Introducing hoshigaki at Lucky Cat
The Japanese tradition of creating dried persimmons by hanging and hand-massaging them every day is not something you usually find in the heart of Mayfair, but here at Lucky Cat we’re bringing this process to life.
Executive Head Chef Ben Orpwood first came across this tradition on a visit to Japan. ‘Now I make my own at home every year and give some to my dad to bake into the family Christmas cake’ says Ben, but he’s always wanted the chance to get his team involved and add them to a menu which he has now done at Lucky Cat, ‘The whole team are really excited as it’s not something many of them have tried before.’
Hoshigaki is the Japanese name for dried persimmons, a fruit similar to dried apricots or dates but with a deeper flavour. The secret is in the dedication required to make them. First, they are peeled, hung and dried for a few days. Next, they are carefully massaged by hand every day to convert starch into sugar. This is what gives the fruits their stickiness and can take 4-6 weeks in total. It’s no wonder these are often regarded as the ‘wagyu’ of the fruit world.
Completing the process by hand is crucial. Touch and feel allows you to keep the skin intact as it dries and to gauge when the fruit is ready for use - you should be able to squash it completely flat between your palms. In Japan, they are often treated as a special gift for special occasions.
It’s thought that the process originated when Japan was very much a self-sufficient nation during the Edo period, although it could have been centuries before. Hachiya persimmons are only edible when over-ripe, so usually can only be eaten within a very short window of time. Drying the fruit means they can be preserved for much longer and have a richer texture and taste.
Making hoshigaki is easy, it just requires time and space. Insert a screw or hook into the top of the peeled fruit, add a loop of string and hang somewhere dry - in front of a window is ideal. Ben wanted to be able to do something on a larger scale at Lucky Cat, and the Kasai chef’s table has proven to be the perfect location. ‘Where we’ve got the fruits hanging, the heat and air from the open kitchen seems to be helping them dry out much quicker than usual’ he says. Starting with 30 fruit right at the end of October when they first became available, he aims to add more as the season progresses.
You can use hoshigaki much like dates or apricots; eat them on their own, chop them into granola, stir into tagines or do as Ben’s dad does and bake into Christmas cakes, puddings and mincemeat. At the restaurant, Ben is excited to experiment with them in new desserts. ‘We’ve got a pre-dessert that features both fresh and dried persimmon for contrast, paired with an amazing mandarin vinegar for that sweet-and-sour balance. I also love the idea of using them in a sticky toffee pudding recipe, perhaps flavoured with additional spices such as white cardamom for a more fragrant take on this winter classic.’
Book a table at Lucky Cat to try hoshigaki for yourself and to see what other exciting dishes the chefs are working on.