I was originally inspired by Samin Nosrat's work about a year ago when my brother bought her book Salt, Acid, Fat, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking as a gift for my father. Although I only ever scanned it, it was more the title that inspired me. The idea that: all one needed were the simplest of elements to harmonise for a dish to succeed - was thrilling, so when Netflix released a show dedicated to her, I was delighted! It took me a Monday evening with a good friend, but I managed to finish it in one evening, and discovered it to be a wonderful collection of her experiences, travelling the world to find out more about what she believes are the four elements that unite all cuisines in making food taste good: salt, fat, acid and heat.
In the four part series, there was one particular episode that caught my attention: Salt. Travelling to Japan, Samin visited three main places: a salt factory, a miso maker and a soy sauce producer. These three traditional producers have been using the same method for hundreds of years, and getting the opportunity to see their work practically first hand was thrilling. For me, watching this tied in with my trip to Japan earlier this year, where I began to be heavily influenced by Japanese cuisine and style, and upon my return - inspiring me to research and teach myself Japanese cooking techniques, ingredients, and foods, crockery, and tableware.
So, with my own homemade miso paste in my airing cupboard - well into it's second month of fermentation, and my variety of Japanese rock salts in a Kilner jar by my cooker, what really excited me was the soy sauce. In the episode, Samin takes a tour of Yasuo Yamamoto's traditional soy sauce factory: Yamaroku Soy Sauce. A fifth generation soy sauce manufacturer, Yasuo uses kioke barrels to ferment his product, sometimes leaving it for 2 years or more, compared to the average 6 months period used by larger manufacturers. Kioke barrels are the key tool, and ingredient, in the production of traditional soy sauce, because of the millions of beneficial bacteria that call the wood home, and help in the fermentation process. The barrels are an antique technique, and in the whole of Japan there exist only 2 manufacturers, at which Yasuo himself has apprenticed.
Now before watching this series, I had never really thought about where my soy sauce came from. I had considered making it - if I could make my own miso, how hard would soy sauce be? Well, hard. The show illustrated to me the careful and considered production behind this delicious sauce, and made it clear to me that it wasn't something I could put together quite as easily as the miso paste.
So you can imagine my excitement when Natoora - a seasonally inspired market shop - announced that they would be stocking Yasuo's very own Yamaroku soy sauce. On my next day off, I crossed London (a two hour round trip) from Dalston to Fulham; with the sole mission of getting my hands on a bottle. Though the thought of the carbon impact that this one small bottle may have caused did make me pause: I decided that for something that would probably last me a long time, would be used very sparingly and would be absolutely relished: it was definitely worth it.
It took me 4 days before I decided to bite the bullet and open the bottle; I didn't want to waste it, but what are ingredients but to be used? So I decide to crack it open. When I first opened the bottle, I had a teaspoon ready and, without hesitation, poured myself a taster. The flavours were incredible. Full bodied but subtle, the umami filled my mouth with taste and I felt a deliciously warm feeling, while the saltiness cut through sharply to create an entire sensation.
In using the soy sauce, I decided that I would follow in his footsteps (on the Netflix show) and use it as the sole accompaniment to what I was cooking. In the show, Yasuo gently brushes it on a chicken breast that is grilling over a flame, so I decided to test it on a thick slice of cauliflower charred in a cast iron pan, to try and emulate his methods. It surpassed expectation in it's flavouring powers and proved that as he said "if you have a good soy sauce, you don't need any other seasoning". All I can say is: I cannot wait to use it again!
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