Monday, November 30, 2009

Scallop sashimi three ways ホタテ貝の刺身

We can not easily get "sashimi" grade scallops. I make a scallop sashimi-like dish from regular frozen and thawed scallops from a nearby gourmet market by poaching the scallops in a dashi broth and sake mixture gently for 5 minutes until the scallops just become opaque throughout. I chill the scallops and serve with a pickled plum "bainiku" 梅肉 sauce like sashimi. This is not bad but does not have the texture and sweetness of the real thing. Fortunately, we got sashimi-grade sea scallops from Catalina Offshore Products along with other goodies. The only problem was that we had to eat them fairly quickly. Since we had guests who appreciate scallop sashimi, I made three different scallop sashimis.
I washed the scallops and patted them dry. I removed the small hard muscle attached to the side of the scallops. I sliced one large scallop into 4-5 thin rounds. I salted them very lightly and squeezed lemon over them. The verions shown in the picture are: 1. Straight forward sashimi (upper right) with real grated wasabi (see below) and soy sauce, 2. scallops with salsa sauce (upper left), and 3. Scallops with pickled plum sauce ("bainiku" 梅肉) (below). Garnishes are lemon sclices, chopped chives and perilla leaves.

For the salsa sauce: Chop tomatoes, shallots, Jalapeno peper (seeded and de-veined) finely and add olive oil, lemon or lime juice, salt and pepper. Pour over the scallop. Sometimes I also use balsamic vinegar and soy sauce (no lemon juice in that case).

For the bainiku sauce: Remove the meat from "umeboshi: chop it finely and mix in a small amount of mirin and rice vinegar. Pour over the scallop.

Regrading "wasabi" 山葵; I mentioned a bit about this in the previous post. There are two companies which sell "real" wasabi"; one is called "Real Wasabi" another is called "Pacific Farm". You could buy; 1. wasabi daikon 山葵大根 or rhizomes, 2. frozen grated real wasabi in a tube, or 3. wasabi powders made from real wasabi not from western horseradish. Last time we tried rhizomes from Real Wasabi. This time I tried "the grated frozen real wasabi in a tube from Pacific Farm" (left image). I think this is very good and probably more cost effective than buying a wasabi rhizome, although it has some additives like artificial coloring. The other problem is packaging. Initially, the water and wasabi appeared to seperate and then it becomes difficult to squeeze out from the tube but the flavor and heat are very similar to the freshly grated wasabi. It is probably best to smear a small dab on the sashimi itself before dipping in soy sauce but this may be bit too strong for some. In that case, dissolve wasabi in soy sauce. It will keep a long time frozen and, reportedly, for 30 days after opening the tube. In my experience, however, at 3 weeks after opening, the remaining wasabi (about 1/8 of the tube) became almost impossible to squeeze out.  By cutting open the tube, I found that the wasabi became bit dry and chalky in texture. The flavor was still there, though. Some of sushi bars in Washington, DC started offering "real" wasabi with an extra charge but I think it is worth it.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Potatoe gratiné square with asparagus ポテトグラタン、アスパラ添え

My wife made this potato gratin dish (I helped with cutting potatoes and making the Béchamel  sauce) as a side when we made a roasted pork tenderloin with mustard, ginger, and garlic marinade. The original recipe for the potato dish is from "Cooking light" but I do not think this is quite "light" cooking. I just used the leftover potato gratin as a part of Izakaya course menu item.

For the potato gratin, peel and slice both potatoes and sweet potatoes (2 medium, each) in 1/4 inch in thickness. Boil 4-5 minutes in salted water until just cooked. For Béchamel sauce, saute one strip of bacon finely cut until the fat is rendered and the bacon gets crispy. Take out the bacon and set aside. Add 1 tbs of butter and saute chopped onion (one medium) for 1-2 minutes (do not brown) and add 1/3 cup of all purpose flour. Keep sauteing so that all the onion pieces are coated with flour (using finely chopped onion is the secret of making Béchamel with a small amount of fat since each piece of onion holds flour on its surface and prevents the flour from clumping). Add 2 cups of low-fat (I used 1%) milk at once and stir on medium low heat. Add back the bacon. As the liquid heats up, it thickens. Add more milk if it is too thick. Stir in 1/2 cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and adjust the seasoning (salt and pepper).  The final product should be rather loose (if needed, add more milk). Grease a rectangular (9x13 inch) pyrex baking dish with light olive oil. Make alterate layers of the cooked potatoes and sweet potatoes slices and pour the Béchamel cheese (Mornay) sauce over the potatoes to cover. Bake at 370F for 45 minutes.

For this serving, cut small squares of the leftover potato gratin and put it in toaster oven at 400F for 5 minutes or until throughly heated. Saute green asparagus (pre boiled) in browned melted butter and season (salt and pepper). We used this as a part of the Izakaya course for our guests. Although this is not Japanese dish it went very well with the rest of the Japanese dishes we served. Such a comfort food.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Gyoza pork dumpling 餃子 and Celery salad セロリの昆布茶サラダ

Gyoza 餃子 (known in the U.S. as "Pot sticker") is a very popular Sino-Japanese dish and certainly a regular or "teiban" 定番 dish in any Izakaya. Any culture seems to have some kind of "dumpling" dish which is typically a homey comfort food and gyoza belongs in this category. I understand that there is a significant difference between gyoza and "wonton" 雲呑 in the original Chinese dish but most Japanese, including myself, appear to consider both dishes as variations of "gyoza".  As usual, there are Japanese modifications and variations to this dish transforming it into a Japanese dish distinct from the original Chinese.

