Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Mini Udon Hotpot ミニ鍋焼きうどん

This is another one of those dishes with which you conclude your Izakaya feast. Last time we were in Kappabashi district in Asakusa 浅草合羽橋, we found this mini-donabe ミニ土鍋, measuring a bit less than 5 inches in the outside diameter, in one of numerous restaurant supply shops which line the streets there. Since we are not big eaters, this is a perfect size for us to have a very small individual nabe dish. Tonight, I made a tiny "nabeyaki udon" ミニ鍋焼きうどん. 

Udon noodle is a thick (as compared to soba), white Japanese noodle made of wheat flour, which can be made at home (I have not tried it), bought frozen or dried. I almost exclusively use dried udon noodles just because it will keep a longtime in the pantry and is convenient. You can get quite a number of different kinds of dried udons from thin to thick. You could use udon like soba (especially thin ones). If you serve it in a warm soy sauce flavored broth, it is called "kake udon" かけうどん and by adding different toppings, it changes its name (this is exactly same for soba). For example, if you add a whole (raw) egg, it is called "Tsukimi Udon" 月見うどん or moon gazing udon (equating an egg yolk for a full moon). You could eat udon with a dipping sauce, called "Tsukeudon" 付けうどん, which is a rather recent invention. One dish in which you almost exclusively use udon noodle but not other noodles is this dish "nabeyaki udon" or udon hotpot. If you make it in a standard individual sized pot (see picture below), it is a classic whole-meal-in-a-pot dish.

I had already cooked udon (I prepare it as per the package instruction, it will keep several days in the refrigerator. This was leftover from making a tarako pasta dish). I place enough to fit in this small donabe pot (probably 1/4 of one standard serving). I use a bottle concentrated noodle sauce diluted in hot water to taste (use hot water to dilute as per instructions on the bottle label but make sure you taste it and adjust the strength). Of course, you could make this from scratch using dashi, mirin, sake, sugar, and soy sauce. I poured the diluted sauce to just cover the noodles. I added fresh shiitake mushroom (use small ones), two shrimp (I used frozen ones), greens (spinach is traditional but you can used anything such as snow peas, green beans, even green asparagus etc.  I used baby arugula here. You could pre-cook them before putting in or, like I did, just put it in over the top of the noodles and put on the lid. After it wilts and decreases in volume, you can rearrange the greens) and scallion sliced on an angle. Put on the lid and simmer for 10 minutes on a very low flame (be careful, it will boil over very easily). I finish the dish by adding half a beaten egg, put the lid back and let it stand for 5 minutes until the egg sets. 

Serve it with Japanese seven flavored red pepper powder or "shichimi togarashi 七味唐辛子 (red cylinder in the picture above). The sake cup is hand cut crystal by Kitaichi glass in Otaru, Hokkaido 北一ガラス、小樽、北海道. When you pour sake into this cup, the cherry blossoms etched on the bottom "float". Since Cheery trees have been in blossom in Washington DC, this is perfect.

Comparison of a standard one-person donabe on the left (about 7-8 inches in diameter) and our mini-donabe on the right.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Amaebi head miso soup 甘エビのみそ汁

Heads of amaebi are most commonly deep fried but another popular way to serve them is to make a miso soup. Some Japanese restaurants may ask you how you want to have amaebi heads cooked after you consume amaebi sashimi or sushi (with heads as decoration). Since our shipment of amaebi from Catalina Offshore Products included rather large shrimp with roe, I decided to make their heads and roe into a miso soup.

First, I removed the heads and roe and used the tail meat as sashimi, which was excellent. I trimmed the antennae and placed shells and heads in a 400F oven for about 10 minutes. This is a similar process to making broth from any crustacean carcasses. Before you put the carcasses in water, they should either be sauteed or baked which reduces any fishy flavor they may impart which would occur if the raw carcasses were placed directly in water to make broth. 

