Japanese Udon Curry with Pork

Japanese Udon Curry with Pork


Curry is not something that comes to mind when you think of Japanese food nor are you likely to come across a recipe for curry (kare) in a Japanese cookbook. That said, curry is so popular in Japan it is “unofficially” considered a national dish. You will find curry shops in train stations, on the high streets, and instant curry products on endless shelves in supermarkets and 24 hour shops. Japanese curry houses abound outside of Japan as well, branding if you will, Japan’s “modern” fast food cuisine!

“Modern” denotes Japan’s transition from an insular agrarian island nation into an international industrial economic powerhouse. Curry was introduced into Japan via the English Raj colonial rule during the Meiji Period (1868-1912). Following WWII Japan refocused it’s trajectory towards rapid modernization and everything that went with it. With the new fast and hectic lifestyle home cooking transitioned with modernity. For better or worse fast food had arrived!

I’ve tried Japanese curries over the years with mixed feelings. In its simplest form udon noodles are napped in a thick, sometimes almost custardy, curry sauce. Not so appealing I have say. On other forays curries were more like a vegetable stew, sometimes with meat or chicken, that were served with noodles or with a side of rice. These were far more appealing and I felt well worth trying at home.

S&B Golden Curry Sauce Mix

S&B Golden Curry Sauce Mix

Instant packaged curry sauce mixes (roux), which I had never tried at home, are the most popular quick and easy base for Japanese curries made both at home and in curry shops. Curiosity sent me off to find Japan’s most popular brand S&B Golden Curry Sauce Mix. The resulting curry was indeed tasty, but unfortunately it left an unpleasant grease slick on my lips and in my mouth. After reading the label I discovered the mix had a 20% saturated fat content (palm oil), as well as MSG, disodium guanylate, and disodium nosinate. Obviously making a “slow” Japanese curry at home had to be a far better option.

So it was into to the kitchen to make a Japanese curry from scratch. Yes, a little more time and effort was required, but the result was as delicious as it was nutritional. I did away with the roux (fat/ flour thickener), which is contrary to everything I know about Japanese cooking anyway. Instead I used cornstarch which is commonly used in Japan to thicken curry,  soups, and sauces, eliminating  fat content entirely. I also used a traditional dashi broth for the recipe which added a supporting umami flavor and nutritional value to the curry.

I have to say, as skeptical as I was, I’ve been won over by Japanese curry. An aromatic bowl of piping hot udon noodle curry can be a heartily satisfying experience, including noisily slurping up those saucy noodles as they do in Japan! 


Japanese Udon Curry      serves 4

  • 9oz/250g chicken, pork, or beef, cut into bite size slices (Optional)
  • 2 tablespoons light vegetable oil (olive is fine)
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced (about 1 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
  • ¼ cup sake (Japanese rice wine)
  • 2 tablespoons mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
  • 2 tablespoons curry powder + more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 2 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 5 cups/1 ¼ liters dashi (see recipe here), stock or water heated to a near boil
  • 1 plump carrot, peeled, sliced in half lengthwise and very thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons corn starch
  • 3 tablespoons cold water
  • 6oz/175g green beans, steamed al dent and halved
  • 5.3 oz/50g shimeji mushrooms (enoki or shiitake/sliced) separated
  • pinch of cayenne (optional)
  • 1.5 pounds/ 675g pre-cooked udon noodles  or  12oz/350g dried
  • 4 green onions, thinly sliced (garnish)

Place a large deep skillet (or wok) on the stove over medium heat.

If you are using chicken, pork, or beef, when the pan is hot add the oil and the chicken or meat and saute until nicely browned on all sides. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Otherwise heat the oil in the pan and add the onions and lower the heat. Saute the onions until they are very soft. Then add the garlic and ginger and saute for 2 minutes while stirring. Add the sake, mirin, and 1 teaspoon sea salt and continue to saute until the liquid is mostly absorbed. Then stir in the curry powder, garam masala, soy sauce, and 1 teaspoon sugar and stir until combined.

Promptly stir in the hot dashi (stock or water) and stir to combine. Once the liquid is simmering return the browned chicken or meat (if using) to the pan and simmer for 15 minutes stirring from time to time. Then add the carrots and continue to simmer another 20 minutes.

