Saturday, March 28, 2015

“Cup” sake Funagichi Kikusui ふなぐち菊水生原酒

There is a class of sake called "Cup-sake" which comes in either a glass or aluminum "cup" (about 1 go size 一合 or 180-200ml) with a pull top. These are widely available in convenience stores and vending machines in Japan. This type of sake is usually not high quality but it is easy to get and you can consume it anytime anywhere which appeals to certain clientele. Ozeki 大関 sake brewery is credited for inventing this type of sake  (called "One cup Ozeki" ワンカップ大関) in 1964. More recently, better quality sake, even daiginjou 大吟醸 class is being sold in this format but when I lived in Japan, "cup sake" had some negative stigma attached to the extent that even in my youth I did not partake.

Interestingly, when we went to Sakamai 酒舞 in New York some years ago, one of the "genshu" 原酒 tasting included this "Funaguchi Kikusui" ふなぐち菊水生原酒. We did not think it was a particularly great sake but not bad either. We were a bit surprised that this came in an aluminum cup and was included in the "genshu" tasting at this “fancy” sake bar. Later, I learned that Kikusui sake brewery 菊水酒造 was in Niigata 新潟 and there were four different kinds of cup sake including "ginjo" class but this particular one is "hon jouzou" 本醸造 made of rice polished to 70%. "Nama genshu" 生原酒 implies non-pasteurized and non-diluted sake but I am not sure if it was pasteurized after placing it in the can.

In any case, when we had this at Yuzu restaurant the other evening.  Few days later, I happened to spot this sake-in-a-can at the Japanese grocery store.  I had to buy it to taste it. I served this cold.

It is always important to me that we taste sake with the appropriate food. I served daikon namasu 大根なます garnished with ikura いくら salmon roe, boiled octopus leg with karashi sumiso 芥子酢味噌and my pickled myouga 茗荷の酢漬.

The taste of the sake was totally different from what we had at Yuzu. It has some yeasty flavor of honjouzou but had a nice "umami" flavor and not extremely dry.  Although this is not one of our favorites, it is certainly a drinkable sake.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Cauliflower parsnip soup カリフラワーとパースニップスープ

I got the idea for this cauliflower soup/potage from one of the episodes of “Worst cooks in America”. (I hasten to add this was one of the recipes used in the final contest after the worst cooks were no longer the worst). I had a head of cauliflower and a bag of parsnips in the refrigerator and decided to make this dish (I just winged it without a specific recipe). To echo what is in the potage, I added baked cauliflower florets and parsnip medallions and garnished with chopped chives. I served this several times and in one rendition my wife added some of her cheese curd which was also good.
I served this just an small starter dish as you can see below.

Cauliflower, one head, leaves and thick stem removed and coarsely copped preserving 1/5 separated into small florets for garnish.
Onion, three medium, finely chopped
Parsnips, 3, peeled and coarsely copped, reserving one cut into small medallions.
Olive oil, 2-3 tbs
Chicken broth, about 3 cups or just cover all the vegetables.
I sweated the onion in the olive oil in a soup pot until soft and cooked (4-5 minutes), I added the cauliflower and parsnips and covered it with chicken broth and let it simmer for 30 minutes until the vegetables were soft. Using an emersion blender, I pureed the mixture until smooth.
Meanwhile, I coated the cauliflower florets and parsnips with olive oil, seasoned with salt and baked in the convection toaster oven for 30 minutes at 350F (below) and set aside.

To assemble the final serving, I put the serving portion of the potage in a small sauce pan and heated it up. I then added light cream (to your liking) and seasoned it with salt and freshly ground white pepper. I placed the baked cauliflower and parsnip in the middle of the small bowl and ladled in the potage then garnished it with chopped chives.

