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Thermomix and Japanese Cooking

It’s been a few years since I brought a Thermomix into my kitchen and it would not be an understatement to say that it’s become my right-hand man (or woman?) of sorts. If my blog is anything, it should at least hopefully serve as a testament to how much more cooking a karate-doing, doll-collecting, craft-making, working mother of two can achieve thanks to a machine. The Thermomix has helped me to cook more things more often and IMHO it’s been worth its hefty price tag.

As über helpful as it is though, I’m not adverse to identifying the shortcomings of the Thermomix and Japanese cooking is one area where you may as well not have one. While I’ve discovered a stellar collection of recipes for various other cuisines on the net, there was a relative dearth of Japanese recipes for the Thermomix. Even a quick Google search in Japanese for recipes for the TMX only yielded Western style dishes posted by a small handful of Japanese bloggers. I did however find some really cool things that people have experimented with (such as making ‘tororo’, or yam paste) which I look forward to trying.

From the Thermomix Japan website. A happy, German nuclear family poses with their old TM21. Will this sell the TMX to Japanese people?

Visiting the official Japanese Thermomix website was not terribly enlightening either and I’ll bet my bottom yen that it hasn’t been updated much since it was first uploaded, circa 2006. In fact, the machine most featured on the website is the TM21 and we all know that the current model is the TM31 (right?). Dare I say someone thought it would be a good idea to launch the Thermomix in Japan but clearly it wasn’t. It may actually be popular in commercial kitchens but a lack of domestic interest in the TMX means there’s not a lot of recipe sharing happening.

Thermomix may not be so popular in Japan for some cultural and logistical reasons. Firstly, most Japanese kitchens are relatively small with only one working bench area. The average microwave oven used in Japan is smaller than the Thermomix! Unless kitchen storage room is plentiful the TMX is a hulk of a machine to accommodate in a typical Japanese ‘LDK’ (flat or apartment).

Also, the amount of food the Thermomix produces is generous which is a bonus for most Western households and appetites but not so much in Japan. If you consider the risotto recipe in the Everyday Cookbook (which even I adjusted in Lettuce Risotto), it can easily feed eight adults. The same amount of risotto would freak out a Japanese family (typically of four or less people) of modest appetite. In a country where freshly bought and prepared fare daily is king, leftovers aren’t always welcomed.

Kaiseki Ryori – The pinnacle of Japanese cuisine. Kaiseki consists of one small dish from each of the fundamental styles of Japanese cooking. We’ll see what of these the TMX can achieve!

Ultimately though, I believe the lack of Japanese recipes for the Thermomix is due to it not being particularly compatible with the fundamental styles of Japanese cooking. In short, the Thermomix doesn’t make life easier for the average Japanese home cook. In Australia (and elsewhere) it’s been touted as the machine that can replace all others but in Japan, where the bulk of cooking processes is generally done by hand, the Thermomix doesn’t replace much, if at all.

So let’s look at those fundamental styles and see whether the Thermomix can be of service or not:

  • grilled and pan-fried dishes (yakimono) such as Teriyaki Chicken, Ginger Pork etc.
    – Kinda. You can pan-fry some things in the TMX but the result is more moist than dry which doesn’t help with the glazing process for some dishes.
  • stewed/simmered/cooked/boiled dishes (nimono) such as Buta No Kakuni (simmered pork belly)
    – Kinda. The TMX tends to retain moisture in its bowl so reduction cooking is a little difficult, if not impossible for some dishes.
  • stir-fried dishes (itamemono) such as sauteed green beans.
    – Kinda. The TMX sautees well so some dishes are possible but things that need a long time to cook through may end up more moist than crisp.
  • steamed dishes (mushimono)
    – Varoma is a marvel at steaming, so YES!!
  • deep-fried dishes (agemono)
    – No. Just no.
  • soups (suimono ??? and shirumono)
    – Yes! Miso soup is easy to do in a TMX as with all other Japanese style broths.
  • pickled/salted vegetables (tsukemono)
    – Kinda. More for preparation perhaps.
  • dishes dressed with various kinds of sauce (aemono)
    – Yes. The TMX is the ace of sauce making after all.
  • vinegared dishes (su-no-mono ???)
    – Kinda. Again, more for preparation.

From this you can probably gather that the moisture retaining ability of the Thermomix isn’t actually a benefit where Japanese cooking is concerned. It’s perfect for sauce based dishes such as curries and pasta but for most part, a frying pan or saucepan just does the job better for most Japanese recipes. For everything else in the list above that a Thermomix might be useful for, you can well appreciate that a home cook in Japan can find other ways to do the same thing.

So is there any point in trying to cook Japanese food with the Thermomix? Therein lies a pretty cool challenge for me since I’ve always wanted to work with more Japanese ingredients and produce delicious food with it via the Thermomix. I’ll post any recipes I convert successfully here and should there be some Japanese or Japanese food cooking Thermomix users out there who could refute or support anything I’ve discussed here, it would be great to hear from you!

With that, I’ll move on to my first recipe.

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