The skin or casing is made of wheat flour and water and it can be thick, thin, round, or square. There are also several different ways to form and seal the dumplings. Fillings for gyoza can be shrimp, meat (mostly pork) which are mixed with finely diced vegetables or all vegetables or even tofu. Gyoza can be cooked in, at least,  4 different ways, 1. combined pan-fried/steamed, 2. deep fried, 3. cooked in soup, and 4. steamed. In addition, you may have many choices for dipping sauces. So the combination of these factros can create quite a large variation in gyoza. Some locales in Japan have made "gyoza" as their local specialities. For example, Utusnomiya 宇都宮 is famous for the local versions of gyoza and even has an annual gyoza festival. We tried Utsunomiya gyozas in the past but we were not too impressed, which may have been due to our poor choice of restaurant.

In any case, this is my version of a pork gyoza which is probably very similar to what my mother made and it is also similar to the ones we had in a Izakanya in Japan last time. The skin or casing available in a regular grocery store in the U.S. is called "Wonton" skin and is rather thin and square as opposed to a Japanese version which is round (you could buy them at a Japanese grocery store frozen). I do not see much difference except for the cosmetic appearance and am happy with the American version of "wontan" skins for my gyoza.

 For a filling, I use pork (usually the trimmings of the pork tenderloin which I hand chop). I mix the pork with finely chopped precooked cabbage leaves, grated ginger root, finely chopped garlic and scallion with a dash of dark sesame oil, soy sauce, mirin, cracked black pepper and salt. I also sometimes add finely chopped shiitake mushroom. (Unfortunately I usually "eyeball" all the ingredients but the proportion of vegetable and meat can be varied). I try not to over season since it is eaten with an additional dipping sauce and Japanese hot mustard. Knead or mix the meat mixture well.

To form the gyoza, take one sheet of the wanton skin in your left palm (I am right handed) and wet two neighboring edges with water using your finger tip. Put scant 1 tsp of the filling in the center and fold to make a triangle so that the two wet edges are pressed against the two dry edges. Try to squeeze out any trapped air around the filling and press the edges to seal. Using your right thumb and index finger pinch and make several crimps along the sealed edges. You should assemble the gyoza just before cooking otherwise the skin will get wet and sticky.

Place the gyoza in a large enough non-stick frying pan (large enough so that gyoza can be placed in one layer comfortably) on medium high heat. Add 1tbs of peanut oil and a splash of dark sesame oil. When oil is hot add gyoza in one layer without touching each other one at a time. When one side is browned (1-2 minutes) turn them over to brown the other side (This is not the traditional way of doing this. Traditionally, the gyoza are placed together to make a neatly arranged circle to fill the pan and only one side is browned. After cooking is completed, they are inverted on a serving plate en mass but I like to brown both sides). Then add 1/3 cup of hot water into the pan (be careful, it will boil and steam immediately) and put a tight lid on. Steam will come out from the edge of the lid or steam hole if your lid has one. (I sometimes have to put the measuring cup on the lid to hold the lid down against the force of the steam). Cook for about 5 minutes or until the amount of steam decreases. Open the lid and the water should be almost all gone. Make sure all the water is gone and the bottom becomes brown and crispy again. For dipping sauce, I make a traditional mixture of rice vinegar and soy sauce (half and half) with Japanese hot mustard.

I served this with a celery salad. We had this celery salad for the first time in Kurashiki  倉敷 in south western mainland Japan, when we went to a smoke-filled small hole-in-the-wall drinking place just across from the train station. Thinly sliced celery was simply dressed with powered kelp tea or "kobucha" 昆布茶 instead of using salt.I also add a very small amount of olive oil.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sea urchin and scrambled egg with lobster sauce 雲丹とスクランブルエッグ

Based on Scrambled eggs with sea urchin and  lobster sauce 雲丹のスクランブルエッグ オーマルロブスターソース (Mark's book p148)

