Traditionally, this Japanese soup containing mochi rice cakes is made on New Year’s day and eaten on 3 consecutive days. There are 2 main varieties of soup – a clear soup flavoured with dried bonito stock and soy sauce in eastern Japan (Tokyo etc) or a miso soup generally favoured in the west (Osaka etc).
Zōni has been eaten in Japan since samurai times, thought to have been the meal cooked during field battles and served exclusively to the samurai before eventually becoming the staple food of the common people .
In my recipe, I prepare my own chicken stock for added flavour, but to save time you can substitute with packaged chicken stock – just make sure it is the Chinese powder variety. This chicken stock is very easy to make and can be frozen to be used in many other recipes, (such as Chinese corn soup) so I do recommend making some when you have time. Since this is the most important meal of the year for Japanese, I didn’t mind that it took me over 3 hours to prepare!
(For optional home made chicken stock)
1 packet chicken necks (I found these in the dog food section of the supermarket!)
1 thumb ginger
Chopped carrots, onions, leeks, radish – any root vegetables without strong smell (so no celery)
Handful dried shiitake mushrooms
3 tbs sake
2-3 chicken thighs
3 tbs sake
2 tbs soy sauce
1/2 daikon radish
5 fresh shiitake mushrooms
5 Mochi rice cakes
1/2 tbs fish stock
1 tbs mirin
1 tbs light soy sauce
Step 1 (optional)
Wash the chicken necks under cold running water, then place in a sauce pan with the ginger and fill with water to cover. Add the chopped veggies and dried shiitake and bring to the boil. Skim all the scum from the soup, then reduce the heat and simmer for 2 hours, skimming off the scum as necessary. Finally use a sieve to separate the soup and throw away the solids.
Slice the carrots, daikon and fresh shiitake and put in a sauce pan and cover with chicken stock. Then add the fish stock and bring to the boil. Skim the scum and reduce the heat to a simmer for 10-15 mins. Meanwhile, dice the chicken and boil it in the soy sauce and sake until all the liquid is absorbed. Be careful not to burn the chicken. Then add the chicken to the stock and vegetables plan, and add the light soy sauce. Add salt to taste if necessary.
The second is to microwave it – pour a few spoons of water over it first and zap it for 15-30 seconds. You’ll see it balloon up in the microwave then deflate when you take it out. This will make the mochi gooey like chewing gum!
I normally serve the zōni with mistuba (a Japanese herb similar to parsley), but have used spinach here just to give the dish some colour.