This is a very straightforward potage with nice sweetness from parsnips and creamy texture. Still slightly crunchy baked vegetable echoed what was in the potage. When my wife added the cheese curd it contributed a different smooth texture that was very pleasing. This is quite a nice potage/soup, albeit all  white.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Yuzu restaurant Omakase 日本料理店柚子おまかせ

We had some business to attend to in downtown Bethesda and since the timing was perfect, we had a chance to go back to the Japanese restaurant "Yuzu" 柚子 after almost 2 years. On our last visit,  it was still in its “soft-opening”. Again we went for "Omakase" お任せ ($80, the smallest one offered since we tend to get full very quickly). When we sat down and greeted Chef "Yoshi Ota", he remembered us despite our 2 year absence and mentioned the post we wrote about our experience at the restaurant 2 years ago. We were honored.

The sake menu has improved but is not extensive. Chef Yoshi again lamented the fact that he had to go through the Montgomery county liquor board to purchase sake which makes it difficult to have an extensive list. We choose the tried-and-true Suigei junmai 酔鯨純米. He served the sake in a stem-less white wine glass so that we could swirl and enjoy the aroma. Suigei has a pleasant non-yeasty nose with slight green apple taste. On this occasion, this sake tasted a bit sweeter than I remembered. Towards the end, we (I, in particular) wanted a bit more sake to complement the last dishes and had “Kikusui genshu” 菊水原酒 which came in a 200ml “cup”. We had this first at “Sakamai” 酒舞, New York some years ago in a “Genshu” tasting. This time, it seemed to have an almost a turpentine flavor.

The starter was "nuta" ぬた of tuna, avocado and cream cheese wrapped in nori. Sweet, nutty and sour "nuta" sauce (miso paste, vinegar and sugar) was a good contrast of flavor and texture to the tuna, avocado (nicely ripened) and cream cheese.

Photo Mar 12, 5 44 07 PM

Next came a very nice refreshing plate of scallop carpaccio. Thin slices of raw scallop were placed on a bed of wakame seaweed 若芽, They were accompanied by almost jewel-like colorful mini-tomatoes (with the skin removed of course), thinly sliced cucumber and red radish. A yuzu (Japanese citrus) dressing completed the dish. The combination of gentle sweetness of the scallops with the refreshing tang of the tomatoes and yuzu dressing was very balanced; a beautiful and tasty dish. The delicate interplay of tastes and texture set the tone for the rest of the dishes that followed.

Photo Mar 12, 5 51 23 PM
This is another raw fish dish of “hirame” (sole or flat fish) and salmon. The hirame tasted cured with a nice texture. I thought it was kelp cured but Chef said it was salt cured. It was served with a garnish of fried onion bits, finely chopped green scallion, and pine nuts. The dressing was white truffle oil and soy sauce (I am sure this is “sashimi” soy sauce). Each morsel was a progression of taste and textures that was sublime. First the taste and texture of the fish, followed by the crunch and mild burst of flavor from the fried onion bits, then another crunch and the flavor of pine nuts. All packed on one small slice of fish and suffused with the flavor of the truffle. Photo Mar 12, 5 59 42 PM
When I saw Chef Yoshi preparing the next dish, I thought  this was an eggplant dengaku 茄子の味噌田楽 but, to my surprise, this was a miso marinated piece of “Gindara” 銀鱈 (sable fish or black cod), grilled with miso and meat sauce 肉みそ on the top. Gindara has a very moist nice flavor and texture similar to Chilean sea bass. The miso sauce had a nice nutty and salty taste.  The combination of the succulent tender fish with the miso based meat topping made this a remarkably comforting dish. The size of the portion was quite generous allowing us to almost wallow contentedly in the pleasure of each bite. This was a dish to savor. Chef Yoshi mentioned, it would have been “perfect” with a bowl of white rice but it went very well with cold sake we were having. Photo Mar 12, 6 07 13 PM
Next came ”Amadai tatsuta age アマダイの竜田揚げ” or deep fried marinated tile fish which was served with ponzu sauce with graded daikon and red pepper flakes.
Photo Mar 12, 6 17 27 PM
We immediately started digging in. Chef Yoshi thought this dish was not particularly photogenic and added several fried green beans. By then, only two pieces remained.
Photo Mar 12, 6 19 18 PM (1)
Next, we proceeded to the sushi course. Chef Yoshi first prepared a real wasabi rhizome 山葵大根 (grated on a traditional shark skin grater). I did not take pictures of all the sushi (I got too busy eating). Chef Yoshi did a great job with the “sushi” progression starting with hirame “engawa” ヒラメの縁側 (#1), meat of dorsal fin, which happens to be my ultimate favorite. I love the firmness of this part of hirame. This was followed by botan ebi shrimp 牡丹エビ which was sweet with a nice “nettori” ねっとり texture (hard to translate to English) . Then we progressed to oiler red meat fish including salmon (#3), fatty tuna (straight) which was immediately followed by aburi tuna 鮪の炙り (#4). The same tuna tasted quite different and showed nice contrast. Although Chef Yoshi commented that the quality of Maine uni he had was not of the quality of California uni, the gunkan 軍艦 of salmon roe and sea urchin was great (#5). This combination is my wife’s absolute favorite. As in any good sushi course, the second to the last dish was “anago” 穴子 sea eel with “Tsume” ツメ sauce (#6).

