What Is An Otoshi-Buta And What Is It For?

Japanese home cooking features a lot of simmered dishes (nimono). Naturally, every properly equipped Japanese kitchen must have this simple device to enhance the simmering process: the otoshi-buta.

You can think of the otoshi-buta as a snug sweater for your simmering foods. It is a circular lid that is placed on simmering food instead of over the pot. Using a lid in this way allows for less liquid to be used since the otoshi-buta helps to weigh down the ingredients. Since less liquid is used, less flavor will diffuse out of whatever you’re simmering and into the broth. It also holds all the ingredients in place and prevents them from jostling and breaking apart due to the boiling broth. Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, the otoshi-buta aids in even heating by preventing heat from escaping the broth.

Otoshi-buta are traditionally made of wood. Before use, they should be soaked in water to avoid flavoring the wood with the broth and thus contaminating the flavor of future dishes. They also should be thoroughly scrubbed and left to dry before reuse for the same reasons. Otoshi-buta made out of other materials, such as stainless steel and silicone, can make do without these maintenance steps.

If you want to try out the otoshi-buta right now, you can make one out of aluminum foil or cooking paper (what the French call a “chesimer”). When simmering brittle vegetables, one of these makeshift otoshi-buta is actually better than a heavier, reusable lid because it won’t crush the vegetables while keeping them submerged in broth.

You’ll notice the a difference that this simple drop lid makes if you make any nimono (Japanese simmered dishes). The penetration of flavor into the ingredients is much improved, and since you can make one using a simple sheet of cooking paper, you really have no reason not to try it out for yourself!

There is a reason why Tokyo has more Michelin stars than Paris; the Japanese kitchen is a fascinating product of centuries of culinary heritage. If you want to learn more about Japanese and other Asian cooking supplies, recipes, and techniques, check out my blog about Japanese kitchens at fareastcoastkitchen.com.

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