For two generous  servings, I put about 500 ml (or 2 cups) of water in a pot and place the baked amaebi carcasses and heads (4 large). When it comes to a boil, skim off any scum that may form on the surface and reduce heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes. You could remove the heads and strain the broth but I just removed the shells and solids but did not strain. I added the roe and small cubes of tofu (optional). I dissolved the miso (I used red miso about 1.5 - 2 tbs) using a misokoshi みそこし or a small strainer and spoon. You must taste and adjust the amount of miso. Since, the broth is very flavorful you may not need as much miso as usual. When it comes back to boil, I add thinly sliced (on an angle) scallion for garnish and turn off heat. To eat, you have to use your fingers. Pick up the head and suck on the end to extract all the goodies including the liver. Or, like my wife who did a better job than I, you could also dismantle and extract all the small flavorful bits. Although we felt bad about eating the roe (these could have become millions of shrimp), they were also wonderful.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Sweet shrimp sashimi and deep fried shrimp head 甘エビの刺身と頭の唐揚げ

I am not sure exactly which species of shrimp is called "amaebi" 甘エビ or sweet shrimp. As opposed to the regular shrimp you eat at sushi bars as sushi, served butterflied and boiled, "amaebi" is served raw. As a result, any kind of shrimp which is served raw appears to be called "amaebi". In the northernmost island of Japan, Hokkaido 北海道 where I am from, our "amaebi" was much larger than those in the rest of Japan.  I am not sure if they are a different species or just larger versions of the same species. I initially thought that most of what is called "amaebi" in Hokkaido could be a type of "botanebi" ぼたんえび.
But I found the picture on the left in a Japanese mail order place describing shrimp from Hokkaido and the caption read "...on the left are amaebi and on the right are botanebi..." and, further states "...many people mistake their amaebi as botanebi, since our amaebi are so big..." So, it appears that they are different when amaebi is more narrowly defined. I remember eating amaebi sushi in Tokyo for the first time (when I was in college). They put 2 or 3 amaebi shrimp to make one sushi. I was amazed since I was used to have one shrimp on one sushi; shrimp was more than big enough for one sushi in Hokkaido. In the U.S., there are at least two kinds of shrimp which are being distributed as "amaebi". We used to get "amaebi" from Alaska, twice a year. In spring, we got larger ones with spots on the side which must have been "spot prawns" (similar to "bontan-ebi") and, in fall, we got much smaller shrimp, which may have been "pink shrimp" (similar to "ama-ebi" in the narrow definition described above). We stopped getting these from this particular vendor in Alaska, though. The amaebi came in a plastic container already head removed. Sometimes they were good but many times they were just barely fresh enough to be eaten raw. Now, through Catalina offshore products, we, for the first time, got their "amaebi" or "spot prawns".  Again, I am not sure if this is similar to what is called "botanebi" in Japan but they must be very simialr. Certainly, the size appeared very similar as well as the spots on the both sides of the body. They also look similar to what we used to get form Alaska in spring. According to Catalina, their spot prawns are caught in the water off San Diego and was kept alive in a tank until just before shipping, although they do not guarantee the shrimp to be alive upon receipt. They are large and quite fresh (they were not alive when we received them). So, we enjoyed them as a small sashimi and the head was deep fried. I trimmed the antennae and legs with a pair of kitchen scissors and dryed the head with a paper towel (it can splatter badly when deep fried). I deep fried them as is (without any flour or batter) in a medium hot (about 350F) oil for 5-7 minutes. I salted them lightly while they were hot.
This is excellent. The meat is fresh tasting and nicely sweet. The deep flied heads are a bit too large but crispy. Although you have to be careful how to chew this to avoid mouth injury, it was mighty good. With the delicate flavor of the shrimp, you have to have a cold sake.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Cucumber with moromi miso もろきゅう

This is a teiban 定番 or regular dish in Izakaya. It is very simple dish and this is not a recipe per se; essentially serving cucumber and a special type of miso called moromi miso もろみ味噌 together. It is called "moromi miso kyuri" もろみ味噌きゅうり but it is, almost always, shortened as "morokyu" もろきゅう. The quality of the cucumber is most important. Fresh and firm Japanese cucumber is the best but it is not always easy to get that kind of cucumber in the U.S. It is also interesting to see how Izakayas in different regions serve this dish. For example, last time we were in Japan, we had this in three different Izakayas; one in Kanazawa and two in Kyoto. In Kanazawa, they just served it cut in a long sticks but it was nicely chilled and very crispy. In Kyoto both Izakayas added decorative cuts like I did here as though they feel that an extra touch is need to charge whatever they charge for this dish. I would like to mention another encounter we had in Torihachi とり八 in Kyoto. After we ordered and ate morokyu, a couple (obviously just coworkers or acquaintances) sitting next to us at the counter decided to order one. After receiving the morokyu, the man pontificated on how the decorative cuts could be done (which is far from how this is actually done) and appeared not really interested in eating the dish. We had a chuckle overhearing this. 

