Ozōni is a soup that is served on New Year’s morning in Japan. In Japanese “ozōni” is written with the characters for “complex” (雑) and “simmer” (煮), which is a roundabout way of saying that this soup can contain a wide variety of ingredients. Grilled mochi (rice cakes) are almost always included, along with vegetables such as carrots, mitsuba (trefoil), or spinach. For a little extra holiday cheer, some people also include pieces of colored wheat gluten in auspicious shapes like ginkgo leaves. Tiny pieces of yuzu skin can also add an aromatic garnish.
But like most Japanese foods, ozōni is subject to a tremendous and perplexing range of regional differences. Depending on where a family is from, the broth of ozōni might be based on soy sauce, miso, or something else. Chicken or other meats might be incorporated either as slices or small meatballs. I’m sure there are probably whole books out there about different types of ozōni, but really the only constant is that it is served as breakfast on the first morning of the New Year. In that way ozōni is sort of like Japan’s equivalent of Thanksgiving stuffing – everyone has their own way to make it and everyone is convinced their way is best.
This recipe is mostly based on the ozōni that my husband’s mother makes, which is flavored only with soy sauce and sake and depends on the addition of chicken breast and burdock root to add depth to the broth. I’m not usually the type of person who bothers cutting vegetables into decorative shapes, but I did drag out the special tool to cut the carrot into the shape of plum blossoms in honor of the New Year (except I realized halfway that my tool is shaped like a cherry blossom, not a plum blossom – oops). Here’s a video if you want to try making the carrots fancy. This recipe is even prettier if made with a combination of regular carrots and kyōninjin carrots from Kyoto, which are a deep red color and are available in Japan towards the end of the year.
Ingredients (serves 2)
3 cups dashi
Small handful spinach
100 grams chicken breast
2 shiitake mushrooms
1/4 package (25 grams) shimeji mushrooms
5 centimeters gobō (burdock root)
2 pieces mochi
2 tablespoons usukuchi soy sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sake
Yuzu skin, cut into small “needles” or slivers.
- Heat the dashi.
- Cut the mushrooms into bite sized pieces. Use the back of a knife to scrape the skin from the burdock root, then cut by “shaving” off small pieces (sort of like sharpening a pencil by hand). Cut the carrots into decorative shapes or simply chop into circles, about three pieces per person.
- Cut the chicken breast into bite sized pieces and add to the dashi. Simmer until cooked all the way through, removing any aku (scum) or fat that floats to the top.
- Add the mushrooms, carrots, and burdock root to the dashi and chicken. Continue simmering.
- Season with soy sauce and sake. Taste, and adjust seasonings as necessary.
- Blanch the spinach in a separate pot, then rinse. Chop and form into neat little bundles.
- Grill the mochi according to the directions under the broiler or atop the stove.
- Place a bundle of spinach and piece of grilled mochi in each bowl. Use chopsticks to arrange carrots and other ingredients in bowls, then pour broth on top. Garnish with chopped mitsuba and yuzu skin.
Grilled mochi and spinach