If your arsenal of kitchen staples and go-to ingredients has gotten as dull as your old kitchen knives lately, look no further than the fascinating fridge of this star Japanese chef for a little inspiration: the brilliantly talented Niki Nakayama. (You may recognize her as one of the chefs featured in the Netflix chef docu-series, Chef’s Table). At n/naka, her modern kaiseki restaurant in L.A., she creates a nightly lineup of intricate, seasonal small dishes (pictured above) for patrons who've often waited months for a reservation. At home, Nakayama—who spent three years in Japan, where she learned the art of traditional kaiseki—is just as focused on electrifying flavors, often creating Japanese-inspired pickles, pastes and condiments to use in a multitude of ways in her kitchen. Here, some hunger-inducing highlights from her fridge.
It's a Japanese pickled plum that Nakayama loves using by itself in a rice ball or as a base for a light dressing. And its versatility doesn't end there: "It’s also wonderful when mixed with soy sauce and used for dipping sashimi," she says.
A daily harvest from the garden
"I love checking our garden to see what we can put together to share with the guests at n/naka," Nakayama says of the organic garden she had built several years back. What's been especially spectacular this summer? The bounty of cucumbers and tomatoes.
This vegetarian stock made from water and kelp "is something we always have in the refrigerator as a base for stews, soup, and sauces," she says.
The chef describes this flavorful soy-based paste as a must in any Japanese kitchen thanks to its distinctive flavor and long list of uses including in soups, dressings, marinades, and sauces. "Back in the days of when Japan had to ration food, Japanese people used to sauté it with a bit of sesame oil and eat it with just rice." Though most of us turn to the supermarket when we're in need of miso paste, Nakayama makes her own, of course.
"This is the ultimate comfort food for Japanese people," she says. "A bowl of steaming hot rice, miso soup and some pickles are the only things that remind anyone of a Japanese home."
Nakayama admits that these fermented soy beans can be acquired taste, but "they're really good and delicious when you get used to them. They’re also really good for your health."
This Japanese staple with the super cute logo is made with rice vinegar rather than the distilled kind found in most American mayos. "Because it’s a lot richer and creamier than regular mayonnaise it can be used as a standalone condiment just for the flavor," she says. "I love using it with a bit of soy sauce to eat with fresh vegetables."
"Because I love the flavor of pure eggs."
"It adds a wonderful kick of spice with refreshing flavors of citrus to any sashimi, grilled meat and fish, or any fried food," Nakayama says of this condiment, which combines yuzu citrus rind and spicy peppers. "Mix it up with a bit of Kewpie mayonnaise and soy sauce and it’s hard to stop eating."
A grand selection of liquor
"Sometimes a nightcap is a nice way to end a long day." Hear, hear.
Niki Nakayama and her fabulous fridge.
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