Bento III

Putting It All Together
Building Better Bento Lunches

Bemto Lunch with Burgers and Rice

Bento Lunch with Burgers and Rice

Problems with Bento: Research has shown that some of the more popular items in Japanese Bento lunches are not so delicious by lunch time. Hamburgers get touch, vegetables get soggy, and eggs go limp and greasy.

There are two problems, here both connected with time and temperature. If the Bento lunch is kept in too warm a place, there is a risk that bacteria will grow, especially in cooked rice.

If the lunch is kept in a cool place, for safety, then over time the low temperature works against the taste and texture of the foods.There are some solutions. Recent insights from food chemistry have revealed some special cooking techniques that produce better dishes for use in Bento.

These secrets involve use of meat with fats which have lower melting points, specifically avoiding beef. Instead, using chicken or pork, or a combination of the two.  Also, the way vegetables and other foods are prepared has a big effect on the final result.

The use of very fast flash steaming techniques increases shelf life and improves quality of several foods.

And there are some special techniques for handling other popular Bento items like chicken and scrambled eggs for Bento.

Here are some recipes for several of the most popular Bento dishes.  These recipes are worth trying and can be used for Bento, use in a buffet, a picnic lunch, or any occasion where there will be a delay between the cooking and eating. [1]

Juicy Burgers for Bento

Burgers Bento Style

Juicy Hamburgers for Banto

Ingredients:

6 ounces lean pork meat
8 ounces chicken thigh meat

Basic Seasonings:

2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons water

For the Breading:

1 egg
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons arrowroot flour (katakura ko)
2 teaspoons rice flour

Method:

First, combine and mix the Basic Seasonings and set aside.  Beat the egg lightly with a fork or cooking chopsticks and combine with the two flours and set aside.

Grind or chop the chicken and pork meat finely.  A food processor is ideal for this.  Combine the meats and mix well.

Add the Basic Seasonings, mix well and let stand for at least 10 minutes, ideally, for half an hour.  Form into 5 or 6 patties, dredge with the Breading mixture and grill with a little oil in a frying pan.

The combination of seasonings, including the use of a small amount of vinegar, plus the special starches for the breading, help to make a burger that is juicy and has a good taste, even after it has been in the Bento box for several hours.

Bento Style Crispy Vegetables

Bento Style Crispy Vegetables

Juicy Sautéed Vegetables, Bento Style

Ingredients:

10 ounces cabbage
1 medium carrot, about 2 – 3 ounces
1/2 green pepper
1/2 strip bacon
1 teaspoon salad oil
1/4 teaspoon salt

Seasonings:

2 teaspoons sake
2 teaspoons  vinegar
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 large pinch dried bonito flakes (katsuobushi)
Pinch white pepper

Method:

Combine the seasonings and set aside.  Slice the vegetables in a very fine julienne, trying to make the slices of carrot and green pepper similar in size and thickness to the fine cabbage slices

Slice the bacon finely and add to the vegetables.  Add the basic seasoning to the vegetable-bacon mixture and combine, mixing thoroughly.

Heat a frying pan and add the oil and salt, then put in the vegetables and bacon and stir to combine.

Cover the pan and cook over high flame 1 1/2 minutes, then remove the cover and stir-fry the vegetables for 20 seconds only.

Then cover the pan again and continue to heat over high flame for another 10 seconds.  Turn off the heat and let stand covered for 1 minute, after which it will be done.

Total cooking time for the vegetables is 3 minutes.  Under no circumstances open the skillet when the cooking is taking place.  Instead, you can shake the frying pan vigorously every 25 seconds to ensure that the application of heat is uniform.

A good utensil for this kind of cooking is a frying pan with a tight-fitting glass cover.  Martha Stewart has a line of frying pans that are ideal for this kind of cooking. The same kind of pan can be used for other modern Japanese cooking using flash cooking techniques.

After this short cooking, the vegetables will be thoroughly cooked, but will retain a crunchy texture for up to 10 hours.

Fluffy Scrambled Eggs, Bento Style

Fluffy Scrambled Eggs Bengo Style

Fluffy Scrambled Eggs Bento Style

Materials:

3 large eggs
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon tomato ketchup
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons sugar

Method:

First, mix the ketchup, soy sauce and sugar in the water.  Add the eggs to the water and prepare to beat the eggs.

Using a pair of cooking chopsticks, mix the eggs in this special way: Don’t beat in a circular motion, which puts too much air into the egg mixture.  Instead, move the chopsticks back and forth 10 times in about 10 seconds, moving in a straight back-and-forth motion.

Then rotate the bowl 90 degrees and beat again another 10 times in the same manner.  This will add just the right amount of air to the eggs. Total mixing time is about 20 seconds.

Next heat oil in a frying pan for one minute, then add the eggs which have just been whipped.  Cook until they become firm, and turn out onto a platter.  These are then usually cut in thin slicers for adding to a Bento lunch, for example, as a topping for rice.

Fluffy Scrambled Eggs Bento Style 2

Fluffy Scrambled Eggs Bento Style 2

Tender Fried Chicken Bento Style

Materials:

14 ounces chicken thigh meat
Vegetable oil for frying

Basic Seasoning:

2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons water

Breading:

1 egg
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons arrowroot flour (katakuri ko)

Method:

Cut the chicken in convenient size pieces, about the size of a quarter. Mix the Basic Seasoning and marinate the chicken pieces in it for at least 10 minutes, preferably a half hour, before cooking.

Lightly beat the egg and mix together the two flours to make the Breading.

After marinating and breading the chicken, heat the oil in a hot frying pan and fry the chicken pieces until they are thoroughly done, then drain and use in a Bento as desired.

Note: For  breading, you can substitute about 3 tablespoons plus 1 more teaspoon Japanese Panko bread crumbs, or the same amount of Wheat Gluten/Fu and use either for breading burgers or chicken.  In the opinion of many cooks, Fu produces the juiciest burgers.  Fu comes in various forms. If it is too large to use directly for breading, you can run it through a food processor to produce crumb-size pieces for use in breading.

For Further Information:
[1] Recipes adapted for Western kitchens.  Bento notes from NHK Tameshite Gatten program, October 31, 2012.  Cooking background provided by cooking specialist Mr. Hiromi Hayashi and research into health aspects by Prof. Nariko Ueda of Women’s Nutrition University, Saitama Prefecture, Japan.
[2] Martha Stewart – housewares — http://www.kmart.com/search=martha%20stewart%20glass%20fry%20pan%20lid

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