View Full Version : Mochi and Oshogatsu

Neil Yamamoto
26th December 2007, 20:21
A blurb on Mochi and a bit of history of mochi for New Years. I cut this way back in size and am not happy with the generic flavor this post developed in editing. If you are interested in more, consider this just a general introduction.

The making of Mochi
Mochi is a rice cake, made by pounding rice in a jumbo size mortar and pestle. The mortar, known as an “usu” is made from wood or stone. The pestle, known as a “kine” is made of wood. Cooked short grain rice is pounded in the usu until it’s reached an evenly smooth texture and looks like a lump of dough. This is typically a two to four person task, one or two swinging the kine, the others reach into the usu in between swings to turn the rice. This is not easy, and takes good timing and teamwork to avoid smashed hands or fingers. Mochi tsuki is hard work and was usually a community affair in the old days. Now, mochi can be made with machines, but many old timers say mochi made in a usu is better still.

Once the rice reaches the proper consistency, the mochi is divided up into smaller pieces and molded by hand into cakes of various size. Mochi can also be made sweetened and is used in making “manju”, which are sweet pastries.

Mochi as a symbol
Mochi plays a very significant role in Japanese food, and reflects the importance of rice to the culture. The most common reflection of this for most people is to decorate their house with special mochi called “kagamimochi” for the new years. Kagamimochi is an offering to the Toshi-gami, the deity of the incoming year, to express thanks and as a prayer for long life.

Kagamimochi usually is made of 2 cakes of identical round mochi (kagami is Japanese for "mirror") and topped with a bitter orange called a “daidai”. Most families use Satsuma oranges. The kagamimochi is stacked on a piece of rice paper and usually placed on either the household Shinto altar or in the tokonoma, the alcove of the main room of the house.

“Kagami-biraki” (mirror opening) occurs in mid January. The kagamimochi is taken down, divided up, and then cooked into ozoni (recipe below), a traditional New Years soup, or in a sweet adzuki bean soup called oshiruko. Eastern Japanese prefer clear soup for their ozoni, while those in Western Japan usually have either a white miso or more strongly flavored soup, think one pot meal type cooking. In any case, eating the kagamimochi is said to bring you the blessings of the gods.

Mochi as a food
Mochi in it’s unsweetened form, is usually cooked on a grill or BBQ, so is known as “yaki mochi”. You can also cook mochi in the oven, or with a broiler, or in a frying pan. In the oven takes the longest (but is good for large batches for a large family gathering) but a grill or BBQ or broiler will usually create a nice crunchy outer layer.

A frying pan is easiest for most and produces a nice soft mochi with a slightly crunchy exterior. In a pinch, you can even heat mochi in the microwave but it’s loses the crunchy to soft texture contrast that is what makes mochi so good.

Fresh is best, but frozen or dried works just fine. In any case, to prepare the mochi, thaw if frozen. Most frozen mochi is in blocks or small cakes. If in blocks, cut into cubes about 2” across once thawed. If dried, It’s probably already in small cubes. Fresh or frozen mochi cooks very quickly, so keep a close watch, dried takes a bit longer.

Lightly brush both sides with a light oil in all methods. Canola or sunflower oil works great, olive oil is fine though. You can skip this if you like and it works just fine, but I like the results with a touch of oil, the cooked mochi tends to develop a better texture.

Oven or Broiler for large batches
Heat oven to 350 or on broil. If using the broiler, have about 3” to 4” from the broiler. Place the mochi on a pan covered with parchment paper with about 3” of space between each cake.

In about 5 -10 minutes, depending on size of the cake, it will start to soften visibly. Flip over and when the mochi starts to puff up, take it out and toss in kinako powder or in sugar shoyu mix, see below.

Grill, BBQ
Use medium heat, Check in a few minutes by pushing lightly with a fingertip, and when slightly soft, flip over to grill both sides. Remove when it starts to puff up. Toss in kinako or sugar shoyu mix, see below

Frying pan
Use medium heat, the mochi will soften. Flip over to grill both sides. Remove when it starts to puff up. Toss in kinako or sugar shoyu mix, see below

Seasoning the mochi
A common method for most families for grilled mochi (yaki mochi) is to cover with a sugar shoyu(soy sauce) mix. About 3 tablespoons of sugar to about cup shoyu. Taste it, your taste buds should get both the salt and sweet about equally,adjust this as suits your taste buds. Just dunk the cooked mochi in the shoyu mixture and serve while hot. Don’t let the mochi get cold, it can develop a slightly bitter taste.

A second method is to use kinako powder, which is soybean powder. Kinako has a slightly nutty flavor. Kinako is readily available at Japanese grocery stores and by mail order. To prepare, mix 1 cup kinako, to cup white sugar or confectioner’s sugar (optional), a large pinch of salt. Some people leave out the sugar completely. Others add cinnamon to the kinako too. Do what tastes good to you.

Once the mochi is cooked, quickly dunk the hot mochi in a bowl of hot water and then roll in the kinako.

A third version is for the frying pan. This makes use of nori and sesame oil. When the mochi is mostly cooked, rub a couple drops of water on the mochi and top with a square piece of nori (seaweed) and squish with the spatula to get the nori to stick to the mochi. Do this on both sides and finish cooking.