This one is from Mark's book p148. We usually do not want to "cook" good sea urchin, but this recipe looked so interesting we had to try it. Again, I have to start by saying I did not (or could not) follow the recipe precisely. First, we did not want to eat too much egg with uni, second, we did not have a lobster head to make the sauce. I will have to remake the sauce sometime in the future but having a dinner with both lobster and uni coinsiding may not be easy. Maybe I can make the lobster-tomato sauce first and freeze it. So, this time, instead, I used a "gourmet" canned lobster bisque (whenever we have lobster at home, I make lobster bisque from the lobster carcass). Compared to my bisque, this supposedly "gourmet" canned bisque was not really good as a soup but, at least, it had lobster and tomato flavors. I am sure the tomato flavor is from tomato paste. I added a small amount of finely chopped fresh tomato and reduced the bisque a bit, and added a splash of Fino sherry to liven up the taste. I mixed a portion of this with a small amount of smashed anchovy filet off heat until the saltiness was appropriate. I have no idea if this "sauce" is even similar to the original in the recipe.
For the scrambled egg, I used one egg (for two small servigs you see here) and 2-3 tsp of cream with salt and pepper. I melted butter in a small non-stick frying pan on low heat and vigorously stirred using a silicon spatula until a creamy texture was reached but I did not further cook or set the egg as suggested in the recipe since I wanted a soft creamy texture matching that of the sea urchin. I placed this creamy egg in the egg-shaped glass containers and placed uni in the center. I then drizzled the sauce around the perimeter. I did not have chervil so I garnished it with parsley. For one version I browned the uni with a kitchen torch before placing it on the egg as suggested in the recipe (image above on the  right and image below) and, for another, I did not (image above on the left) to compare.
We think browning the uni may add some interesting flavors but, for this dish, it did not make a big difference (although it may give a nice visual effect). The sauce went well (surprisingly), with the lobster flavor and saltiness from the anchovy. But again, we have no idea if this is even close to the original recipe. The egg was very creamy matching the texture of the uni and the proportion of the egg and uni was perfect. So, as a dish, the way I made it, it was a success of sorts. Above all, the containers were perfect!

The egg-shaped glass containers (slightly larger than real eggs) were reportedly used by a Michelin 3 star chef in Virginia, Patrick O'Connell of Inn at Little Washington. He served soft scrambled egg and asparagus tips as a brunch menu to the Queen of England when she was visiting Virginia several years ago. (We do not know if indeed Queen tasted this dish). We saw the recipe and the egg shaped container in a Washington post article. The dish sounded interesting so I ordered the container from Korin and tried to reproduce the recipe. (BTW Korin no longer carries this item).

Last time we were at the Inn at Little Washington, they had this scrambled egg dish as an appetizer and my wife ordered it. It came in the same egg-shaped container you see here but my wife was not too impressed citing that the eggs were bit overcooked. She then observed that the version I made was more creamy!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sea urchin sashimi and donburi 雲丹の刺身と雲丹丼

We cannot decide if we like ankimo 鮟肝 better than sea urchin "uni" 雲丹 or vice-versa. But the batch of California sea urchin we got this time was particularly excellent. Certainly much better than most we tasted in Japan last time. This one was harvested offshore in California and delivered to us overnight by Catalonia Offshore Products. We can get uni from California and from Maine in the U.S. Maine uni is like "bafun uni" 馬糞雲丹. It is smaller, firmer, darker, and gamier. We prefer the one from California which is bright yellow with a very creamy texture and clean taste.  We enjoy either uni as long as it is fresh and not off-tasting. We gave up ordering uni in sushi bars since the variability of uni quality and freshness is so wide and even after asking the sushi chef if the uni is good and getting his approval, we have had less-than-aceptable uni. Having bad uni turns you off eating any uni very quickly.

We like to first enjoy uni in its pure form, with wasabi and soy sauce and nori seaweed which has a special affinity to uni. I garnish uni with nori strips. I also serve uni on top of slices of lemon. The very subtle lemon flavor is transferred to the uni. This has to be tasted with sake. Aaaah, a fresh ocean taste spreads in your mouth. No other drink will go with uni.
I mentioned earlier in my blog that my wife loves a donburi dish made with uni and ikura (salmon roe) called uni-ikura-don うにいくら丼 and that she had one in Otaru last time we visited Japan. So, by her request, I made a mini uni-ikura-don. Unfortunately I did not do a good job making "golden thread" omelet 金糸卵 this time (I browned the omelet but it tasted the same).  Assembling of this dish starts with a bed of sushi rice. Scatter thinly cut strips of nori, place ikura and uni, garnish with a chiffonade of perilla and golden thread omelet. I dissolved real wasabi in the "sashimi" soy sauce and served it on the side to be poured over. Mmmm...this may be too much of a good thing!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Monk fish liver "ankimo" 鮟肝

Monk fish liver "ankimo" with orange marmalade sauce 鮟肝のオレンジママレイドソース

Monkfish liver "ankimo" あんきも鮟肝 is one of our top favorite delicacies. We think the best we had was at "Tako Grill". Chef Kudo prepares a monkfish liver in house (he said it was steamed) without making it to a regular cylinder shape. It is so delicate and tasty, when they offer "ankimo" at Tako Grill, we order it without fail. Ankimo is often equated to foie gras. Actually, we like ankimo better than foie gras. The one shown here is a commercial cylindrical-shaped frozen one which came from Catalina Offshore Products (originated in Japan). It is not as delicate in texture as Chef Kudo's but it is quite good.