Especially since I used American mini-cucumbers (my excuse), I did not do a great job of this decorative cut which supposedly mimicking a pine tree. This decorative cut was shown for the first time to us by one of the sushi chefs at Mikado in Tenleytown area of DC, a Japanese restaurant we used to frequent, which has been closed for over 10 years after their losing the lease and the owner decided to retire.

To prepare this dish, I just soak cucumbers (use Japanese or mini-cucumber, American and English cucumber are not suitable for this) in ice water (with ice cubes) for 5-10 minutes to chill and crisp it. After drying the surface, you can cut in long st
icks by quartering lengthwise or, like I did here, cut in half in both length- and width-wise with the decorative cut. You could use different types of decorative cuts as well. If you are interested in how this and other decorative cuts using cucumbers are done, please watch this video.

Moromi miso もろみ味噌 is a special kind of miso with fermented rice , wheat or barley, and sometimes with other added vegetables. It tastes salty, sweet and a bit nutty. It is meant to be eaten as a condiment or for dipping but not for seasoning dishes or soup. You could buy it in any Japaneses grocery store and it usually comes in a small plastic pouch (see above) or in a jar. The one I got this time is called "Kinzanji-moromi" 金山寺もろみ which is best known in Wakayam 和歌山 prefecture but this one appears to have come from shinshu 信州 which is Nagano 長野 prefecture.

To eat, just pick up the cucumber and using chopsticks, place and spread a small dab of moromi miso and eat. It is nice refreshing dish in-between other dishes. I have to say, though, nothing matches freshly harvested Japanese cucumber, with a much darker green skin and still having small prickly surface, but this has to do as a good second best. You could also serve sticks of celery, carrots, or other fresh vegetables with moromi miso.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Ginger soy sauce sautéed Pork 豚肉の生姜焼き

Kissaten 喫茶店 is a Japanese coffee shop. You can not quite find the equivalent in the  U.S.. Besides coffee and tea, many Kissaten serve a light breakfast or lunch. Many years ago, we used to have these "morning set" breakfasts while we were visiting Japan and stayed in Asakusa 浅草 (These sets typically consist of a boiled egg, small salad, coffee and thick-about one inch-slice of toast with a discounted 2nd cup of coffee). Now, these are mostly replaced by Starbucks or similar Japanese chain coffee shops and the breakfast menus are nearly identical to the U.S. counterparts. Kissaten lunch menus may have included Spaghetti Neapolitan (precooked spaghetti warmed up in ketchup with sautéed mushroom-canned and pre-sliced-, onion, and ham; the Japanese interpretation/invention of a pasta dish, which has no resemblance to the name sake) and Japanese-style curry and rice カレーライス. Some kissaten, near the University I attended (which was eons ago), regularly served a Japanese style "Bento" box lunch beside more common kissaen lunch items. The items in the lunch box changed daily but the most popular and frequent item was the ginger soy sauce sautéed pork or "buta-niku no shouga-yaki" 豚肉の生姜焼き. I think this dish is also perfect for Izakaya.

The classic cut of pork used in this dish would have been very thinly sliced pork shoulder or "buta no kata ro-su" 豚の肩ロース肉 (I guess "ro-su" must have derived from "roast"). Here I used small pieces of pork tenderloin thinly pounded. Probably not the best cut of pork for this dish. I marinated thin pieces of pork in a mixture of soy sauce (4 tbs), mirin (2 tbs), and grated ginger (1/2 tsp) for 10 minutes in a Ziploc bag. You could add grated onion (2 tbs) in addition, if you like. I then sautéed the meat with a small amount of olive oil in a frying pan on both side (1-2 minutes each). I added a small amount of marinade (1-2 tbs) at the very end so that the sauce will coat the meat and become glistening. I served this with pan sautéed scallion segments. Although any drinks will go with this dish, I have to have sake.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Stewed chicken wing with plum 手羽と梅の煮付け

This in on the theme of using plums from making plum wine. I read that you could use plums from plum wine in any stewed meat like chicken wings or pork spare ribs but no "recipe" was provided. I decided just to stew chicken wings (wings and drummets separated with wing tips discarded) with plums and soy sauce flavor.

