Cooking in Paper - Japanese Style

A while ago I promised some paper-related photos from my husband's trip to Japan. Here are shots of breakfast one morning.... you can see a lovely folded piece of paper holding vegetables and tofu. (And lots of dishes! Can't imagine washing that many each morning.) Beautiful, no? I love Japanese attention to detail; even the corners are punched.

Japanese meal on table

He had mentioned that the paper was balanced over a small flame, similar to Sterno pots that are used for serving buffet-style here in the States. So, I wondered... just how does the paper not catch fire? Of course, silly moi - liquid was involved. Because the paper isn't heavy, heat is quickly conducted to water inside the paper and the food cooks without disaster.

Japanese cooking in folded paper

Inspired to do some googling, I found other cooking techniques in Japan that involve paper. One is called kami-jio, or paper salting. This is a method of bringing a light, salty taste to raw fish used for sushi or sashimi. A board is sprinkled with salt and a dry sheet of washi paper is laid on top of the salt, then the fish is placed on the paper. Another sheet of paper is placed on top of the fish and this "sandwich" rests for up to an hour, during which time the moist fish absorbs a subtle flavor from the salt. An absorbent paper towel can be used instead. I'll have to try this!

They also use something called cedar cooking paper (above picture), but it's actually a very thin sheet of cedar wood, not true paper. A square is soaked in water for several hours and then wrapped around poultry, fish, and vegetables before grilling or baking. I'm conjuring up the aroma of freshly cut cedar and can imagine the wonderful flavor it imparts. Cedar packets are sometimes spritzed with white wine or sake and with that, my foodie pals, the tastebuds are tingling.

parchment paper bunny cube muffins

Sometimes stars really do align... with Easter brunch right around the corner, it was the perfect time to come across these bunny cube muffins. The combination of Japanese origami with the French cooking method, "en papillote", (in paper) couldn't fit into this post any better. Parchment paper is folded to create a small parcel in which ingredients are essentially steamed with their own moisture when placed in the oven on a baking sheet. Find full instructions for cream cheese bunny muffins on the clever blog, Eye Candy.

And last but not least, here's a zany, little video that shows how to make an origami Japanese cooking vessel. It goes way too fast to follow the steps, but the result is so darned cute, you can always skip ahead to the end.

Ann Martin
Ann Martin

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