Review of Nanban by Tim Anderson


During the summer of 2010, Tim Anderson impulsively applied to compete on MasterChef, the popular UK culinary competition show, thinking he had little chance of hearing back. But hear back he did, and in 2011 he was declared the youngest winner of MasterChef at age 26. Anderson states he won partly due to his souped-up ramen with porcini-infused pork broth and lobster gyoza with black truffles that he served in the final. Fast forward to 2016 and the Wisconsin raised cook has a successful restaurant in London - Nanban - and a cookbook of the same name. All this stemming from his passion of Japanese cuisine and his "Mad Professor" skills, a nickname given to him by one of the judges on MasterChef.

So what exactly is Nanban? Nanban by definition means 'southern barbarian,' a term the Japanese once used to describe Europeans. Europeans were the first to arrive in Japan by way of the South China Sea and the Japanese judged them as barbaric in behavior. Presently, the word is used to describe certain western dishes that have been influenced by Japanese cuisine. Anderson's menu for his restaurant is inspired by the Brixton Market known for its global ingredients and fresh produce. He transforms these ingredients into Japanese dishes, with a focus on the southern island of Kyushu, where ramen, karaage, curry, and shochu reign supreme.

Nanban, the cookbook, is a reflection of the dishes served at the restaurant. The recipes are organized into seven sections: fundamentals, small dishes, large dishes, grilled items, ramen, desserts and drinks. Measurements are set out in weight and volume - but Anderson encourages us to play with the exact quantities in some instances as he hopes we will use our own palate to determine whether the seasoning in a dish needs adjustment. The book itself is unique both in its size and the open spine binding. Stylish cursive font is applied to recipe titles and the use of white space on the pages appeals to those of us who love extra attention to aesthetic details in a book. Full page photos accompany many of the recipes and those dishes are approachable and diverse, save one recipe: Motsu Nabe (Offal Hot Pot). The author himself does not expect anyone to try this recipe but if we do we receive a bonus 1,000 authenticity points. I will forego the points.

I tested two outstanding recipes: The first was the Chicken Nanban which is a fried marinated chicken with vinegar sauce and tartar sauce. There is a little prep work - marinating the chicken in the vinegar sauce and then making the batter and frying the chicken pieces. The work is well worth the reward. We all loved this dish. The vinegar sauce was perfect and the chicken was tender and juicy - think a beer battered type fried chicken with tang from the vinegar. Be sure to use small strips of chicken as the vinegar does cause darkened spots while frying which is normal - and still delicious. The faster it fries the less discoloration you will have. 

The second recipe Tsukune, chicken patties, was so quick to put together and incredibly flavorful. A little work in mincing the chicken thighs but overall a very easy dish. Using thigh meat helps keep the patties moist and we all know dark meat is much more flavorful. Technically, I made three recipes - because I made the Soy Sauce Tare to accompany the patties. The tare is a thickened soy sauce glaze with ginger and garlic and is absolutely delicious. I will be using this recipe for grilling this summer and will never buy a teriyaki sauce again as I will use this recipe for the base. 

Lastly, I used the book as inspiration and chose a few components to make a stir-fried noodle dish. Right there was when I knew this cookbook was great - it encouraged me to play around and create a dish on my own.

I am particularly taken with the Basic Sauces and Condiments chapter with recipes for Sweet-and-Sour Miso Dressing, Seven-Flavor Chili Powder, Kimchi and other staples that can elevate any dish. Japanese food is not only rice and sushi, there are many facets to Anderson's Japanese soul food and I am eager to try them all. Pulled Pork Miso Soup, Fried Rice and Cabbage Patties, Grilled Rice Balls and Vegetable Gyoza are all marked to try next. The EYB index of the book's recipes can be found here.

Jenny Hartin is an enthusiastic home cook who lives in Colorado, owns the website The Cookbook Junkies and runs the Facebook group also called The Cookbook Junkies. The Facebook group is a closed group of 30,000 cookbook fans - new members are welcome.

The recipes that Jenny tested are reproduced by kind permission of Clarkson Potter.

Chicken Nanban (Fried Marinated Chicken with Vinegar Sauce and Tartar Sauce)

Chicken nanban

Photo by Jenny Hartin

Chicken nanban is a specialty of Miyazaki prefecture and a classic example of what is called yo¯shoku- Japanized Western food. It combines a strange array of Portuguese, British and Japanese influences into one of the most mouthwatering chicken dishes in Japan - hell, in the world! This is a crunchy, juicy, sweet-and-sour chicken explosion served with creamy, zesty tartar sauce. My version uses quite a lot of fresh ginger in the marinade to make the whole dish really sing.