I placed wings and drummets (6 each) in a colander and poured boiling water over them and then placed them in a saute pan. I filled the remaining space in the pan with the plums which were used to make plum wine. I added enough water (400 to 500 ml or 2-3 cups) to barely cover the chicken. I also put in one scallion (white part) and 3 thin slivers of ginger. I let it simmer for 10-15 minutes with the lid on. I added soy sauce (3 tbs), mirin (2 tbs) and sake (2tbs) and turned up the flame to cook another 10-15 minutes or until the liquid reduces by half or more.

My wife made baked cauliflower with garbanzo beans, black olive, and hot pepper the night before. So I used that as an accompaniment.  The plum was soft and tasted plummy with sour and sweet flavor. Chicken is OK but not outstanding. The texture of skin is not the best. We like chicken wings cooked other ways.

Our Japanese plum tree which produced the plums used in the above dish as well as umeshu is in full bloom. Possibly due to the harsh winter, it is flowering late. It often blooms at the end of January or February. We have pictures, taken in previous years, of the blossoms covered in snow. It has a lovely subtle perfume that fills the air. During the day the flowers are covered in a cloud of bees. Where they come from, especially in January we don't know. One thing is for sure this lovely tree beats crocuses as a harbinger of spring.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Squid, cucumber and sea weed salad イカ、胡瓜と海藻の酢みそ和え

This is a rather classic Japanese small salad belonging to a large category of "Sunomono" 酢の物. When sea food is added to the salad, it is most common to use "sumino" 酢みそ as a dressing. I have posted dishes using sumiso before.

I used boiled squid, seaweed, and cucumber in this dish.

Seaweed: I soak dried "seaweed salad" (comes in a pouch with several kinds of edible seaweeds but you could use just "wakame" 若布) in water and let it rehydrate for 15 or more minutes. Squeeze out excess water and dress it with sushi vinegar and, again, squeeze out excess liquid before assembly.

Squid: I use several bodies and tentacles of very small (body is about 2-3 inch long) cleaned squid. I cook it in boiling water with salt and sake for 30 seconds to 1 minutes (Do not over cook). After removing from the water and tasting, I sprinkle on a bit of salt and sushi vinegar while it is hot and let it cool. If you salted the water enough, you may not need to salt here.

Cucumber: This is an usual treatment of cucumber; I use one mini-cucumber, sliced thinly. I  lightly salt the cucumber, mix, and let it stand for several minutes. I ring out the excess water and dress it with sushi vinegar. I, again, squeeze out excess sushi vinegar before assembly.

Dressing ("Karashi sumiso" 芥子酢みそ): I use 2 tsp of sweet miso ("saikyou miso" 西京味噌), 1/3 tsp of prepared Japanse hot mustard (in a tube), 1/3 tsp of sugar, 2 tsp of rice vinegar. After checking the taste and consistency, I add either broth "dashi" or mirin to make adjustment (this time, I added very small amount of mirin).

Assembly: Squeeze out excess shushi vinegar and liquid from the cucumber and seaweed. I arragne the ingredients in three small mounds as you can see in the picture and garnish it with small wedges of skinned Campari tomato and drizzle on the dressing. I used the dressing sparingly since all the ingreidients are already seasoned. The nutty flavor of miso, sweetness and tang of hot mustard punctuated with vinegary taste are perfect in this dish. You definitely need sake for this dish, although some sparkling wines such as Proseco would also go well.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sliced duck breast with orange marmalade sauce 鴨のオレンジママレイドソース

This is my simplified version of Duck a l'Orange. As Japanese believe scallions and ducks are the ultimate combo, the French view classic duck cuisine as canard a l'Orange. Since I was not up to going through with authentic recipes and a roasted duck breast is by itself quite wonderful even without a sauce, I just made an instant sauce using orange marmalade.

I cook duck breast in a classic way. I first clean the breast (remove excess fat and remove any silver skin still attached). I score the skin in a cross hatch pattern (see below) so that fat will render more easily. I rub it with salt (I use Kosher salt) and black pepper liberally since lots come off during the cooking. In a dry frying pan on a medium-low flame, put the duck breast skin side down, after few minutes, fat will come out. You have to remove the excess fat either by tipping the pan or absorbing it using paper towels few times. After 6-7 minutes and the skin is nicely brown and crisp like the image below, turn it over. I place it in a preheated 400F oven for 6-8 minutes or to the doneness of your liking (I cooked for 6 minutes to medium rare. The image below is when the duck just came out from the oven). I then remove the duck breast on a plate, cover it with aluminum foil. If you have rendered the fat properly and removed the excess fat before your place the duck in the oven, there should not be too much excess fat but if you do, leave only 1-2 tsp of fat in the pan. I add minced shallots (one small) and saute for a few minutes and then deglaze it with 1-2 tsp of red wine vinegar and let it reduce almost dry and add 4-5 tbs of port wine (I use a cheap Taylor ruby port) and reduce by half to 1/3 of the original volume. I finish the sauce with 2-3 tbs of orange marmalade. You could add pats of cold butter but I did not. I squeeze fresh lime juice or, if you have one, fresh orange juice, at the very end (just a splash) to add fresh citrus favor to the sauce.