Precooked and Dry Udon Noodles

Precooked and Dry Udon Noodles

While the curry is simmering set a large pot of water on the stove and bring to a boil. If you are using dried udon noodles plunge them into the boiling water and cook at a rapid boil until al dente as you would pasta. Promptly transfer the noodles to a metal strainer with a handle and drain. Rinse the noodles briefly under cold tap water and set aside to drain.

Keep the pot of water at a simmer for reheating the noodles just before serving. 

Place the corn starch in a small bowl and add the cold water. Whisk until the corn starch is incorporated into the water and there are no lumps. Promptly stir the mixture into the simmering curry and continue stirring. The curry broth will thicken as the curry returns to a simmer. Simmer for another minute.

A word of caution. Corn starch thickened sauce should be kept at a very low simmer and only cooked for a few minutes. A rapid boil or extended cooking time will cause the sauce to thin out.

The thickness of the curry is up to your own preference. You can thin the sauce if you like by adding hot dashi, a little at a time while stirring, until you reach the consistency you like.

At this point you can set the curry aside to reheat later, or refrigerate for up to four days.

…or continue to simmer the curry for another minute and then add the steamed green beans and mushrooms. Once the curry returns to a low simmer cook for another minute. Taste and adjust the curry by adding more salt, sugar, or curry powder to taste. Additionally add a pinch of cayenne if you want to punch up the heat a little bit.


To reheat the precooked noodles, place a portion of noodles in a metal strainer with a handle and lower it into the pot of boiling water for about 45 seconds. Lift the strainer  out of the water and give the noodles a shake to drain off excess water. Repeat for each serving.

Promptly place the hot noodles into individual serving bowls and ladle the curry, including ample sauce, over the hot noodles. Using chopsticks, give each serving a gentle stir to evenly distribute the sauce and garnish with sliced green onions and serve.

Umami Burger (Vegetarian)

Umami Burger (Vegetarian)

In the last couple of years umami has been on the tip of everyone’s tongue and trending in the culinary stratosphere. There is even an Umami Burger restaurant chain in America. So just what is Umami?

Umami is a Japanese word that loosely translates into English as “a pleasant savory taste.” To that I would add “a subtle taste that stimulates the taste receptors and lingers as a pleasant after note on the palate.”A rather allusive concept not unlike trying to describe the concept of “saving face” in Asia. Who other than the Japanese would be compelled to identify and explain the source and subtle allure of a specific taste that has been rooted in their traditional foods for centuries.

In 1908 Kikune Ikeda, a chemist at Tokyo Imperial University, determined while eating a bowl of dashi broth (see here) that the chemical glutamate was the basis for the taste of the broth which he named umami.  It was the glutamate extracted from the kombu seaweed in the broth that conveyed its characteristic flavor. That discovery eventually lead to the commercial manufacturing of monosodiom glutamate (MSG). In 1985 Umami was recognized as the scientific term to describe the tastes of glutamate in foods. Prof. Ikeda intimated that it was likely humans developed a taste for glutamate as it signaled the presence of protein in food sources long ago.

In the west we have traditionally categorized tastes in food as sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. The Japanese umami taste is the fifth taste. Naturally occurring glutamate is found in smoked fish and meat products, aged meats and cheeses, fish sauce, soy sauce, and shrimp pastes, as well as vegetables like vine ripe tomatoes, Chinese cabbage, celery, and root vegetables. Also included are legumes and especially mushrooms.

My initial introduction to Japanese food goes back to the macrobiotics of the ’60’s. Later while living in NY I took Japanese cooking classes. While living in Los Angeles Japan Town was my weekend haunt. I took classes, scoured the Japanese cooking shops, and ate my way through every aspect of Japanese cooking, or so I thought at the time. Then while living in Hawaii, where there is a large Japanese population, Japanese food became a part of everyday life. Yet while traveling in Japan I tasted some of the most unusual and sometimes undefinable foods I have ever encountered. It was an unexpected epiphany that threw the doors wide open, not only about Japanese food, but what inventive cookery can be if we are willing to venture beyond our own comfort zones.

