Shop with a Chef: Tomoki Yamasaki

June 2, 2011

Vancouver-born Tomoki Yamasaki, 27, grew up eating umeboshi. "It reminds me of my childhood. When I was sick, my mother would put it in okayu [Japanese porridge] to make me feel better. ‘An umeboshi a day keeps the doctor away' might not be catchy, but you can bet it's effective." These sunset-hued delicacies (literally translated "dried plums") look like shriveled apricots, but they pack a flavour wallop. Prized for their medicinal qualities-samurai warriors would eat them with rice balls to combat fatigue-the ume are first salt-cured before they're slowly fermented in their own juices. Usually eaten with rice in the morning ("it wakes you up better than coffee"), the preserved plums provide a punch of sweet, sour, and salt.

Where to Find It

In most Japanese markets; Yamasaki buys ones that have been pickled ("a more traditional preparation") to serve with shiso leaves. "The ume are meaty, and the shiso adds a nice sweetness-like mint or basil." Red shiso leaves impart a deep coppery tone to the fruit, but beware of an unnatural colour. "If they're neon bright, they're chock full of artificial preservatives." Find shiso-pickled umeboshi at the West End's Konbiniya Market (1238 Robson St., 604-682-3634), packaged in Ziploc bags.

How to Serve It

Yamasaki pairs an entrée of tender lamb shoulder and shank served atop truffled pomme purée with an umeboshi emulsion. "That punch of acidity cuts right through the strong, gamey lamb to give the dish the balance it needs." Umeboshi is also dynamite in salad dressings and adds a nice kick to shochu (Japanese rice vodka). Don't throw out the pits–"they have an umami quality that makes a terrific soup base when you slow-cook them."

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