Packing portable protein for hundreds of years, chikuwa is a fish paste product with a multitude of applications from straight snacking to something that can elevate cuisine to a more delicious place. Store bought, it is already cooked, and in the shape of a long, hollow tube with a diameter of around a couple centimeters. The hollow tube is what’s left over after the metal or, more traditionally, narrow bamboo pole has been removed following a baking or steaming process.
“Chikuwa” means bamboo ring in English, which is a reference to its shape once it’s been cut up. It has a resilient but not spongy texture, and takes especially well to boiling. It’s basically ground up fish meat with salt, sugar, egg whites, and some starch. It is not long on spices, but this makes for a pliable cooking partner.
Chikuwa is especially popular in oden, as the fishcake absorbs the broth exceptionally well, and doesn’t go so badly with a smidge of mustard on it either! On the more snack-like front, chikuwa cut up into small pieces with daikon (Japanese radish), ume (salted preserved plum), and a bit of sesame seed oil can really hit the spot with a cold beverage. The imminently stuff-able nature of a chikuwa cylinder invites all kinds of variations, including a tempura with ground meat in the middle, of even a little diddy that has a few spears of baby asparagus filling out that space.
As Japanese food evolves with the times, chikuwa and cheese have even sometimes found themselves friends. How would you feel about chikuwa stuffed with shiso leaf and cheese? Or how about a spring roll with crispy on the outside, chikuwa in the middle, and traditional, cabbage-based spring roll stuffing in the middle? Some of these tastes may not be for everyone, but it just goes to show that chikuwa has stood the test of time, and is ready for come what may in tomorrow’s home-style Japanese cooking!
Looking to try chikuwa in Tokyo?
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