I don’t know about you, but there is nowhere in the world I find more inspirational for food than Japan. It’s their astonishing palate of ingredients and obsessive perfectionism. Of all the Magnificent Creations that I have made in the last year, it is the Japanese ones in the first Tasting Box that have given me the most pleasure. This month I couldn’t resist returning to that theme.
Gen Yamamoto’s cocktail bar in Tokyo opened my eyes to so many Japanese flavours and ingredients. It is quite an experience. There’s space for just 8 people so you book your place as you would in a restaurant and sit back and watch as magic is conjured. He has a set menu of perfectly conceived cocktails. This sounds daunting but it isn’t about the alcohol, the alcohol is simply there as a carrier of flavour. Spices are ground, juices are squeezed and there is barely a whiff of anything as prosaic as vodka or rum… rather fresh Sake or Shochu. It’s like a Michelin star menu in liquid form.
So are you ready? Do you have your glass of water to drink between chocolates? Is your chocolate at room temperature so it starts to melt the moment you put it in your mouth? Have you decided if you can bear not to chomp the moment you take a bite!? Ideally you would leave a little square of chocolate melting in the middle of your tongue while you breathe deeply and let the layers of flavour gradually unfold.
Let’s start on the nutty side of your Flavour Map with Las Trincheras 72 dark chocolate and follow it with Rio Caribe 72. This is a great introduction to the joys of single estate cacaos as both are made with trinitario beans from Venezuela, and both have the same level of sugar as they are 72% cacao…but they are still remarkably different. Las Trincheras 72 is very gentle and nutty, while the Rio Caribe 72 has complex layers of coffee and nuts.
Journeying on to the fruity side of the map, we come to Chulucanas 70 with its notes of raisins and plums. This is made from a much prized, and distinctively white criollo bean from the Morropan Province in Peru. It is so different from the Madagascan Sambirano 71, which is also fruity but it is like citrus fireworks going off in your mouth.
Our next stop will be Orange & Almond and Pistachio & Date. Both of these are made without using any sugar, they get their natural sweetness from the fruit and nuts. Wonderful, naturally healthy snacks.
I make both the Ginger Lime and Luscious Orange with a dark chocolate from Baracoa in Cuba which tastes naturally of honey. As you can imagine it is the perfect chocolate to pair with citrus flavours. When you come to try the Yuzu & Almond remember what these two taste like, in order to help you find yuzu’s place in the world of citrus.
Yuzu is a citrus fruit unlike any other, more aromatic and floral. Since November is the beginning of yuzu season this is your chance to try it.
Yuzu & Almond, Baracoa 66 dark chocolate with yuzu and roasted almonds.
An aromatic Japanese take on the Mediterranean classic orange and almond. When I came to make this chocolate, I naturally turned to the Baracoa bean with its soft honey notes. Beautiful.
Miso & Mirin, Awajun 70 dark chocolate with miso and raisins soaked in mirin.
Salted caramel has become so incredibly popular because it is that wonderful combination of salty and sweet. Here the barley miso provides an umami take on salty and the mirin soaked raisins bring bursts of floral, fruity sweetness. This is one joyful bar of chocolate.