Japanese basics: Nanban sauce or vinegar (Nanbansu)

I've been craving sour flavors recently for some reason (and no I'm not pregnant ^_^;), which means that I've been making nanban foods quite a bit. The word _nanban_ uses the kanji characters for 'south' and 'savage', meaning savages who come from the south. It was originally used to refer to the Portuguese, the first non-Asian foreigners to land on Japanese soil. Later it came to refer all foreigners except for long-time neighbors China and Korea - or in other words, the Europeans. I guess to the Japanese of the 16th century or so, those white people looked like otherworldly savages! In any case, it seems that the Portuguese had some kind of dish that had sour flavors (I haven't been able to pin down what that dish might have been - if anyone has a clue let me know), and so the term 'nanban' came to be used for any dish had a combination of sweet/sour/salty and often spicy-hot flavors.

Nanban sauce or vinegar is most commonly used for nanban dishes. For instance Chicken nanban is a dish that originated at a popular restaurant in Miyazaki prefecture in the southern island of Kyuushuu back in the 1950s, and is basically battered deep fried chicken that's been doused in this sauce and served with a ton of of tartare sauce. It was popular in Kyuushuu for decades, but only became well known nationwide in the last decade or so when it became a popular item on _famiresu_ (family restaurant) menus, as well as in convenience store bentos. _Wakasaki no nanban zuke_ is another popular dish, consisting of small, whole ice fish (which are a bit like little sardines) that are deep fried and doused in nanban sauce with lots of shredded vegetables. Nanban sauce can also be used on noodles, or with either cooked or raw vegetables. It makes an unusual salad dressing.

I'll have specific recipes that use nanban sauce later on, but I wanted to write down the basic recipes so I can point to them instead of repeating them over and over. There are almost as many nanban sauce recipes as there are households and restaurants that make nanban dishes, but here I have three variations. Just pick the one that looks the most appealing to you. Any one of them can be kept for at least week or two in the refrigerator.

Update: Check out my panfried chicken nanban on JustBento.

Recipe no. 1: Classic nanban sauce

By Makiko Itoh

nanban-sauce.jpg

Published: March 04, 2011

A version of a versatile Japanese vinegar based sauce that can be used as a marinade, dipping sauce, dressing and more. This is a classic version using mirin.

Prep time: 5 min

Cook time: 5 min

Total time: 10 min

Yield: 2 cups

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup (120ml) rice vinegar, (plain rice vinegar, not sugar vinegar, which has salt in it already)
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) mirin, (a sweet fortified alcoholic cooking ingredient)
  • /14 cup (60ml) dark soy sauce, (this is the regular dark brown soy sauce that is widely available)
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 piece about 4 inches (10cm) long dried konbu seaweed, (a basic ingredient in Japanese cooking, used for its umami)
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, (optional)
  • 2-3 small red Thai red chili peppers or similar, cut into rounds, (remove seeds if you don’t want it to be too spicy)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
Directions:

Combine all the ingredients in a small pan,

Heat and stir until the sugar is melted; heating it also takes the edge off the vinega and makes it milder.

Cool and put in a screwtop jar.

Store in the refrigerator, where it will keep more or less indefinitely. If you want to keep it in your pantry instead, just strain it off and pack into clean, sterile jars.

Recipe no. 2: Alcohol-free Nanban Sauce

By Makiko Itoh

Published: March 04, 2011

An alcohol-free (no mirin) version of a versatile Japanese vinegar based sauce that can be used as a marinade, dipping sauce, dressing and more (Since classic nanban sauce is not cooked for a long time, it still has some alcohol in it, which may be a concern if you're going to use it as a dipping sauce or dressing.) The honey in this adds an interesting dimension. See Recipe no. 1 for ingredient descriptions.

Prep time: 5 min

Cook time: 5 min

Total time: 5 min

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup (120ml) rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) runny honey
  • 1 piece about 4 inches/10 cm long dried konbu seaweed.
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 2-3 small red Thai chili peppers, (Use another hot red chili pepper if you can't find Thai peppers. Remove the seeds if you want it milder.)
  • /21 teaspoon salt

Directions:

Combine all the ingredients in a small pan,

Heat and stir until the sugar is melted; heating it also takes the edge off the vinega and makes it milder.

Cool and put in a screwtop jar.

Store in the refrigerator, where it will keep more or less indefinitely. If you want to keep it in your pantry instead, just strain it off and pack into clean, sterile jars.

Recipe no. 3: Nanban sauce with leeks

By Makiko Itoh

Published: March 04, 2011

Another version of the versatile Japanese vinegar based sauce that can be used as a marinade, dipping sauce, dressing and more. This is a bit more elaborate than the other two, but really good. It also has less sugar, since the leeks are quite sweet anyway. (See description of ingredients under Recipe no. 1 above.)

Prep time: 5 min

Cook time: 10 min

Total time: 15 min

Yield: 2 cups

Ingredients:

  • 1 white part of a leek, roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • pinch salt
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) rice vinegar
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) mirin
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) dark soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) water
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 piece about 4 inches / 10 cm long dried konbu seaweed
  • 1 cup dried bonito flakes (katsuobushi)

Directions:

Heat a frying pan over medium heat, and add the oil.

Sauté the chopped leek until soft and lightly browned

Combine all the ingredients in a small pan, Heat and stir until the sugar is melted.

Cool and put in a screwtop jar.

Store in the refrigerator, where it will keep more or less indefinitely. If you want to keep it in your pantry instead, just strain it off and pack into clean, sterile jars.

Notes

If you have kids or people who don't like spicy food, omit the chili peppers. If you like extra heat, add more.

Try out this non-recipe: Heat up some leftover fried chicken until hot in the oven. Even KFC will do. Douse the hot chicken in some nanban sauce, and let cool again. This is really nice for bentos and picnics.

(Technical note: I am trying out some search-engine friendly recipe tagging, which accounts for the repeated use of extraneous information like Author: Makiko Itoh for each recipe. Please bear with me as I iron out the glitches.)

(Another note: I mistakenly deleted the original post, together with all of your comments! At least I did have a backup copy of the original article. My apologies to everyone who left a comment...;_;)

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