Yield: 4 Servings

For the chicken and the vinegar sauce:
⅝ cup (150ml) rice vinegar
⅓ cup (75ml) mirin
3 tbsp (35g) sugar
3½ oz (100g) fresh ginger (peeled weight), roughly chopped
pinch salt
pinch white pepper
3¼ tbsp (50ml) soy sauce
5 tsp (25ml) Worcestershire sauce
1½ tbsp (25g) ketchup
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

For the tartar sauce:
3 tbsp (35g) gherkins or cornichons
3⅓ tbsp (50g) mayonnaise
1 egg, hard-boiled
2 scallions, roughly chopped
4-5 sprigs parsley, roughly chopped
¼ tsp dried dill
2 tsp (10g) yellow mustard
½ tbsp (10g) white miso
1 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp sugar pinch salt

For the batter:
vegetable oil, for deep-frying
3 eggs
1½ cups (210g) all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking soda
1 cup (270ml) water
white pepper

To serve:
¼ cabbage, finely shredded

For the chicken and the vinegar sauce:
Purée all the ingredients except the chicken in a blender until completely smooth. Pass through a fine sieve to remove any fibrous ginger bits. Cut the chicken into chunks or strips about ¾ inch (2cm) thick. (Alternatively, you can pound the chicken to a thickness of about ¾ inch [2cm]; the main thing to bear in mind is that it needs to be thin enough to cook quickly in the oil.) Pour the marinade over the chicken pieces in a container and stir to coat the chicken evenly. Cover and refrigerate for 2-8 hours. Remove the chicken, pour the marinade into a saucepan and boil for a few minutes. Pass the sauce through a fine sieve and keep in the fridge until needed.

For the tartar sauce:
Chop the gherkins into fine dice. Place all the remaining ingredients in a blender and purée until smooth. Stir in the diced gherkins.

For the batter:
Heat the oil to 350°F in a large frying pan. Whisk together all the other ingredients in a bowl to form a smooth batter. Pat the surface of the chicken with paper towels to ensure that it's quite dry, then dredge in batter and fry for 6-8 minutes, until a rich golden brown. Drain on paper towels.

To serve:
Place the chicken on a bed of shredded cabbage and top with the tartar sauce. Serve the reserved vinegar sauce on the side in a small dish or ramekin. Serve with rice or potato salad.

Tsukune (chicken patties)


Photo by Jenny Hartin

Just the word makes my mouth water; it has a juicy, lip-smacking quality. They're just chicken meatballs or, maybe more accurately, chicken patties, but they're seasoned with garlic and ginger, and they're simply one of the most addictive yakitori items out there. You can have these by themselves, coated in tare (pages 24-25), dipped in ponzu (pages 26-27) or dropped into a simmering pot of mizutaki (pages 106-107). You may find other recipes for this that call for using a food processor, or for the addition of cornstarch and eggs; all this is meant to yield a smoother, lighter end product. I say bah! to that. I love the toothsome texture of hand-minced chicken, and there's no need for filler here. But I certainly won't tell you not to use a food processor if you have one - just don't overprocess it to a chickeny mush.

Yield: 8 patties or 16 meatballs, 4 servings 

4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of cartilage
⅓ oz (10g) fresh ginger, grated or finely chopped
1 clove garlic, grated or finely chopped
big pinch white pepper
1 scallion or nira, chopped
big pinch salt or MSG
soy sauce tare (below), to serve

Cut the chicken into small chunks, then mince it either with a cleaver or in a food processor. When there aren't any big chunks left (everything should be roughly smaller than 3⁄16 inch [1⁄2 cm]), mix everything else except the soy sauce tare into the minced chicken and use your hands to shape into oblong patties (no thicker than 3⁄4 inch [2cm]) or meatballs. Thread them onto skewers and brush with soy sauce tare and broil or grill for about 4 minutes on each side. Or you can just heat a little oil in a pan and sauté for 4-5 minutes on each side, until cooked through and firm to the touch, with a nice brown crust on the outside. Finish with another brush of tare on each side just before they finish cooking.

Soy Sauce Tare
Yield: about 1¼ cups (300ml)

6½ tbsp. (100ml) chicken stock
6½ tbsp. (100ml) soy sauce
6½ tbsp. (100ml) mirin
2 tbsp. (30g) brown sugar
1 clove garlic, crushed
¼ - ⅜ oz. (5-10g) fresh ginger, sliced
big pinch white pepper
1 tsp. cornstarch mixed with 1 tbsp cold water (optional)

Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Reduce by about a third. For a thicker sauce, whisk in the cornstarch slurry and cook for a few minutes to thicken. Pass through a sieve and keep in an airtight container in the fridge.

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