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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

This store-bought spice blend makes everything taste better


By Eric Kim


At Sushi Yoko in Norcross, Georgia, as at Japanese restaurants across the world, each booth has a red-capped bottle of shichimi togarashi, the seven-spice blend that makes food taste spicy, savory, nutty and electric all at once.


This combination delivers an exciting interplay of dried red chile, orange peel, sesame seeds (both black and white), sansho peppercorns, seaweed and often ginger. It enhances food without overpowering it, which is why everyone should keep a bottle in the pantry.


“Shichi” means seven, and “togarashi” refers to the Japanese red chile that grounds the mix. The six other ingredients depend on the brand and, when made at home, on the cook. Some variations might include poppy seeds, hemp seeds and yuzu peel. A successful shichimi togarashi (sometimes called nanami togarashi) offers a kaleidoscope of tastes, each turn of the tongue showing off a new combination.


Sushi Yoko’s chef, Tomonori Nakamura, likes to dust it over yakitori but wants his customers to use it on whatever they like. A bowl of his tempura udon wouldn’t be complete without a sprinkle of shichimi, which, at his diner-like restaurant, you can find next to the salt and pepper shakers and soy sauce decanter.


Rie McClenny, whose debut cookbook “Make It Japanese” (written with Sanaë Lemoine) comes out this month, uses it as a finishing spice for soba, deviled eggs and tonjiru, a pork and vegetable soup flavored with miso. It lends a layered spiciness, she said, with pops of mildness from sesame and citrus, and soothing warmth from sansho pepper.


McClenny first saw an application of shichimi togarashi in a non-Japanese setting as an intern at a restaurant in the Manhattan neighborhood of NoLIta. The spice blend was added to melted butter, which then coated fried chicken wings to astounding results. “It opened my eyes,” she said.


Though shichimi togarashi is classically used in Japanese cuisine as a finishing spice, there are many ways to extend its multidimensional flavors beyond a last-minute sprinkle. In this easy weeknight recipe, lime juice and a touch of soy sauce accentuate the citrusy, savory spice, especially once reduced to a sticky pan sauce for slicking pork chops. A dusting of shichimi tastes even more brilliant when bloomed in the pork’s fat; maple syrup carries all seven of its flavors, as does a final gloss of butter.


It’s “Japan’s go-to spice,” the chef Brendan Liew writes in his cookbook “Tokyo Up Late.” I’ve been known to sprinkle shichimi togarashi over chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven and a platter of just-fried chicken karaage, or to gently awaken it in a warm pool of olive oil before tossing with noodles.


Whether you keep that red-capped bottle next to your salt and pepper shakers is up to you, but your world will certainly be better for it.


Maple-soy pork chops with shichimi togarashi


Shichimi togarashi is a citrusy, savory Japanese seven-spice blend featuring ground red chiles, roasted orange peel, black and white sesame seeds, sansho pepper, seaweed and often ginger. You can extend those sharp, multilayered flavors with lime juice, maple syrup and a touch of soy reduced to a sticky pan sauce that slicks quick-cooking pork chops in this easy recipe. Try to find bone-in loin chops with nice fat caps around the curved outer edges for richness and succulence. Serve with white rice and green beans, or alongside a big crunchy salad.


Yield: 2 to 4 servings

Total time: 25 minutes



Ingredients:


4 bone-in (1/2-inch-thick) pork chops

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Zest and juice of 1 lime

2 tablespoons maple syrup

2 teaspoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon shichimi togarashi (see Tip), plus more for serving

Neutral oil, such as canola or grapeseed

2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter



1. Cut two shallow slits into the fat cap of each pork chop to help the chops stay flat as they cook. Season the chops with salt and pepper. (If you have time and want to ensure juicy meat, refrigerate to dry-brine for at least 30 minutes or up to 24 hours.)


2. In a bowl, stir the lime juice, maple syrup, soy sauce, shichimi togarashi, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 3 grinds of pepper to combine.


3. Heat a large skillet over medium-high. Add enough oil to lightly coat the bottom. Working in batches as needed, add the chops and cook until browned and crusty, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate to rest.


4. Add the lime juice mixture to the pan, still over medium-high, and let it bubble up and cook, stirring constantly, until syrupy, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Off the heat, add the butter and stir until combined. Add the chops back to the pan and turn to coat in the sauce. Transfer to plates, pouring any leftover sauce over the meat. Sprinkle with the lime zest and additional shichimi togarashi, if you’d like.



Tip:


You can find a bottle of shichimi (sometimes labeled nanami) togarashi at a Japanese or Asian grocery store; it’s easy to buy online, as well. But to make your own with other pantry ingredients, stir together 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne,1/4 teaspoon ground ginger and 1/4 teaspoon sesame seeds (black or white, or both), plus a couple grinds of black pepper. For full-spectrum flavor, you could also include a pinch of sumac for sourness, a fleck of crushed dried seaweed for savoriness and a dash of poppy seeds for sweet nuttiness. These aren’t traditional ingredients by any means, but they get you close when you’re in a pinch.



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