I packed lunches for my husband and kids five days a week for over twenty years. Then the kids grew up and left home, and my husband began to eat lunch at the company cafeteria to save me trouble. The part of me that had felt both burden and joy in preparing bento (Japanese-style packed meals) went into dormancy for almost ten years. But when I began interacting with other bento-lovers on Twitter, my urge to make bentos was re-ignited.
Bento-making had undergone a huge change while I had been busy with other things. It’s so much more fashionable now than it was back then. Books about bento-making abound in both the East and the West, and cute little gadgets are marketed to do the garnishing housewives once did awkwardly by hand. Not to mention the huge variety of bento boxes sold to satisfy every conceivable taste.
Well, my bentos no longer have to satisfy any taste but my own. And my taste is based simply on my taste buds. So today’s post is all about flavor, not about appearance. If you’d like to give this bento a try, you can make it as pretty as you want to. Deal?
Recipe for Oven-baked Ume-Chicken (Autumn version)
1 lb boneless chicken thighs with skin, cut into bite-sized pieces
20 fresh shiso leaves, torn up a bit
5 large (or 8 medium) honey-marinated, soft umeboshi (Japanese picked plums), pitted
1/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 cup sliced fresh shiitake mushrooms
1 clove fresh garlic, bitter core removed, then coarsely chopped
salt, pepper, olive oil, sake
1. Rinse the chicken with a little sake to remove any unpleasant smell. Pat dry. Brown the surface of the chicken pieces (especially the skin side) in a hot non-stick wok or skillet drizzled with a little olive oil; then drain on paper towels.
2. Place torn shiso leaves, pitted umeboshi, and chopped garlic in a blender or food processor with enough olive oil to allow it to whirl effectively. When the mixture is a lumpy paste (doesn’t have to be smooth), remove to mixing bowl. Taste-test it, then add salt and pepper to bring the flavors into focus. The amount will depend on how salty your umeboshi are. If you can’t find honey-marinated umeboshi, try to find a low-sodium variety. And if you can’t find that, go with traditional umeboshi– perhaps using fewer than the recipe calls for.
3. Add browned chicken pieces, sliced shiitake, and chopped walnuts to the bowl and stir into the paste so they are evenly coated.
4. Turn the contents of the bowl out onto a lightly oiled baking dish. It works best if the chicken is laid out in one layer (skin-side up), rather than overlapping. Bake in a pre-heated 200 C (400 F) degree oven for 30-40 minutes.
I serve this hot for supper and reserve enough leftovers for my bento the next morning. In my opinion, it tastes even better the next day. The flavors become more pronounced when cooled and it makes a perfect match with steamed white or brown rice. PS: I sprinkled the rice in my bento with umeboshi-flavored sesame seeds.
Filed under: Meat, Mushrooms | 4 Comments
Tags: bento, chicken, chicken thighs, garlic, Japan, leftovers, lunch box, obento, shiitake, shiso leaves, umeboshi, walnuts