Game meat cooked slowly over a campfire
For outdoor cooking with the bounties of the mountain, we chose a spot by the limpid Kogawa River, a tributary of the Niyodo River. The first step was to assemble bamboo poles into an arch. Bamboo is a very useful natural material that has traditionally been essential to Japanese life. Nao Mikami skillfully used a saw and knife to make all kinds of utensils, from skewers and chopsticks to cups and bamboo tubes for cooking rice.
Our main ingredient on this day was game meat: wild boar belly and deer liver. We also had fresh vegetables, herbs, wild grass, and Bun-chan’s catch of freshwater fish. What delicious dishes did Nao have in mind?
“The wild boar belly, I will roll up with twine and roast like char siu, and serve with sauces and other ingredients in red leaf lettuce wraps. The deer liver, I will sauté with garlic chives. The soup will be tomato and new onion with a drizzle of freshly made chive oil. And the freshwater fish, nothing beats a simple salt-grilled dish.”
Nao’s recipes are inspired by pointers she receives from the people she meets on the road. The idea of cooking rice with the clear fresh scent of Japanese cinnamon, for instance, came from Mr.Matsuoka, aka the hermit. Nao opted to use segments of bamboo between the nodes to make bamboo tube rice. She soaked the rice, combined it with water, added the Japanese cinnamon, covered the bamboo tubes, and cooked them over high heat at first and then slowly over low heat. It’s important to keep the tubes level and prevent them from boiling over.
Next, the game meat. Nao had soaked the wild boar belly in doburoku (cloudy sake), citrus, and onion, and the deer liver in milk, and left them overnight. Now she rolled up the wild boar belly around Japanese cinnamon and Welsh onion, and roasted it evenly at a distance from the fire. At the same time, she started cooking chicken bone broth to make the vegetable soup, and grilling the freshwater fish with Brussels sprouts over the glowing charcoal. While keeping an eye on all that is cooking, she whipped up two sauces—chimichurri with an appetizing herby and sour fragrance, and aioli mixed with chopped green garlic—and two toppings of green and red salsa. And finally, she grilled the deer liver at a distance from the fire.
We toasted with refreshing mojitos made with yerba buena mint, Naoshichi citrus juice, and brown sugar syrup. Another wonderful evening was just beginning.