Sushi composit
Almost like desert, the last one was a Japanese sweet omelet which was still warm. Perfect last item.
Photo Mar 12, 7 03 00 PM
At this point, we were presented with a desert menu but we were really full and declined. The meal was more than complete without it. The sweet omelet was in effect a desert enough for us. We really enjoyed this omakase dinner. Yuzu has been open for 2 years and seems to have hit its stride with things falling nicely into place. We were struck by the subtle complexity of texture and taste built seamlessly into each dish reflecting the unique artistry of the chef. The evening was not particularly busy and we got all the attention of Chef Yoshi—which we selfishly enjoyed immensely .

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Ebi Yaki "Æbiskiever" エビ焼 "エビスキーバー"

As we suggested in the previous post of "Takoyaki" たこ焼き, we made "Ebiyaki" エビ焼き. Since we made this in our Æbelskiever cooker, I name this "Æbiskiever" エビスキーバー.  We had this for lunch one weekend.

From the outside, they look the same as takoyaki. This time I used bonito flakes as garnish with aonori 青海苔 and my takoyaki sauce たこ焼きソース.

Once you cut into it, however, instead of octopus, you’ll find shrimp.

I used shell-on raw frozen shrimp, thawed under running cold water, shelled, cut into chunks, and salted (below).

After some discussion with my wife,  I decided to omit "Tenkasu" 天かすsince our store-bought variety does not add any flavor (this must be related to the kind of tenkatsu you use) and once cooked in the batter, no texture remained in the takoyaki.  So, I used chopped scallion and the shrimp but nothing else in our Æbiskiever.

I prepared the batter as before but I used powdered skim milk as the original recipe suggested. I let it rest over night in the refrigerator. For the first batch this time, I did not do as well as my first try. After my wife took over for the second batch, we learned that you have to be extremely patient (which I knew and I was when I made takoyake, but in general is not my forte) until the crust is fully formed before trying to turn them over. The sauce was made as before; a mixture of Lee and Perrin worcestershire sauce, ketchup and honey. I made the sauce slightly sweeter than before.

I am sure a traditionalist "Takoyaki" connoisseur will cringe at our innovation but we really liked this Ebiyaki "Æbiskiever". Watch out, more variations to come!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Kimchi Poke キムチポケ

This is my desperate attempt at making something from the frozen block of yellowfin tuna I keep in the freezer for when I need an emergency sashimi/sushi fix. Recently the weather has been extremely cold and snowy so we were not able to get anything good for our usual celebration of the weekend. We had a little bit of salmon roe and boiled octopus leg. I thawed the block of yellowfin tuna to round out the plate. I made half into "zuke" and half into this starter. For a change I served the tuna as is (two slices) and also as poke with store bought kimchi.

Again, breaking our routine, we went for hot sake which was just more comforting in this frigid weather. We were getting low on Gekkeikan Black and Gold since we have been consuming hot sake much more often than before this winter.