Ankimo is usually served with "ponzu" (more accurately "ponzu-shoyu" sauce) and grated daikon with red pepper (momiji oroshi) もみじおろし. For a change, we made our version of the Chef Kudo's sauce which he serves with ankimo at Tako Grill. We like this sauce because it has a lovely orange flavor that goes well with the ankimo. Although we did not ask for the recipe, my wife figured that it was made of orange marmalade and soy sauce (She has a very discriminating palate, for sure, better than mine). I experimented with the ratio and found that close to 4:1 ratio of marmalade to soy sauce appears to work best and closely emulates the sauce we had at the restaurant (it was a surprise that we had to use that much marmalade, I started with 1:1 and soy sauce and the taste was too strong, salty with no orange flavor). Initially I heated up the mixture but marmalade dissolves nicely without heat and appears to retain the orange flavor better. I suggest to just keep adding the marmalade to soy sauce until the desired sweetness and orange flavor is reached. One disclaimer; we do not know how Chef Kudo really makes this sauce. So this recipe may be totally different from his, although it tastes similar to us. This may go well with a red wine such as Rhone or Shiraz from Australia since it does not have strong acidity but we had this with cold sake.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Chawan-mushi egg custard 茶碗蒸し

Chawan-mushi 茶碗蒸し meaning "steamed in a tea bowl" is a quintessential Japanese dish and a perfect first dish to serve. It is subtle in flavor and delicate in texture.  Many Westerners may feel that this dish is rather bland and boring. As a result, only a few Japanese restaurants serve this dish in the U.S. One of our old friends who is originally from Japan but has been living in the U.S. for the past 50 some years adores this dish and I make it almost every time she comes to dinner at our home. We ordered sashimi items from Catalina Offshore Products for a dinner we had recently with my friend and her husband. We served an Izakaya style course dinner for them. The dishes were: 1. Chawan-mushi 茶碗蒸し、2. Fatty tuna sashimi 大トロの刺身, 3. Scallop sashimi three ways ホタテの刺身三種類, 4. Potato gratin square and green asparagus sauteed in butter ジャガイモとサツマイモのグラタン、アスパラ添え, 5. Pork gyoza 餃子, 6. Rice, buta-jiru misosoup, and asazuke ご飯、豚汁、キュウリの浅漬. As a desert, my wife made small individual Pennsylvania dutch (Deutsch) chocolate cakes. Besides Chawan-mushi, I may be able to post some of these dishes in the near future.

When making chawan-mushi, the ratio of eggs to broth is very important. Too much eggs, it will come out too hard, too much broth it will not set. This is one of the rare occasions when I measure ingredients carefully. For the six small servings I measured three large eggs in a measuring cup (about 150ml if you use "large" eggs) and the final seasoned broth should be three times the amount of the eggs, i.e. 450ml in this example. I usually make Japanese dashi broth from kelp and dried Bonito flakes but a good quality commercial chiken broth also works (although the final product will be slightly different in flavor). I even made this dish using a commercial vegetable broth for our vegetarian friends with reasonably good results. I first measure about 400ml of broth and add 1-2 tsp of soy sauce (or light colored soy sauce or "usukuchi sho-yu" 薄口醤油 if you want the color of the end product to be light yellow), 2-3 tbs of mirin and 1/2 tsp of salt (you may omit the salt if you are using salted commercial broth) and top it off with the broth to make it to exactly 450ml or whatever is three time the volume of the eggs. Mix the eggs into the seasoned broth and set aside.

The garnish or items you could put into Chawa-mushi are quite numerous but my usual items include; thinly sliced bite size Chicken tenders, ginko nuts or "gin-nan" 銀杏 (you can buy them in a can in a Japanse grocery store) or prepared chestnuts preserved in simple syrup or "kuri no kanroni" 栗の甘露煮 (comes in a jar, also available in a Japanese grocery store), shiitake mushroom and/or nameko mushroom なめこ (small slimy mushroom, also available in a Japanese grocery store, comes in a can, wash to remove slimy coat), Kyoto-style small flower-shaped wheat gluten called "kyo-hana-bu" 京花麩 (re-hydrated), shrimp, some kind of greens such as snow peas or tips of asparagus, and thinly sliced scallion. If available, I prefer to use a Japanese herb/green called "mitusba" 三つ葉 instead of scallion. Other common items are prepared cooked eel 鰻の蒲焼き, tofu, Japanese omelet ("dashimaki tamago" 出し巻き卵、egg-in-egg works surprisingly well), Japanese noodles etc.

 I usually put ginko nuts and/or chestnuts, several small pieces of chicken in the bottom and, then, pour the egg mixture through a fine strainer (this is an important step, if you skip this, there will be white clumps of unpleasant hard pieces in the final products) to 70% of the depth of the bowl.  I set up my electric wok for steaming and place the filled bowls in the already steaming wok for 10-15 minutes (the steam should be steady but not too strong to prevent the custard from developing air holes). When the surface is just barely set, I add small whole shitake mushrooms (stem removed with decorative cuts if so desired), asparagus tips or snow peas, and kyo-hana-bu. Steam another 5-7 minutes and add shrimp and chopped scallion (or "mitsuba"). Additional 5-7 minutes will be sufficient to cook the shrimp. The reason for adding the garnish in stages is to distribute them throuhout the custard rather than have everything sink down to the bottom which would happen if you added everything at the begining. It also prevents the greens and the shrimp from overcooking.