That said, the whole umami burger idea has been tossing around in my head for months. I wanted to translate the umami taste into a healthy non meat burger that reflects the flavors and nutritional content found in traditional Japanese cooking. I have to say, most veggie burgers I have eaten over the years have been mostly resoundingly mealy mushy affairs not to be repeated. A challenge was at hand!

After multiple trials with a few errors, here is the Umaimi vegetarian Burger recipe I came up with. It has certainly got to be one of the healthiest burgers you will ever eat thanks to the wisdom and ingenuity of Japanese cookery. The resulting umami burger is crisp on the outside, moist and succulent inside, and with accompanying garnishes this is an Umami alternative burger well worth trying out.

The recipe is a little time consuming as many components have to be precooked before embarking on making the burger patties themselves. Add to that a little multitasking in assembling the burgers, but well worth the effort!


Umami Burger (Vegetarian)  makes 10 burgers

Burger mixture:    See notes for ingredients and additional recipes below.

  • ¼ cup light olive oil+ more for frying
  •  1 ½ cups finely diced onions
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • ½ cups chopped shiitake mushrooms
  • ¼ cup sake
  • 1 cup diced roasted beets 
  • 1 cup flame roasted Japanese eggplant, chopped 
  • ¾ cup chopped cooked burdock root
  • 1 ¾ cups cooked aduki beans 
  • 2 cups cooked dark brown rice (or wild rice)
  • 1 ½ cups panko bread crumbs
  • 1 large organic egg, whisked
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • fish sauce for brushing

Rolls and condiments:

  • 10 wholegrain burger buns
  • light olive oil for brushing
  • 1 garlic clove, for rubbing
  • 10 slices large vine ripe tomatoes
  • pickled daikon radish and carrots
  • simmered hijiki seaweed (optional, see note below)
  • toasted sesame seeds
  • wasabi ginger mayonnaise

Place the oil in a saute pan set over medium heat. When the oil slides easily in the pan add the onions and a pinch of salt and saute for several minutes until soft. Add the garlic and shiitake mushrooms and continue to saute until the mushrooms give up their moisture. Add the sake and stir continuously until the sake is absorbed and the pan is nearly dry. Set aside to cool.

Set out a large mixing bowl.

Place the roasted beets in a food processor and briefly pulse several times just until the mixture looks like a very course meal. Transfer the mixture to the mixing bowl.

Without cleaning the processor work bowl add the roasted eggplant and pulse once or twice just until broken down. Transfer to the mixing bowl.

Follow the same procedure for the burdock root, aduki beans, and cooked brown rice, transferring each batch to the mixing bowl. Stir to combine the ingredients evenly. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.

Scatter the panko bread crumbs over the mixture and pour the whisked egg over all. Using a large spoon mix all the ingredients together until very well combined.

Transfer the mixture to a deep tray and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Using a kitchen scale weigh out 4 ¼ oz portions and form them into a compressed ball and then flatten the portion to about a ¾ inch patty. The texture of the mixture will be more moist than a beef burger patty, but will firm up once cooked. Transfer the patty to a wax paper lined tray. Continue making the remaining patties, seal the tray with cling film and refrigerate until you are ready to cook the burgers.

Once chilled, if you are not intending to use all 10 patties, simply wrap the remaining patties in cling film, place them on a tray, and put them in the freezer. Once they are completely frozen they can be bagged and returned to the freezer for later use.

Cooking the burgers: The burgers will be fried until crisp on both sides and then finished in the oven.

Preheat the oven to 425f/220c     Have a large baking tray on hand.

While the oven is preheating lightly brush the inside surfaces of the burger buns with olive oil. Place them on a baking tray and pop them into the preheating oven. When nicely colored, about 10 minutes, remove them from the oven and rub the oiled sides of each bun with a garlic clove and set aside.

Remove the patties from the fridge and lightly brush the tops with fish sauce and then grind fresh black pepper very generously over each.

Place a large non stick skillet on the stove top set over medium heat. Add some olive oil to glaze the pan nicely and when hot place the patties peppered side down in the skillet without overcrowding. Let them cook for about two minutes. Meanwhile brush the tops of the patties in the skillet with fish sauce and pepper as before. Do not be tempted to compress the patties with the spatula as you might do when cooking beef burgers. Carefully turn the patties and cook another 2 minutes. The patties should be nicely browning and they will have firmed up on the outside. If they need a little more browning flip them and cook another minute or so.

