Adult Group - Fine Work (Japan)
“The Arrival of Spring”
Hyogo Prefecture Miyako Ishii(49)
In the area where I live, as an event to tell the arrival of spring, there is a custom to cook “Ikanagos (sand eels)” in every home.
As in the cases of tsukudani (foods boiled down in soy source and mirin), they are firmly simmered in soy source, crystal sugar, etc., until the time just before the liquid disappears and also because the figures look like old nails, it is called “Ikanago-no-kugi-ni (simmered old-nails-like sand eels)” or “Kugi-ni” for short. This Kugi-ni is one of the few of my signature dishes.
I inherited this recipe from my husband’s mother. Its taste is outstanding so much so that I would like to ask for many helpings, and it can be a sole dish without needing any other dishes.
Although its recipe and taste vary according to each home, the recipe of my mother-in-law describes a golden proportion and it was simple and easy to memorize. Thus, I felt like I could cook with my visual disability.
Whenever my mother-in-law cooked Kugi-ni, she sent it to her friends and relatives, making all of them happy.
Then I started to feel like sharing my Kugi-ni with my friends from my school days and relatives, and I learned how to cook it. With this as a start, cooking it has become my regular, annual event and also it has become one of my forte dishes.
It is already 25 years ago when I started to cook it. At that time around, my eye sight was remained a little and thus I was able to cook it while checking the simmering status.
As a matter of fact, there are several knacks to cook Kugi-ni successfully.
One of such knacks is a process to simmer up with a high heat to leave the least of liquid so that fishes will not be burned and quickly shut off the heat and transfer the fishes into a perforated basket. However, here it is quite difficult to choose a right timing of shut off the heat.
At the times when I was able to check with my eyes, I proceeded with the process by confirming both of the liquid bubbling more and more decreasing and finally disappearing and its smell.
However, after my front visual field almost disappeared and only with my visual fields of both eyes left at each outside edge, I was at a level where I could merely see moves obscurely and I was unable to check the key element, the liquid bubbles with my eyes.
It was a dire problem for me and it meant that my annual spring event was in danger.
If I fail to choose the right timing of shutting off the heat, the dish will be turned out to be like a dish of tsukudani or food boiled down in soy, instead of Kugi-ni, and also the fishes may be burnt, and it may be ended up as Kugi-ni smelling burnt.
A conflict arose in my mind as to whether or not I should give up cooking it in fear of failure or whether or not I should cook it believing in my senses so far.
Although each time I almost decided to give up, I have made it a rule not to lose my candid “wish to cook it.”
Once I dared to cook it believing in my senses, I was able to concentrate on the sounds and smells more than ever, and I came to notice that when the liquid was decreasing, the sounds from the pot began to change.
If the liquid is still left moderately, it generates simmering sounds or “gu tsu gu tsu,” but when the liquid almost disappears, it changes to generate clacking-like sounds by which I feel dryness or “pa chi pa chi.”
Not that I noticed it, how long I should wait and see until I shut off the heat after I notice the change of the sound will decide whether or not I can cook it successfully as in the cases at that times. Therefore, I keep staring at the pot in front of the stove.
By telling the differences in sound and reacting sensitively to changes in smell, I was able to cook it successfully also in this year.
The finish of the annual event is to eat it right after it was cooked up, saying that it is for a tasting purpose.
Family members instantly begin to gather and every one of them tastes it, exchanging the word, “Delicious!” “It feel that it is already spring, our Kugi-ni is the best.”, and words like this start to be popped up and heard, and I begin to come to a relaxed state and I can feel the arrival of spring as well as the joy of protecting the home taste.
Spring is a season that delivers motivations and joys.