 Ususally, this is served hot. If you have leftovers (as we usually do), keep in the refrigerator covered and serve cold the next day. It is a nice refreshing dish to eat especially in hot summer days. You could add a small amount of sauce (a cold sauce made of usual soy sauce, mirin and dashi) with a dab of wasabi on the surface of the chawan-mushi, since the taste diminishes when the egg is cold.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cornmeal Parmesan chicken tender パルメザンチキンテンダー

American kids grow up eating deep fried chicken tenders either from fast food places or frozen ones from grocery stores. We are not sure this is nutritionally sound, but even as an adult, we can enjoy this type of dish every-now-and-then. This is a bit more refined version and pan fried instead of deep fried. This is perfect for wines either red (we are red wine drinkers for sure) or white. But of couse, beer and sake will go well with it. I promise that this is much better than the chicken tenders from your childhood (that is if you enjoyed chicken tenders in your childhood).

As usual remove the sinews from the chicken tenders. Season with salt and blacked pepper. Dredge in a mixture of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and yellow cornmeal (half and half). Pan fry with a light olive oil (use a bit more oil than for sauteing), turning over once. It takes about 3 minutes on each side. I served this with my marinara sauce. This marinara sauce was leftover from when I made a pizza few days ago for company (although this is not Izakaya food, I may post my home-made pizza sometime in the future). My recipe for marinara sauce is very simple. Add 1/3 cup of good light olive oil in a deep pan, add red pepper flakes (as much as you like), chopped 3-4 cloves of garlic, fry until fragrant, add two 8oz cans of whole Italian tomatoes (crush them as you add) with their juice. I add 2-3 bay leaves, 1/2 tsp each of dried oregano and basel, a pinch of sugar (1/2 tsp to cut acidity), salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 30 minutes or more (I make it rather dry as a topping for a pizza). You can also serve the chicken tenders with a honey mustard (mix honey and Dijon mustard - 1:2 ratio).

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Baked sardine with tomato and lemon サーディンのオーブン焼き

This is not really an Izakaya dish but certainly it goes well with wine or even sake. Many Izakayas in Japan are serving up Western style dishes so this one will do. Not many Americans like canned sardines but we do. Good quality canned sardines from Spain, Portugal and France are readily available. This one happened to be from Spain. The original recipe, if I remember correctly, used the tin in which the sardines were packed as a cooking vessel but I  like to transfer them to a pyrex gratin dish such as the one seen here. Put two or three bay leaves between the sardines and if need add more good quality extra-virgin olive oil (a.k.a. EVOO) to cover. Here I added slices of fresh small tomatoes with the skin removed but you can add or subsitute the tomatoes with, shallot or onion cut up in small pieces as well (The original recipe may have used onions). Place slices of lemon on the top.  I used a toaster oven set to 450F and baked it for 8-10 minutes. Serve it with thin small rounds of toasted crusty bread like baguettes. You can eat lots of bread this way if you are not careful since the olive oil attains such a nice flavor and is perfect for dipping crusty breads. We enjoyed this with a nice California red, Phoenix Vineyards & Rancho Napa Wines Special Reserve Cuvee Meritage 2007.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Oven fried potato オーブンフライドポテト

Deep fried starch may not be good for your health but certainly tastes good. French fries are by far the most popular in this category. Although this may not be strictly "Izakaya" food, it goes well with any drinks--sake, beer or wine. We found this oven fried potato recipe in "Cook's Illustrated". It is not "low fat" by any means, but it probably is better than the deep fried counter part, and, actually, in our hands, this oven fried potato tastes much better than our deep fried ones. The leftovers will reheat very well in a toaster oven the next day.

The original recipe recommend Russet potatoes which we used and were good but we also used "white" potatoes and we like the white potatoes better. Reiterating from the recipe in the Cook Illustrated; Preheat your oven at 475F (We use a convection oven at 450F). After removing the skin of the potatoes, cut into long half inch wide sticks, and soak them in warm tap water for 10-15 minutes to remove excess starch. Rinse and pat dry using a paper towel. In a large bowl, add the potatoes and 3-4 tbs of vegetable or peanut oil and toss well to coat. Meanwhile on a large sheet pan, spread 1 tbs of oil and sprinkle salt (about 2 tsp or more) and 1/2 tsp of black pepper (We use kosher salt. The larger salt gains appear to prevent the potatoes from sticking more than for seasoning). Spread, the potatoes in a single layer keeping some spaces between the potatoes. Tightly cover the sheet pan with aluminum foil and place it on the bottom rack of the oven and bake for 5 minutes. Remove the foil, and bake another 15 to 20 minutes. Turn over the potatoes with a spatula and/or tongs and bake another 10-15 minutes. When the surface is nicely golden brown remove from the oven and place the potatoes on another sheet pan lined with paper towel. Season with extra salt if desired.

