipwrecked in a storm. After being washed up on the shore of Usanoura, Tosa (present-day Kochi Prefecture), Jintaro tried smoking the skipjack tuna that he had over a wood fire, which dramatically improved the fish’s flavor. This is said to be the beginning of smoke-dried skipjack tuna, known as arabushi.

    • Arabushi are made by filleting skipjack tuna, simmering the fillets whole, and smoke drying them until hard.
    • Hadakabushi are made by shaving off the surface fat of arabushi and adjusting their shape.
    • Honkarebushi, also called shiagebushi, are made by coating the hadakabushi with mold and fermenting them.

    Molding has the following merits.

    1. Mold consumes the moisture in the meat to sustain itself, thus accelerating desiccation.

    2. Mold has the ability to decompose fat, ridding the meat of both its fat and smell and converting the fat into soluble fatty acids. The process also takes the edge off the taste, enhancing the savor and aroma.

    3. Mold breaks down proteins into amino acids and other nitrogenous compounds, which also increase savor.

    4. The coating of mold keeps off other microorganisms.

    5. Mold breaks down the neutral fat and increases free fatty acids, resulting in a clear soup when katsuobushi shavings are boiled.

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  4. Ingredients In Depth 1:

    Kanten (Agar) - Japan

    Kanten, or agar, is a gelatinous substance that is essential in Japanese confectionery.

    Natural kanten is primarily produced in mountainous areas, where winters are severe and temperatures greatly vary between day and night. Much time and effort goes into its production, which takes place in sub-zero conditions

    Most of the tengusa (Gelidium) from which kanten is made are of domestic origin. The seaweed comes in dried form, having been sun-dried for about 10 days by fishermen.

    The first step is suishin: soaking tengusa in water. The seaweed is soaked for about 48 hours, with the water being refreshed several times to draw out the salt, as well as to remove seashells, sand, and other impurities.

    The tengusa is then taken to the boiling room, where it is boiled in cast-iron boilers for about an hour.

    …the boiled contents are drained into filtering bags of nylon or linen, and weights are placed on the bags to squeeze out the agar liquid into large tubs called daihune (meaning “barge”). 

    The filtered material is pumped from the tubs into wooden boxes known as kobune (“small boat”) and allowed to coagulate at room temperature for an entire day. The resulting tortoiseshell-colored solids are cut into hard, long slabs called namaten, meaning “raw kanten,” which are carried in the boxes to the drying area outside.

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