Promptly transfer the patties to a large baking tray and place them in the oven. Roast for 10 to 12 minutes until the patties are firm on the outside with some give if lightly pressed on the top. Promptly remove from the oven and set aside to rest for a couple of minutes before assembling the burgers for serving.

If you are frying a second batch add more oil to the skillet before proceeding.

While the patties are roasting, wipe out the skillet with a paper towel and reheat the skillet over medium heat and add some olive oil to the skillet. Blot the tomato slices with a paper towel and put them in the skillet. Salt them lightly and fry until they are just beginning to color, 1 ½ minutes. Turn them and fry another minute or so. Remove them from the oven and place each slice on the bottom half of each burger bun and set aside.


Place a burger on top of each tomato slice sitting on top of the bottom half of the burger bun. Add a generous mound of the well drained and blotted pickled daikon carrot garnish on top of the burger. Top that with the prepared hijiki (optional, see note below). Sprinkle toasted sesame seeds over the hijiki. Slather the lid of the bun with a generous amount of the ginger wasabi mayonnaise and place atop the burger. Voila!


Notes: As mentioned the following components for the Umami burger are prepared ahead.

Roasted Beets: (click here) 

Flame Roasted Eggplant:  (click here) 

Aduki Beans: (click here)

Dark Brown Rice Hijiki Aduki Beans

Dark Brown Rice Hijiki Aduki Beans

Burdock Root: Gobo/Burdock is a root vegetable that tastes somewhat like Jerusalem artichoke. The root has a dark outer bark with a crunchy fibrous flesh. Loaded with vitamins and minerals and very popular in Japan cooked or pickled.

Slicing Gobo Root

Slicing Gobo Root

Do not peel off the bark as it is full of nutrients. Simply shave thin strips off the root and place in acidulated water to avoid discoloration.

To cook place in a sauce pan, cover with water, add a pinch of salt and gently boil until tender. Cooking times can vary with the maturity of the root, but somewhere between 30 and 60 minutes.

Dark brown rice: Rinse the rice well and place in a rice steamer or sauce pan. Cover with water to about a finger joints length above of surface of the rice. Cook until the water is absorbed. Place a lid on the sauce pan if using and set aside to steam for 15 minutes. Some dark brown rices may require a second cooking. The rice should be cooked through but still have a slight bite for this recipe.

Hijiki:    Hijiki is a dark rich tasting seaweed, valued for its essential mineral content, that has been a staple in the Japanese diet for centuries. It is harvested along rocky coastlines, soaked, and sun dried.

Recently, WHO studies have put hijiki’s safety for consumption into question as it contains higher traces of inorganic arsenic than found in other seaweeds and fish. Sadly inorganic arsenic is  found in our oceans, rivers, and ground waters world wide due to run off from chemical fertilizers and industrial waste. This is an issue that is as important to address as air pollution and global warming!

That said, seek out out certified organic hijiki  available at health food stores or online. Otherwise  simply omit for this recipe.

  • 2/3 cup dried hijiki
  • ¼ cup dashi (or water)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons sake
  • 1 tablespoon Tamari soy sauce (or regular soy sauce)
  • sea salt
  • toasted sesame seeds

Place the dried hijiki in a bowl of water and soak for 20 minutes. Rinse and drain and place in a small sauce pan. Add the dashi (or water), sugar, sake, and soy sauce. Stir and bring to a simmer and cook until the liquid has nearly evaporated. Add additional salt as needed and set aside to cool to room temperature. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds when serving.

Pickled Daikon with Carrots and Red Onions.: Daikon is a large white Japanese radish that is usually shredded for salads and garnishes, pickled, or braised in dashi with miso for a side dish.

  • ½ daikon radish, peeled
  • 1 large carrot, peeled
  • ½ cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoons sugar
  • ¾ cup Japanese rice vinegar
  • water to cover


Using a Japanese mandoline (inexpensive and well worth buying if you don’t have one) slice the daikon and carrot into thin threads and place them in a non reactive bowl. Add the sliced onions and toss everything together. Sprinkle with the salt, sugar, and rice vinegar and toss to combine. Compress the mixture and add just enough water to cover. Using your hands swirl the mixture to evenly distribute the vinegar into the water and set aside for at least 1 hour or cover and refrigerate for later use.