The outside is nicely crunchy and the inside is creamy soft. Certainly we believe this is the best oven fried potatoes. We make this as an accompaniment for steaks or just as is like tonight, with sake. In that case, we eat them with a lemon and salt, otherwise, with ketchup.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Pork and Vegetable Stew 豚と野菜の煮込み

Pork and Vegetable Stew 豚と野菜の煮込み (Mark's book Page 28)

This is from Mark's cook book (P28). This dish definitely resembles a very popular homey dish called "buta jiru" 豚汁; a Japanese soup containing various root vegetables and pork seasoned with miso. I remember this was one of the most common dishes we made when we had a school cookout picnic on the floodplain 河原 of a nearby river when I was in grade school. This was called "suiji ensoku" 炊事遠足. The cookout was a traditional event and was meant to be educational as well as fun. A group of pupils had to plan what to cook and buy ingredients within a given budget.  On the floodplain, we set up a fire and arranged large stones around it to make an outdoor cooking pit. We usually cooked a one-pot meal using a large cook pot. I do not remember whether we used a charcoal or wood fire. I just googled "suiji ensoku" (in Japanese)  and learned that it appears to be peculiar to Hokkaido (the northernmost island of Japan). That makes sense since I grew up in Sapporo, Hokkaido. It also appears this wonderful tradition is still carried out in Hokkaido.

Again, I have to start by saying, I deviated from the orginal recipe, not intentionally but by necessity. I usually have "konnyaku" コンニャク in our refrigerator and I did not even check before starting this dish. It turned out that I did not have regular konnyaku but had "shirataki" 白滝 which is a konnyaku made into thin noodles (the most common use of this is in "sukiyaki" すき焼き). So, I had to substitute konnyaku with shirataki.

The specific cut of the pork, pork belly, required in the recipe ("bara-niku" or "sanmai-niku" バラ肉、三枚肉), which is a very common cut in Japan, is difficult to get here in a regular grocery store (bacon and salt pork are made from pork belly. I think that salt pork can be used for this dish after soaking it in water and parboiling it but I have not tried it yet). you could buy fresh (not smoked and/or salted) pork belly from speciality butcher stores or over the internet (sometimes from the producers directly) but I have not tried it. I found that meaty pork spareribs, after removing the bones, comes very close to this cut which I used here. Otherwise I followed the recipe in Mark's book.

To briefly reiterate, cut pork (1/2 lb.), daikon (1 lb.), carrot (1 medium) in 1/2 inch cubes. Boil the pork cubes in water (starting from cold water) for 10-15 minutes skimming the scum which floats on the surface, then, rinse the pork in running water. Cook 1 pkg of shirataki in boiling water for 5 minutes and rinse in running water. Combine all the ingredients and cover them with "konbu" or kelp broth (about 1 qt or liter). Add 1 crushed garlic clove, 2tbs soy sauce and 1tbs sugar. Cook for several hours until all all ingredients are soft. Just before serving,  dissolve yellow miso (2-3 tbs) for the desired saltiness. To dissolve the miso paste, I use a Japanese contraption called "misokoshi" 味噌濾し, but you can use a small strainer and a spoon. Garnish with chopped scallion and Japanese seven flavored hot pepper (Sichimi Tougarashi).

We like this very comforting dish. The original "buta jiru" is also equally good but this one is a bit more refined and the pork melts in the mouth. But, my wife said that this dish cries out for potatoes. Next day, I added cubed potatoes, more parboiled pork, and additional Kelp broth to the leftover soup (before adding miso) and cooked another 30 minutes or so and finished with miso. It tasted much better with a nice texture and added sweetness from the potatoes. Now I said, I should have added onions! I think we are converting this dish to the more classic "buta juru"!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Mountain yam on nori sheet 長いもの磯辺焼き

We like Asakusa 浅草 in Tokyo. For some years, when we visited Japan, we stayed in Asakusa. About 20 some years ago, we visited a small Izakaya located on the 3rd or 4th floor of a small, unassuming building in Asakusa. There were many drinking places in this building but each floor was small--just large enough to house one establishment. We saw the sign for this place while we were walking along the street and knew nothing about it but we decided to go in. The Izakaya had a small U-shaped counter for about 10 customers and two tables in a tatami floor area ("koagari" 小上がり) which seated another 10. This was run by a husband and wife team; the husband cooked behind the counter and the wife was in charge of serving the tables and counter. Two of the dishes we had there stuck in our memory; deep fried grated mountain yam wrapped in nori sheet 山芋の磯辺揚げ and fresh boiled fava beans or "sora-mame" そら豆.

The chef husband made the deep fried dish by using two chopsticks to make a small cylinder of the grated mountain yam. He then wrapped the cylinder with nori and deftly deep fried it. It puffed up and had a nice crunchy shell and soft inside. It was wonderful and had the flavor and crunch of crispy nori.