This sauce has enough orangy, citrus flavors with sweet and sour tastes. It is definitely a classic combo and will particularly go well with red wines, especially syrah or shiraz. We had this with d'Arenberg "The Dead Arm" Shiraz McLaren Vale South Australia 2006, a perfect pairing!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Stewed pork belly redux 豚の角煮再登場

Last time I was experimenting with salt pork to make Pork "kaku-ni" 角煮, it turns out, although the meat was not too salty and the fatty part was cooked just fine, the meaty part became too dry and never got to a melt-in-your-mouth texture (it improved a bit after left in the refrigerator for few days in the broth and reheated before serving). This time, I used bone-in pork spare ribs instead of salt pork.  I selected the ribs with the meat from the front part of the pork, i.e. a portion close to the real pork belly. Still this meat is not quite a real pork belly. It does not have the complete layering of meat and fat. Although there is good amount of fat, it is more meaty than pork belly. As before, I used the recipes by Atsushi Tsuchiya 土屋敦.

I used two pork spare ribs (with bone, about 500 grams, meat alone may be about 300 grams). I first remove the bone and cut into 2 inch by 4 inch rectangles. In a small bowl, add 4 tbs of soy sauce (I used 1/3 low sodium soy sauce) and marinate the pork cubes for 10 minutes. Afterwards pat dry the surface of the pork. I brown all sides starting with the fatty side in a dry sauce pan so that some fat will render out first (2-3 minutes on each side).  I then add the remaining soy sauce, in which the pork was marinaded, in the pan. I put the pan on a low flame and cook for 5 minutes until the soy sauce reduces a little and becomes slightly viscous. I add abut 200ml of sake, increase the heat and cook 8-10 minutes, and add 3 tbs of sugar.

Meanwhile I soak about 5-6 inch long dried kelp in water and let it rehydrate for 30 minutes or more. Add the water in which the kelp was soaking to the pan above so that the meat is covered. As it comes back to the boil, I skim off the fat and scum which will appear on the surface. I placed the kelp to cover most of the meat and turn down the heat to simmer. I cook about 2 hours on simmer with a lid on, turning the meat over after about 1 hour, adding more water as needed. I let it cool to room temperature and place the pan in the refrigerator.

The next day, I skimmed off any congealed white pork fat and removed the kelp. I warmed up the broth and pork in a low flame for 10 minutes or until thoroughly warmed (avoiding boiling). This time, everything was wonderful. I served it with a dab of hot Japanese mustard, sliced scallion with simply boiled (still crispy) snow peas. The meat is so tender and flavorful. So, to make a Japanese-style stewed pork belly, use the front parts of the pork spare ribs. Salt pork does not work that well. The recipe I used appears better than more common recipes which suggest pre-boiling the pork belly in water before cooking in seasoned broth. As I mentioned before, you could get pork belly from on-line specialty stores, directly from producers, and some Asian markets, which I have not tried. Recently, more and more restaurants are serving Japanese style pork bellies. Our experience has been that the portions they serve is too big and the pork belly is not as tender as it should be. We just can not handle a large amount of this fatty meat, although a small amount is fabulous. 

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Scrapple スクラップル

Although my wife is not Pennsylvania Dutch, she grew up in the middle of Pennsylvania Dutch country in a small town near Philadelphia. While she was growing up people in her town still spoke mainly the 17th century german dialect know as Pennsylvania dutch in everyday conversation. English was a foreign language for them. She used to shop for food at Yoder's general store at the corner of 1st and Main street. As a result, many of the foods from her childhood are Pennsylvania dutch and unique to the region in which she grew up. These include pies and sweets such as shoo-fly pie, funny cake and this dish, scrapple. I was first introduced to this when we went to Philadelphia to visit her brother a long time ago while we were living in California. We had it in a small diner and I did not particularly like it then. It was unique to Pennsylvania and as far as I was concerned it could stay there. Later, when we visited one of the family's friends on their boat on the Chesapeake, they prepared wonderful scrapple which was much better than anything even my wife had before. 