When ready to serve drain the portion you will be needing and place on a kitchen towel to remove excess moisture. Fluff the mixture just before using as a garnish or in a salad.



Wasabi Ginger Mayonnaise: Contrary to what you might think the Japanese have wholeheartedly embraced mayonnaise. Kewpie mayonnaise, made with rice vinegar, has been Japan’s favorite mayonnaise since 1925. Available worldwide.

  • 1 cup Kewpie mayonnaise (or other)
  • 2 tablespoons pickled ginger, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon prepared wasabi paste (or more to taste)

Whisk the ingredients together in a small bowl and refrigerate.

Miso Soup with Shiitake Mushrooms

Aka-Miso (red miso) Soup with Shiitake Mushrooms


Now that fall has arrived and temperatures have waned soups are very much on my mind. One of the most satisfying soups I can think of is Japanese miso soup. It is simple to prepare and the warming pleasures of miso soup for breakfast, lunch, or dinner are well worth so little effort.

As I started thinking about this post a favorite Japanese film came immediately to mind; Tampopo. It is a sweet and very very funny comedy about Tampopo’s quest to make the best noodle soups for her noodle shop in her village. It says everything about achieving perfection in all things Japanese, including in the kitchen, and well worth a watch for some very lively and entertaining inspiration.

Ichiban Dashi, a clear light amber colored broth, is the foundation for many Japanese dishes like soups (including miso soups), simmered dishes, sauces, marinades, and salad dressings. Its essence is in its simplicity, using only three ingredients. Water, kombu seaweed (kelp), and Katsuo bushi (shaved dried bonita flakes). The resulting clear light broth has a subdued mellow smoky flavor with an underlying sweetness and a hint of the salty sea that belies its rich nutritional content.

Kombu is cultivated in the icy mineral rich waters of Hokkaido, Japan’s northern most prefecture. After harvesting the kombu is air and sun dried into a hard leathery textured bark like strips. Kombu contains numerous nutrients including natural glutamic acid which contributes an umami (pleasant savory) taste to the dashi broth. More about umami taste in my next post.

Katsuo/bonito is a type of Japanese tuna. The fish is boiled, the bones removed, and the flesh smeared with a fermented fish paste. The fish is then set aside to marinate and then sun dried. Once completely dry the fish is smoked until it is very dry and hard. The bonita is then thinly shaved into flakes called katsuo bushi that look very much like planed wood shavings.

Dashi preparation involves slowly simmering strips of dried kombu in water to extract the flavor and nutrients from the kombu into the broth. Just before the water comes to a boil the kombu is promptly removed from the pot to avoid any bitterness to the finished broth. Katsuo bushi/shaved dried bonito flakes are then added to the pot. Once the water returns to a boil the pan is promptly removed from the heat and set aside until the shaved bonita flakes sink to the bottom of the pot. The broth is then strained and set aside. This preparation’s success is all about timing!

This may appear to be a little complicated, but really the whole process takes no more than fifteen minutes from start to finish. There are packaged instant dashi powder sachets available, but the results using the traditional method of making dashi is far superior and more nutritious in every way.

To make Miso-shiru soup, miso is stirred into a small quantity of dashi until dissolved and then whisked into the hot dashi broth and poured into a soup bowl that may include some cubed tofu, a few sprigs of chives, and a dash of sancho pepper. That’s all there is to it!

The ingredients, as unfamiliar as they may sound, should be readily available at larger supermarkets, Asian markets, health food stores, or online as a last resort.


Ichibon Dashi

Ichibon Dashi


Ichiban Dashi (first dashi) makes 2 quarts



  • 1.9 liters/2 quarts cold spring water
  • 1 oz/25g dried kombu strips
  • 1 oz/25g dried bonito flakes

Fill a medium size soup pot with cold spring water.

You will notice some white powder on the kombu which contains nutrients and will add flavor to the broth, so do not rinse it before placing the kombu into the pot of water.