Unfortunately, real mountain yam "yama-imo" is difficult to get here in the U.S. Instead, we get cultivated ones called "naga-imo" (left image, from Hokkaiodo Shinbun Web site 10/28/2009). Although both have similar taste and texture (slimy!), they are quite different when grated. Yama-imo is much more viscous or firm than naga-imo and holds its shape. Nago-imo, in contrast is much more watery and doesn't hold its shape. For these reasons it is not possible to deep fry grated nago-imo the way the chef husband did at the Izakaya--it won't hold the shape of a cylinder and just runs out of the nori casing.  So I just spread the runny grated naga-imo on a small rectangle of nori sheet, and slip it, nori side down, into a frying pan filled with just a bit more oil than I would use for sauteing. When the edge becomes brown, it is cooked enough to hold its shape and I turn it over once. I fry it until it is nicely golden brown. I serve the pieces hot with soy sauce or salt. This version is not as good as the original but it is close and a perfect sake accompaniment.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Fillet Mignon salad carpaccio style 牛肉のたたきサラダ

I make several versions of this dish. Most of the time, this is "leftovers control" and is made using leftover fillet mignon from the night before since we usually cannot finish the portion sold as "one" fillet. I cook the fillet medium rare. Next day, I cut the left over steak into thin slices. I sometimes marinate the slices in Ponzu sauce with grated garlic and ginger or in a mixture of sushi vinegar and soy sauce (in equal amounts) for 5 minutes. I then make a salad with the marinated pieces. Here, instead of marinating the meat, I drizzled, extra-virgin olive oil, good quality Balsamic vinegar, and soy sauce over the meat like I was making carpaccio. I arranged the steak on a bed of baby spinach and topped it with chopped scallion, freshly ground black pepper, and added a small dab of grated ginger. You can use any vegetable such as sliced onion, thinly sliced cucumber, watercress, arugula etc or just meat without vegetables. You could, of course, make this from scratch. In that case, it is called "beef tataki" 牛肉のたたき.

"Tataki" in Japanese cooking parlance could mean two totally different cooking methods; one is to sear or grill only the surface of sashimi-grade fish or beef and serve it like "sashimi", bonito or "katsuo" 鰹  tataki is the most famous of this type of cooking, another is to chop sashimi-grade fish, such as horse mackerel or "aji" 鯵, into small pieces often with the addition of seasoning (this is similar to steak tartar).  For beef tataki, I just sear the steak and keep the center rare. I slice it thin and marinated it in Ponzu sauce for 5-10 minutes.  Garnish with diakon spout or scallion and serve at room temperature.

This version I made today goes well with either red wine (a hardy Australian Shiraz such as d'Arenberg "Dead Arm" 06  is good for this dish) or cold sake. If you use Ponzu sauce, it tends to be too acidic for wine and sake may be better.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Braised crunchy cauliflower モンパルナスのカリフラワー炒め

This is a very simple and healthy dish that goes very well with sake or wine. I first encountered this recipe in a Japanese cook book entitled "men's drinking snacks" 俺の肴 which was given to me by my high school classmate 20 some years ago. This recipe was by a famous Japanese painter/artist, late Taro Okamoto 岡本太郎. According to him, while he was living in Montparnasse, Paris, his Chinese friend, who was a good cook, used to make this dish as an hors d'oeuvre and he loved it. I have been making this for some time but I deviated slightly from the original recipe by adding red pepper flakes and substituting rice vinegar for regular white vinegar, added towards the end of cooking.

Break a whole head of cauliflower into small floweretts.  Heat 2-3 tbs of peanut or vegetable oil in a wok, add red pepper flakes (as much as you like) and chopped garlic (I use 3-4 cloves but use your discretion). Briefly saute until fragrant but do not brown. Add the cauliflower and saute on high heat for 1-2 minutes. Add half a cup of chicken broth and put on a tight lid. Cook (steam) for 5 minutes or until cauliflower is cooked but still crunchy (it will keep cooking after it is removed from the flame). Add 1-2 tbs of rice vinegar and stir. Add salt to taste and remove from the heat. There should be only a small amount of liquid left on the bottom of the wok.

You could serve this hot or warm but it is best the next day. The combination of crunch, hot pepper, garlic and subtle vinegar taste all work together. Quoting from Taro Okamoto, "Once you taste this dish, you can not eat over-cooked limp cauliflower in a restaurant."

Friday, November 6, 2009

Soba noodle in hot broth かけそば

This is again is a dish with which to finish your home Izakaya feast. This is a very simple soba noodle dish. We had this when I made "age-dashi tofu". This was a perfect dish to make since I wanted to finish the broth I made for the tofu dish. I simply dilute it further to the strength appropriate for this soba dish. Soba そば 蕎麦 is very popular even here in the U.S. and it is easy to get high-quality dried noodles. Of course you can make the noodles yourself. We have a soba cook book which describes how to make soba from buckwheat flour. I tried it once but, it is too difficult to make for an amateur like me and the dried variety is just fine. 