When ready, add a splash, (about teaspoon of shoyu for each mochi) and let the mochi finish cooking in the shoyu for about 30 seconds. Add a few drops of sesame oil on top and serve. This adds a strong nutty smoky salty flavor to the mochi. Have a fan on when you do this, it tends to smoke a bit.

You can also serve mochi in soup called “ozoni”. This is a traditional method for new years in most families. Different regions had different ingredients, slightly different preparations. The recipe below is a peasant country style version a friend’s family used to serve and I liked.

 Water and dashi powder (fish stock powder for soup base)
 4 small pieces mochi (rice cake), about 1” cubes
 4 pieces chicken meat sliced thin
 1 small carrot, sliced thin
 4 shitake mushrooms, sliced thin
 4 inches leek, sliced thin
 Satsumage (fish cake), sliced thin
 1/4 pound Chinese cabbage (napa) ( my mom leaves this out)
 1 tsp sugar
 1 tbsp sake
 1-2 tbsp soy sauce

Make dashi following directions on package, only reduce the dashi amount by about 1/3. Add sugar, sake, and soy sauce to taste. Add water if needed to adjust taste. Add chicken pieces and vegetable slices and simmer until softened. Meanwhile cook the mochi until softened. Add the mochi to the soup last and serve. You can also do this with miso soup as mentioned above. If I do this with miso, I also add tofu and more veggies.

To really make this properly, you should make the dashi from scratch using dried fish, but for simplicity sake, use the instant. My mom’s version uses a different soup prep and she precooks the meat and veggies, and keeps them out of the soup until she add the mochi just prior to serving, this makes sure the soup stays clear for presentation in the Eastern style.

You can also serve mochi with sweetened azuki beans (oshiruko) as a dessert. You can buy oshiruko in cans at the grocery store. One is very smoothly processed into a paste and the other has chunks of the red beans still. Both work just fine but I tend to go for the texture of the not totally crushed beans personally. You can add seasoning to taste if desired though not traditionally done. I’ve had oshiruko with a touch of vanilla or cinnamon added in some recipes. You can also add roasted chestnuts for a touch of nutty flavor.

If you want to try and make it from scratch, use adzuki beans. This is a long process since the beans contain a bitter tannin and you need to cook, drain, repeat several times to make sure the tannins are removed. Cook the beans until soft, drain and rinse thoroughly. Place to soak in fresh cool water and remove the scum that will float to the top. Let the beans sit and repeat the skimming. Change the water and skim again until the water stays scum free after the beans have been sitting for about 15-20 minutes.

Then boil again remove the scum, rinse, repeat. There should be no or very little scum after the beans have sat again. Finally, rinse the beans and then mash them. You can strain to remove the skins and have the smooth soup, often called zenzai, or keep the skins in the soup for more texture.

Again, like for the ozoni soup, cut the mochi into much smaller pieces, about 1” across. Once the mochi is cooked, add the mochi to the heated soup. Sometimes oshiruko is served with pickled vegetables as a contrast to the sweetness of the soup.

Finally, be careful eating mochi, every year there are reports of mochi choking deaths at new years. Ever see the movie “tampopo”? Guy choking to death on a mochi in oshiruko is in one of the scenes.

So, that's your budolicious primer on mochi. Some people like Mochi enough to even name their dogs after it. Here’s a picture of my dog, Mochi. Enjoy!

Brian Owens
27th December 2007, 04:33
Thanks for the great post, Neil. It's this kind of blurb" about various and sundry topics that keeps E-Budo interesting.

It's hardly traditional -- at least in the "old and established" sense of the word -- but one of my favorite summer-time desserts is ice-cream-filled mochi, particularly the strawberry and mango flavors.

Uwajimaya sells boxes of assorted flavors in the frozen foods section. I've seen everything from strawberry and vanilla to red bean and green tea flavors.

Daruma Restaurant on the Everett waterfront serves a 3-piece / 3-flavors mochi ice cream dessert that's pretty tasty if you like that sort of thing.

Neil Yamamoto
27th December 2007, 16:34

The frozen mochi is good stuff isn't it? The first time I saw it at the Mikawaya store in Little Tokyo I was going "Frozen ice cream mochi? What the heck are you thinking?" But they gave me a free sample and I was hooked. I bought one of each flavor to eat while I wandered around the neighborhood in addition to the manju I was buying to take home with me.

I tend to buy my mochi ice cream at Trader Joe's or Central Market, closer to home than a trip to the Uwajimaya. I can usually get most of my Japanese food staples at Central Market as well.

I think I'm going to start posting more on food as well as booze, so more budolicious stuff to come, and some cultural stuff on Japanese American as well to contrast to Japanese cultural.

27th December 2007, 17:03
Please don't tell me you are going to eat Mochi this shogatsu!
She is such a good dog. Sleeping on your pillow is no reason for such an extreme reaction. :eek:

:D Akemasite omedetou gozaimasu

Neil Yamamoto
28th December 2007, 17:23
Doug, only Mochi I'm going to eat this year is composed of rice, no inu-mochi for our shogatsu! Which reminds me, our SF buddy was just here for a briefing he was delivering at Fort Lewis to his old unit. Hi from him.

I helped my mom last night making another batch of mochi, burned my hand on the hot rice while shaping the mochi. Follow the same routine every year, help make a batch, eat the last one I make.

On a side note, I'm working on building an usu and kine so my nephew and niece can make mochi with the TNBBC. Hopefully, I'll get this done by next fall.