Cooking My Mother’s Recipes on My Own This Holiday Season
Updated: Jan 26
This is my first year being away from my mother during the entire holiday season, my brother too. They’re both in Japan right now because my brother’s been going there for university since March and my mother wanted to visit my elderly grandma who she hasn’t spent enough time with. Our dog of ten years, Lyla, passed away in August. The house feels different with just me and my dad, smaller almost… It doesn’t stop us from enjoying our time though. We’ve been helping each other around the house and we watch holiday movies together. Of course, there’s sadness, especially now, being away from people and pets that make your heart glow when you’re expected to be jolly all the time, and on top of all that, we’re in a pandemic.
My dad and I have been trying to fill our house with light, and I’m grateful that we can spend time with each other. I’m grateful that I can see the stars at night, or build a snowman in my yard (granted, I built it by myself, but it still looks cute). I’m grateful our 16 year old dog is still kicking and hobbling around the house with us. And I think I’ve never been more grateful for my parents, and with my mother being away, I’ve fully realized how much work and love is put into every meal she ever made us. I know because I’ve been in the kitchen. My dad’s not the best cook, and I refuse to get full on food I don’t enjoy (I just love food too much). So after many, many years of watching my mother cook, I’ve begun cooking what she always makes for me and all the comfort food I love. There’s something so gratifying about making food I love, seeing it come together, and enjoying it with my dad when it’s done. I can feel my mother’s pride from all the way in Japan.
I did get stressed with all the cooking at first, but I am getting used to it and it always feels worth it once I’m sitting down at the table. So here are just some of the things I’ve made. Keep in mind that I made these recipes how my mom likes to cook, which is not using a recipe (something which always used to annoy me), and kind of estimating how much everything needs. So if something doesn’t seem right, try to use your deduction skills to figure out what the recipe needs! That’s the best way to learn how to cook!
One of the first things I made in December was Tonkatsu, which is Japanese deep-fried pork that I was always too scared to make by myself because it involves deep frying.
- Raw pork
- 2 eggs
- Tonkatsu sauce (I use “Bull Dog Vegetable and Fruit Semi Sweet Sauce” which I get at an Asian market)
- Frying oil
- Japanese panko breadcrumbs
- Salt and pepper
- Optional: chopped cabbage, rice
Step 1: Cut the raw pork into bite size, rectangular sized pieces. Try to make them all about the same size so they don’t fry at different times. Season the meat with salt and pepper.
Step 2: Heat a big pot (I used a huge wok) with enough frying oil to fry the pieces. As the oil is heating up, put some flour on a plate, panko breadcrumbs on another plate, and two beaten eggs in a bowl.
Step 3: Check to see if the oil is hot enough by either carefully sticking a chopstick in the oil and seeing if bubbles form around it, or by dropping a panko crumb into the oil and seeing if it begins bubbling and frying.
Step 4: When the oil is ready, cover the pork in some flour, then dip in egg, and then dip it in the panko. Lay it on the plate with the panko and try patting on as much panko on the pork so it’s thoroughly covered. Carefully put the pork into the hot oil with either your hand or a stainless steel strainer ladle (or chopsticks, but I think the strainer is easier/safer to use).
Pro-tip: If you notice your hands are getting messy with batter, use one hand to cover the pieces in the batter, and use the other hand to put the pieces in the oil.
Step 5: Repeat step 4 for as many pork pieces you wish to make. I usually fry about 4-5 pieces of pork at the same time. When you notice pieces floating up towards the top of the oil and/or the panko color changing to a darker brown, use the strainer ladle or chopsticks to take it out of the oil and place the pieces on a plate with a paper towel on top (to soak up oil). The pieces will continue to cook a little on the plate. You’ll notice that the sound of the frying changes becomes slightly louder when the pork is ready.
Step 6: For some extra pizazz, serve the tonkatsu on a bed of chopped cabbage with tonkatsu sauce and a side of warm rice. Enjoy!
Another frying recipe I learned from my mother is Chicken Karaage, or Japanese fried chicken. It’s similar in terms of dealing with deep frying.
- Raw Chicken (we like to use boneless chicken thighs)
- Corn starch
- About 1 inch of ginger
- 1 clove of garlic
- Soy sauce
- Aji mirin
- Sake (or if you don’t have this, use white wine)
- Frying oil
- Optional: rice
Step 1: Cut the raw chicken into bite size pieces, making them all about the same size. When I did it, my chicken had a little too much fat, so I cut off some of the excess fat. It’s ok to leave some of the fat there though.
Step 2: Grate about 1 inch of ginger and 1 clove of garlic. Put the grated ginger and garlic in a medium sized bowl. Add about a tablespoon of soy sauce, a tablespoon of mirin, and a tablespoon of either sake or white wine in the bowl. Put the chicken in the bowl, sprinkle some black pepper in and use your hands to gently mix the chicken with all the ingredients. Cover with plastic wrap and let it sit for 15-30 minutes in the fridge.
Step 3:Heat a big pot (just like in the tonkatsu recipe above) with oil. As the oil is heating up, pour corn starch on a plate.
Step 4: Dip the chicken pieces into corn starch and gently put them in the hot oil. With this recipe, it’s even more likely your hands will get all messy with batter, so try and use my tip above of using one hand to dip in batter, and the other hand to put the pieces in the oil. I usually fry about 5-6 pieces at a time since they are smaller than tonkatsu. This also means they may fry faster.
Step 5: Take the chicken out when pieces begin floating to the top, and/or when the color and sound changes. Scoop the finished pieces out and put on a plate with a paper towel.
Step 6: My family I like to dip the karaage in pepper and eat them with rice and a side of greens. It’s delicious!
Something else I made for the first time is Duck pancakes. My mom has only ever made this once, but it was so delicious that I couldn’t not try cooking it. I followed a recipe from The Woks of Life blog, but to make it easier (and since I didn’t have all the ingredients), I just marinated the duck breast in hoisin sauce like my mom did. The recipe still took me about 3 hours to make, so ensure you have time to cook if you dive into cooking this one!
I’ve been texting my mother in Japanese about my cooking journey. It’s been a part of the holidays I’m grateful for as we communicate about what I should cook next, while practicing my Japanese and of course, connecting with each other. Since my mother won’t be back for another month or so, perhaps I’ll try cooking Osechi Ryori, which is food special for New Years Day in Japan, one of the most important holidays there. But until then, I hope you enjoy these recipes and enjoy the holidays! Here’s to a better year ahead!