There are two major ways to serve Soba; cold soba with a dipping sauce or "mori soba" もりそば and warm soba in broth or "kake soba" かけそば. There are many variations of both types of soba preparation depending on the condiments or toppings. For example, if you add tempura (usually shrimp), it is "tempura soba", if you add an egg  it is "Tsukimi soba" 月見そば meaning moon-gazing soba since the egg yolk looks like a full moon. If you add seasoned fried tofu pouch (abura-age), then it is called "fox" soba きつねそば. You may ask why this is called "fox" soba. "Inari" shrine 稲荷神社, one of the many Japanese shrines, considers the white fox as a messenger of the deity or god it enshrines. Later, probably through misunderstanding, people started believing that the fox was the deity itself. It is also believed that the fox deity loves "abura-age" or deep fried tofu pouch. Thus, any dish which includes "abura-age" has "kitusne (fox)" or "inari" somewhere in it's name. Another common soba topping is "tenkasu" 天かす or small bits of cooked tempura batter that you scoop up while you are making tempura (this can be stored frozen for later use), then, it is called "tanuki" soba たぬきそば. There is a play on words here. "Tanuki" is a Japanese badger or more like a raccoon which is always compared to "kitsune" or fox since both animals are believed to use "magic" (mostly transmogrification) to mislead humans in Japanese folklore. It is said that "kitsune" is always very cunning and successful in her magic but "tanuki" is always comical and failing in his magic. For the name of the noodle dish, "ta-nuki" also means just temprura batter without other ingredients of tempura  - "ta" means "other" and "nuki" means "missing" or "without".

We occasionally go to a small but elegant Japanese restaurant called "Makoto"  in Washington DC, where they serves an excellent course menu おまかせ in the "kaiseki" style 懐石 or 会席. After 7-8 small exquisite dishes, the last dish they offer is soba in warm broth. There are some choices of toppings and we always go for "sansai" 山菜 or mountain vegetables. The soba dish I made here is a simplified version of this. I just put sliced fresh shiitake mushrooms in the broth and cooked it for a few minutes. I poured the hot broth over cooked soba noodles in a bowl and finished with chopped scallion and nori. If you like, sprinkle on the Japanese 7 flavored red pepper "sichimi tougarashi"  七味唐辛子.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Spaghetti with cod roe たらこスパゲティ

The night after making "julienned potato with spicy cod roe", we decided to make this classic Japanese pasta dish. Reportedly, it was invented in a small pasta restaurant called "hole in the wall" or 壁の穴 in Shibuya, Tokyo around 1967. (Now this restaurant has expanded into a company running multiple Italian and noodle restaurants). The original recipe was supposedly made with softened butter and lemon juice mixed with cod roe.  This was placed in the bottom of a pasta plate. Hot pasta was mixed in and finished with a garnish of nori. This dish appears to have started an entire genre of Japanases-style pastas 和風パスタ. This dish has become a favorite home cooking dish and many variations have developed. I am not sure how we came up with our own variation but I have a feeling that caramelized onion may have been my wife's idea.

My wife does not particularly care for spaghetti, which I suspect, is possibly due to the childhood "trauma" of eating canned spaghetti which many children face in the U.S. So instead of spaghetti, we use udon noodles (dried thin variety such as "sanuki" 讃岐 or "inaniwa" 稲庭) which has a nice firm texture. For us, we need only two small servings (as a last starch dish). So, we use one serving or bundle of dried udon noodles (cooked as per the package instruction) and one large sac of cod roe or tarako. After removing the roe from the sac, I mix in a small amount of lemon juice and sake to make it a smoother consistency. Meanwhile, in olive oil, I saute and caramelize one small onion cut into thin strips (this may take 10-15 minutes). I do not add salt since the tarako can be salty. I add the cooked noodles to the onions and continue sauteing to warm up the noodles. I then add the tarako mixture and remove from the heat. Mix well so that all the noodles are coated with tarako which turns white from the heat of the noodles. Taste and if needed, add salt. Plate, and garnish with thin strips of nori, perilla, and freshly cracked back pepper. Squeeze lemon on the pasta just before serving.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Julienned potatoes with spicy cod roe ジャガイモの明太子和え

Julienned potatoes with spicy cod roe ジャガイモの明太子和え (Mark's book p24)

We have to agree with Mark that this dish is excellent and definitely joined our list of favorites. I have to admit first that I deviated a little from the original recipe but it tasted very very good. I should have made the dish, at least once, according to the original recipe before modifying it. First, we did not have the spicy cod roe or "karashi-mentaiko" 辛子明太子 and we had all other kinds of potatoes except Russet. Substituting for the spicy cod roe, after removing the roe from it's sac, I added Tabasco and a bit of sake to make regular "tarako" たらこ cod roe spicy and the right consistency. For my wife, the spicy cod roe is too spicy and this way, I can control the spiciness. Instead of Russet, I used a large red potato which has less starch than Russet. For the rest, I followed the recipe. To reiterate, thinly julienne the potato and soak it in water to remove excess starch, drain and pat dry. Saute in small amount of oil in a hot frying pan for 2 minutes or so without browning until softened but still bit crunchy. Serve on a plate, top it with a pat of butter and the spiced-up cod roe. Add freshly cracked black pepper. Mix and enjoy.

This is somewhat reminiscent of a classic Japanese pasta dish, "Tarako spaghetti" たらこスパゲッティ. We often make a variation of this spaghetti dish.  In the current dish, potatoes are used instead of noodles. The potato strips are al dente but have a different texture as compared with noodles. The mixture of tarako, spiciness from, in my case, tabasco and cracked black pepper, and butter is wonderful. As in tarako spaghetti, it is natural to think adding julienned nori and perilla to this.