Japanese comfort food

Foil Yaki is easy and tasty, with little cleanup

click to enlarge Assorted mushrooms
Assorted mushrooms

According to a report published last month in ResearchAndMarkets.com, the market for dishwashing supplies is expected to grow by 275% as a consequence of everybody eating at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are presently sheltering in place in our school bus in a remote location inaccessible to meal delivery services, so I am constantly cooking and baking or fermenting and pickling. Our bus kitchen is too small to let dishes pile up so my patient and supportive wife is constantly cleaning up after me. She states: "While we would love to be supporting local establishments during this time, our locale prevents us from being able to. Luckily I love Peter's cooking more than most restaurants. However the amount of cleanup is beginning to exceed my tolerance level."

When a couple has been together 24/7 for over a month, exceeding a partner's tolerance level is potentially dangerous and something which should be avoided at all costs. Though I try to work neatly and clean up as I go, inevitably a point is reached when entropy takes over and the dishes pile up.

We were watching the Netflix series "Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories," a Japanese TV series that is centered around food and interpersonal relationships. In one episode the cook of a small late-night diner served a guest a foil packet on a plate. The guest carefully opened the packet and inhaled the fragrant steam that was released. Inside the packet was a piece of salmon and little mushrooms which had been steamed in an aromatic broth. The preparation is called foil yaki or, as it's known in Japan, hoil-yaki. It reminded me of the hobo packets we used to have on camping trips with the Boy Scouts. My wife was quick to see a benefit – no dishes to wash.

click to enlarge Foil Yaki packet ready to fold
Foil Yaki packet ready to fold

Foil yaki is a Japanese comfort dish usually consisting of mushrooms, vegetables and fish steamed in yaki butter, an umami-rich broth consisting of butter, soy sauce, miso and sake. The foil packet serves as both cookware and dishware. The sealed pouch protects food from overcooking and, if you don't finish your dish, simply wrap it up as leftovers. The technique is similar to the French en papillote where food is cooked in parchment paper packets. (See my 9/5/19 article, "Fish in a Bag," at illinoistimes.com.)

In Japan, toaster ovens are as common as microwaves in America, and they often have a foil yaki setting. In a culture where space is limited, toaster ovens are an efficient way to cook. The house doesn't heat up from a roaring oven and, once you throw away the foil, there's little to clean, making it an ideal appliance for those with limited space or time.

We are encamped on the Illinois/Wisconsin border near a mushroom farm. The other day our host surprised us with a big bag of maitake, shiitake, oyster, crimini and king mushrooms. I gave my wife the night off of dishwashing and prepared this fragrant and umami-rich Mushroom Foil Yaki.

Mushroom Foil Yaki

Serves 1 or 2

This is an embarrassingly easy recipe and, believe me, you will be amazed how tasty this is. Feel free to improvise. A piece of salmon would be a nice addition.


2 T sake (or substitute mirin)

2 T soy sauce or tamari

1 T white miso

2 cups mixed mushrooms, such as shiitake, maitake, enoki, king or oyster

1 medium shallot or ½ small onion, thinly sliced

1½ T softened unsalted butter

Lemon wedges, for serving

click to enlarge Foil Yaki packet ready to cook
Foil Yaki packet ready to cook


Preheat the oven to 425 degrees (or set up a grill for indirect heat)

Fold a 12-inch x 24-inch piece of foil in half into a square. This will create a double-thickness packet that will keep the juices from escaping in case you develop a hole or tear in one layer. Place the foil square atop a small bowl and gently push down, creating a reservoir.

Lightly butter the surface of the foil reservoir to prevent sticking.

Trim the mushrooms and discard any tough ends and remove stems from the shiitakes. Cut mushrooms into smaller pieces and place in the foil reservoir. Combine with the shallot or onion.

In a small bowl, whisk together the sake, soy sauce and miso.

Pour the sauce over the mushrooms and gently stir to coat.

Place pats of butter atop the mushroom mixture.

Pull up the two lengthwise edges and fold over twice to seal and fold in the two width edges inward twice as well and crimp and to seal up the packet.

Place on a baking sheet and put in the oven for 12-15 minutes (or place on a grill over indirect heat).

Allow the packet to rest for 3-5 minutes.

Place the packet on a plate, unopened, to serve.

Instruct the diner to carefully open the packet to let the steam escape and serve with lemon wedges.

Bertha Bus is slowly working its way northward to Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and Peter is eager to start his new job as chef and innkeeper of Milkweed Inn when it's safe to reopen. If you would be interested in subscribing to his e-newsletter "Postcards from the Road," contact him at docglatz@gmail.com.

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