Smoky Spinach Bundles

Hōrensō no Ohitashi

In Japan spinach is flat-leafed, not curly, and is never used raw in salads. Instead it is ever so briefly blanched, then dressed in a variety of sauces. The recipe here, called ohitashi, is for blanched spinach bundles, marinated in a seasoned smoky stock. The garnish, which looks a bit like brown sugar dusted on the top, is made from smoky fish flakes and sesame seeds.

Ingredients

  • 1 large bunch spinach, about 8-10 ounces
  • ¾ cup Tosa dashi (smoky sea stock), cooled
  • 2 tablespoons katsuo bushi (dried bonito flakes)
  • 1 tablespoon white sesame seeds

Method

  1. Soak the spinach in a large tub of cold water, to remove all sand and gritty material. Cut two or three 10- to 12-inch lengths of kitchen twine, and lay one on the counter. Divide the spinach into two or three bunches with all the stems facing in the same direction. Use the twine to tie up the bunches of stems.
  2. Bring a wide-mouthed pot of lightly salted water to a rolling boil. Place a single bunch of tied spinach in the pot, and with tongs or chopsticks, swish the bundle until the leaves are just wilted and bright green. Transfer the bundle, still tied with twine, to a bowl of ice water. Repeat the blanching procedure for the remaining bundles.
  3. Rinse the cooled spinach bundles under fresh cold running water, and squeeze out all excess water.
  4. Pour the sea stock into a glass loaf pan. Lay the spinach (still in bundles) in the stock, spreading out the leaves so that all the spinach is barely submerged in the stock. Let the spinach sit in the stock for at least 15 minutes or up to several hours.
  5. In a clean, dry skillet, dry-roast the fish flakes over high heat for 20-30 seconds. Empty them onto a clean, dry cloth (a handkerchief is fine). Pick up the ends of the cloth to enclose the flakes, and rub the flakes to make a coarse powder. Transfer the powder to a small bowl.
  6. Dry-roast the sesame seeds in the same skillet for 40 seconds. Empty the seeds onto a clean, dry cutting board, and with a sharp knife, mince the seeds as you would parsley. Add the minced seeds to the fish powder.
  7. Lift the spinach out of the sea stock, and squeeze out all excess liquid. Trim away the stems and twine. Cut the spinach leaves into 1½-inch lengths, and stack several lengths together to make three or four bundles. Serve chilled or at room temperature, garnished with a generous dusting of the fish and sesame mixture.

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