For our New Year’s Eve dinner this year, my wife made chanko! Chanko is the core of sumo cuisine. However, there’s not one stock recipe. Ours featured shrimp, sausages, chicken meatballs, shiitake and shimeji mushrooms, and assorted vegetables on maroni- noodles, served in a seafood broth. In a special move, she also included mochi kinchaku (purse).
Shiitake mushrooms are probably the most famous variety of Japanese mushroom, a giant container of which is usually presented to the yusho winner. Fitting, then, that it was the first mushroom I ever ate…in my 20s. I had been afraid of those button mushrooms one finds in salads and on pizzas, as if all had been irradiated in Chernobyl. They just seem so, plain. I became much more open to trying new things when I lived in Japan, perhaps because every time anything was prepared, it was done to the best of the cook’s ability.
So, when I tried my first shiitake (the mushrooms with dark, broad tops) I was surprised that it tasted good. I wouldn’t say “great” but certainly edible. That opened me to at least trying more types of mushrooms. I don’t like enoki. They’re little, thin, white mushrooms with tiny tops, and usually doused in butter. They’re certainly thinner than these shimeji mushrooms, which I found to be the best part of this chanko – even better than the yummy sausages and meatballs.
This was the first time I ever ate a purse. I did not know this was a thing until now. The outside is agedofu, that horrible stuff that they sometimes fill with sushi rice at rather disreputable establishments. Here, it was filled with sticky mochi…and not much better. Maybe since it had been boiled, the texture wasn’t as revolting as when it’s filled with too-hard and too-sour sushi rice. The mochi inside was quite good…but not as good as agemochi…which I suddenly need right now. Overall, tonight’s chanko was a fantastic warm-up for tomorrow’s osechi which I will bring to you tomorrow.
Have a Happy New Year!