One of the reasons I made this dish using kimchi is that I happened to learn that my wife has never eaten kimchi. Although kimchi is the national dish of Korea, it is very popular in Japan as well. My mother used to make a Japanese-style; much milder kimchi (Japanese used to call it Korean pickles or chousen-zuke  朝鮮ずけ. Now it is simply called kimchi). I  bought commercial kimchi in a jar for my wife to taste. I chose "mild" since it is easy to make it hot by adding a hot sauce but it is not easy to make it mild. Since it is still fermenting, the lid of the jar was bulging (My wife immediately concluded the contents must have gone bad. She had been drilled since childhood that a bulging can is a dangerous can and in the words of her mother “When in doubt throw it out”). Then she saw the disclaimer on the lid to the effect that if it was bulging that was OK. That is how it is with foods like kimchi and (even worse) Surströmming,...since in a sense the food inside is still rotting/fermenting. (For the record, I have never come near this Swedish delicacy, let alone tasted it. I am more than willing to defer to the description by others concerning the smell and taste of this product).

Obviously this is not based on a recipe. I diced the tuna into small cubes.  I chopped up the kimchi and mixed it in. I also added finely chopped scallion and seasoned it with sesame oil and soy sauce.

Kimchi is sour, garlicky and spicy (this one was mild) which added some to this otherwise poor tuna. This is nothing I can boast about but for the purpose of  consuming warm sake, it did its job.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Fried cubes of polenta and cheese curd サイコロポレンタと自家製チーズカード

This was my wife's idea and she made both the polenta and cheese curd. We had it as a starter dish one evening with a glass of cab.

Once they are fried, it is difficult to tell which ones are cheese curd and which ones are polenta. I served them with baby arugula and slices of skinned tomato seasoned with Kosher salt and splash of olive oil.

My wife also cooked the cubes of polenta and cheese curd after dredging  in flour and fried them in peanut oil.

After the crunchy crust was set, she drained them on a paper towel.

Both the polenta and cheese had their own distinctive textures and flavors but both types of cubes had a nice crunch crust outside and soft inside . This is a good starter (sort of salad with croutons).

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Duck breast with cherry port wine sauce 合鴨のムネ肉のチェリーポートワインソース添え

I have done posts about duck breast dishes several times (mostly made in the Japanese style). Recently, even in our regular supermarket, duck breast and legs are often available and I bought one. This time, I decide to serve it with cherry port wine sauce. We served this with seasoned rice (with Italian herbs and pine nuts, came in a box) and baked blackened Brussels sprouts.

I made a quick cherry port wine sauce and poured it over the duck meat.

I cooked the duck breast as per usual. I first removed the excess skin and fat from the edges and scored the skin in a criss-cross fashion (to the depth of the fat layer). I then seasoned it with salt and black pepper on both sides. I placed it in the refrigerator for several hours without covering to make the skin dry out a bit (due to circumstances beyond my control it ended up drying in the fridge overnight). I placed the duck breast skin side down in a cold frying pan on medium flame. As the fat started rendering, I removed the excess by either pouring it into a small ramekin or mopping it up in the pan with a tongs held paper towel. After 10 minutes quite a large amount of duck fat rendered and the skin became crisp and brown (below). I flipped the duck and browned the other side for 5 minutes and then placed it in a 400F oven for 6 minutes. I let it rest for 10 minutes before slicing.

Nice rosy color of medium-rare.

For the cherry port wine sauce, I left about a teaspoon of duck fat in the pan and sautéed shallots (one finely chopped) for several minutes and deglazed the pan with port wine (about 1/4 cup, I used an American port I keep for cooking). After scraping off any brown bits, I added cherries (about 20, frozen, pitted) I reduced it until the sauce just coated the bottom of the pan and finished with pats of butter. I adjusted the seasoning by adding salt and pepper (below).

Compared to chicken breast, duck breast are supposedly safe to consume undercooked due to the processing (ducks are done on a much smaller scale). This was nice with or without the sauce.