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Japanese cookery is an age-old cuisine. Practiced by chefs who have taken years just to master the knife skills needed to create some dishes (and even more if you count the vital knowledge needed by those that make use of the deadly fugu fish!) it has always seemed completely out of reach for modern Western home cooks.

Not any more!

With the advent of hugely talented chefs like Nic Watt – chefs prepared to simplify and explain the dishes we all love – suddenly creating healthy, tasty, show-stopping Japanese dishes is within the reach of us all.

Nic Watt, a New Zealander, began his career in Auckland, and quickly became head chef at a busy city restaurant. When he chose to learn more, he decided against the more usual chef-path of heading for Paris or London, instead packing up and moving to Japan. It was his love of seafood which led to this change. After all, seafood is integral to Japanese cookery, and little wonder, then, that seafood turns up throughout this book, in chapters which are concerned with various modes of cooking - searing, curing, rolling, frying, cooking with charcoal - rather than simply a major ingredient.

Watt's career later took him to working at Nobu, then serving high-end Japanese food at his very popular restaurant, Roka, in London, which went on to win many awards. Yet New Zealand has finally lured him home and that is where he now runs his restaurant, Masu, the namesake for this book, with his wife, Kelly. 

This beautifully illustrated book (photographs by Babiche Martens) is also a useful one. You will learn how to make a traditional Japanese whitebait sushi omelette, a range of sushi rolls, the best cedar plank roast salmon, tiger prawn and courgette flower tempura, as well as a stunning white miso pavlova (mixing two cuisines). There are even cocktails, base recipes (such as how to cook perfect sushi rice), and a pantry list so everything is on hand when you begin.

There are notes on the tools you will need, and even the etiquette of eating Japanese meals. This of course is vital even if you are eating out in a Japanese restaurant.

Just one more thing: Masu is the name of the small square box once used to ration rice in the feudal era of Japan. These days they are smaller and are used to hold overflowing bowls of sake. This custom symbolises abundance, prosperity, goodwill and giving more than people expect. Knowing this, perhaps best explains the largesse and generosity of this chef and his restaurant in sharing these recipes.

Raise your masu and toast him the Japanese way - Kanpai!

Masu, by Nic Watt, published by Allen & Unwin, 2015, rrp A$55, hardcover.

- reviewed by Sally Hammond


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