Put the kombu into the pot of water and place on the stove over medium heat. Bring the water to a slow simmer without boiling for about 10 minutes. The kombu will soften, unfurl, and turn a deep green as the water nears the boiling point. As mentioned it is important that the kombu is removed from the pot before the water comes to a boil to avoid any bitterness in the broth. Using tongs remove the kombu and set aside to make a Niban Dashi (second dashi) with a more assertive flavored broth later.

Katsuobushi; Dried Bonito Flakes

Katsuobushi; Dried Bonito Flakes

Bring the broth back to a full boil and then add a little cold water to bring the temperature down a bit and add the bonito flakes without stirring. As soon as the water returns to a boil promptly remove the pot from the heat and set aside. Once the bonito flakes settle to the bottom of the pot, skim off any foam from the surface of the broth and discard.

Line a fine mesh strainer with cheesecloth and strain the both into a clean bowl and set aside to cool. Reserve the bonita flakes to make a Niban Dashi (second dashi) later.

The dashi can then be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 4 days or frozen for later use.

Niban Dashi (second dashi): Reusing the kombu and bonita flakes from the first dashi will produce a deeper flavored dashi that is useful for simmered dishes, sauces, and dressings.

Follow the same procedure, adding the reserved kombu and bonita flakes from the first dashi, in a fresh pot of water. Bring to a near boil, remove the kombu, and then lower the heat and simmer until the broth is reduced by a third. Then add ½ oz/14g fresh dried bonita flakes and promptly remove from the heat. Let the flakes settle to the bottom of the pot, remove foam, strain, and refrigerate or freeze. 


Miso is a Japanese fermented soybean and grain paste. All have a high protein content and rich in vitamins and minerals.

Shiro miso; aka white miso is pale light color with a mild and slightly sweet flavor.
Shinshu miso; yellow miso is a yellowish brown color with a bolder flavor and more salty.
Aka miso; aka red miso is dark red brown with an assertive flavor and the most salty miso.


Miso-shiru (miso soup) basic: serves 4

  • 4 cups Ichiban Dashi (first dashi)
  • 3-4 tblespoons Miso of choice
  • ½ block firm tofu cut into small cubes
  • ¼ cup thinly sliced scallions 
  • Optional: shiitake mushrooms, seaweeds, assorted Japanese herb stalks, sansho pepper as a seasoning.

Heat the dashi to a near boil.

Place the miso in a small bowl and ladle some of the hot dashi into the bowl and whisk the miso into the broth until completely dissolved. Then slowly pour the miso mixture into the hot dashi and stir until well combined.

If you are using mushrooms or seaweed stir them into the soup as well.

Heat the soup for an additional 1 or 2 minutes until piping hot without boiling.


Place the cubed tofu and scallions into individual serving bowls and ladle the soup into the bowls.

Garnish with Japanese herbs if using and serve.  Sancho pepper, with a light lingering peppery citrus after taste, is a nice additional seasoning at the table. 

Saigon Cinnamon Sables

Saigon Cinnamon Sables

I have never been a great fan of cinnamon, that is until I discovered Saigon cinnamon!

It is Saigon cinnamon’s spicy sweet flavor and intoxicating aroma that sets it apart from all other cinnamon varieties and considered the finest cinnamon  in the world. If you have ever found yourself lingered over a steaming bowl of Vietnamese Pho it is the faint aroma of Saigon cinnamon that teases your appetite into utter submission.

Vietnamese cassia trees, a South East Asian evergreen, are mostly grown in the central highland province of Quang Ngai. The bark is stripped from the trees, dried, bundled or finely ground, and sent to Saigon for export. Thus, the name Saigon cinnamon. The Vietnamese cassia bark has the highest essential oil content of any cinnamon and gives Saigon cinnamon such a unique flavor and aroma. Available at specialty spice shops and online vendors.

Saigon Cinnamon

Saigon Cinnamon

Saigon Cinnamon Sables?

Some friends recently brought back a nice cache of Saigon cinnamon for me from Hanoi. Hanoi is the Paris of Vietnam if you will, and I was drawn to the idea of using the cinnamon in sables, which are in keeping with the French influences left behind in Vietnam following the French Indochine era. Sables are a classic French shortbread biscuit with a light crumbly texture of sand. It just seemed like a perfect fit. A light buttery spiced biscuit with a hint of salt and the aroma of Saigon cinnamon… et voila!


Saigon Cinnamon Sables  Makes about 36 (2 ½ inch) sables

I prefer mixing the ingredients for this recipe the old fashioned way, by hand. The secret to success here is to not overwork the dough, which will then produce a light airy sable.

  • 5.5 ounces (150 grams) best quality salted butter (at room temperature)
  • 1 teaspoon flaked sea salt (Maldon)
  • 2/3 cup fine natural sugar (or white)
  • 1/3 cup confectioners sugar (measured after sifting)
  • 3 large organic egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 4 teaspoons fine ground Saigon cinnamon
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon water
  • cinnamon sugar for sprinkling

Place the room temperature butter and salt in a mixing bowl and cream the butter using a silicone spoon until smooth, about 1 minute.

In a separate bowl beat 3 egg yolks until light and fluffy. Then gradually add the sugars while beating until the mixture is smooth and velvety. Add the vanilla and beat until incorporated.

Add the egg/sugar mixture to the creamed butter and beat until incorporated, about 1 minute.

Using a separate bowl sift together the flour, baking powder, and cinnamon and stir until evenly combined. Then add the flour mixture to the butter mixture all at once. Begin folding the flour into the butter mixture until the flour is absorbed into the butter and the mixture looks like a coarse meal, or damp sand if you will. You want the dough to be loose rather than clumping together. The less you work the dough the better.

Line a baking tray with cling film and transfer half the dough onto the cling film lengthwise, evenly mounding the dough down the center of the cling film to about 9 inches in length. Then fold the cling film nearest you over the dough and gently roll the dough into a log shape without overly compressing the dough until it is completely encased in the cling film. The log should be roughly 2 inches in diameter. Gently twist both ends of the cling film to completely seal the dough. The dough can then be refrigerated for up to 5 days or frozen for later use.

Repeat this process for the remaining dough and refrigerate both logs of dough for at least 1 hour before you intend to bake the sables.

Baking: Prepare 3 baking trays lined with parchment.

Clear space in your fridge for chilling the baking trays of sables before they are baked.

Preheat oven to 350f/180c Best to use an oven thermometer to insure the oven is heated to the right temperature before baking each tray of sables.

Remove one of the logs from the fridge and gently adjust the shape of the log so it is as round as possible, without using too much pressure as you do not want to overly compress the dough!

Open the cling film and, using a very sharp knife, slice the dough into 1/3 to ½ inch rounds and place them 1 inch apart on a parchment lined baking tray; about 12 to a tray. Return the remaining dough to the fridge.

Whisk the remaining egg yolk with a teaspoon of water. Using a pastry brush, glaze the top of each slice of dough. Sprinkle the top of each with cinnamon sugar and return the tray to the fridge to chill for ten minutes before baking.

Then transfer the tray to the oven. Total cooking time will vary slightly, but about 14 to 16 minutes total, turning the tray midway through the baking for even coloring.

What to expect: The sables will spread within the first couple of minutes and then begin to rise. When fully baked the bottoms should be golden color, the edges very slightly colored, and the tops pale. Timing is everything with sables so bake on the side of caution, checking the first batch frequently to be sure you don’t over bake these delicate delights. You can then bake the remaining batches with confidence. 

While the first batch is baking you can prepare the next batch and place them in the fridge until you are ready to bake.

Once the sables are perfectly baked remove the tray from the oven and set aside to rest for a minute and then slide the parchment with the sables onto a cooling rack.

Before baking the next batch be sure that the oven returns to 350f/180c.

Once all the sables are baked and are completely cool you can place them in a cookie tin. With the tin filled, drape a sheet of cling film over the top and press the lid on tightly. This will insure that the sables will remain fresh for up to 5 days stored at room temperature.

Sables are a perfect match served with tea or coffee, or with ice cream!

Adding Saigon cinnamon to French pressed coffee is another favorite. Just add a half teaspoon of Saigon cinnamon and a pinch of sea salt to ground coffee. Add boiled water and allow to rest for several minutes before pressing and serving.

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