For some reason, my wife wanted to make scrapple from scratch. The traditional recipe is made of scraps gleaned from the traditional fall hog slaughter (the Pennsylvania Dutch did not waste anything). The first recipe my wife read calls for a whole hog's head hacked in half (Although I may have the skill to do it, I would have refuse, if asked. Fortunately, she did not ask.) and boil it for long time and all the meat and bits are then removed from the hog's head and made into a loaf containing cornmeal, buckwheat flour and many spices. Since my wife has been making polenta in a loaf form and we really like it, she must have thought this is an interesting variation. Instead of a hog's head, she first boiled pork spareribs as though she was boiling the hog's head but the result was a bit disappointing with a sort of tired meat flavor. So she made some adjustments and perfected her recipe. We eat this most often for breakfast but sometimes for lunch over the weekend. We also enjoyed this as a part of Izakaya feast for evening. I will hand to my wife for the recipe and how to properly fry (sauté) it to get optimum crispy outside and creamy inside. Here, we served scrapple with a fried egg.

This is a very "sanitized" version of this dish because it does not use any pork offal or scraps. Start with 4 or 5 country style spareribs. Parboil for about 5 minutes. Put into a pyrex baking dish with some onions and carrots, a bay leaf and several pepper corns. Cover the ribs half way with boiling chicken stock. Cover and place into a 350 degree oven and cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours (until the meat is tender and falls off the bone).

Remove meat from the bones and remove any excess fat. Chop the meat into very fine pieces but do not grind. Take 3 cups of chicken stock add 1 tsp sugar, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 bay leaf, 1/2 tsp dried sage, 1/4 tsp margoram, 1/8 tsp mace and several grinds of pepper. Boil for a while until the liquid has been infused with the taste of the spices. Strain the liquid, remeasure to get 3 cups total and put back into pot. Meanwhile mix 3/4 cup corn meal with 1/4 cup buckwheat flour until they are uniformly mixed.(The recipe can also be made with just 1 cup of cornmeal if buckwheat flour is not available. The buckwheat however seems to result in a finer texture and adds an additional element to the final flavor). Bring the infused chicken stock back to the boil. Lower the heat and slowly whisk in the cornmeal mixture. Keep stirring for about 5 minutes as it thickens. Toward the end add about 2 cups of the meat and continue stirring until the meat is completely incorporated (you shouldn't be able to distinguish any individual pieces of meat) . Turn the mixture into a loaf pan which has been rinsed in cold water (the water keeps the mixture from sticking).

After the scrapple has cooled (usually over night), it is ready to be cooked. Turn out the loaf and slice into 1/2 inch pieces. (The final cooking makes the difference between really good and really bad scrapple. The thickness of the piece is important to get just the right combination of crispy to creamy soft. If the pieces are too thick the overall texture is too mushy and much less pleasant.)  Lightly coat the pieces in flour with salt and pepper added. Heat several tablespoons of peanut oil in a saute pan on medium high heat (peanut oil is best because of its high smoke point). Put the pieces in the pan making sure that the sides of the pieces don't touch each other. Let 'er rip on that fairly high temperature with out touching for 5 minutes. This forms the nice crunchy crust. Lower the heat slightly and turn the pieces over and again let it cook undisturbed for another 5 minutes. (At this point the pan may be smoking a bit but don't let that bother you if it looks like it is getting too hot turn down the heat slightly.) If it looks like the first side needs more of a crust turn the piece back over and cook a bit longer. Drain the pieces on paper towels. 

The scrapple can be cut into individual pieces and frozen. If it has been frozen don't thaw before cooking. Just go ahead a dredge the pieces and put them in the pan. It will thaw in the cooking process and the cold keeps the interior creamy. 

The traditional way of eating this is with maple syrup but we like to eat it plain served with a fried egg on the side. It has a lovely porky spicy flavor and the crunch of the crust with the smooth creaminess of the inside is wonderful. Again there are many variations on this recipe. Some add liver, some add much much more pepper. This is a rather tame version but we like it. 

Friday, March 12, 2010

Sauteed squid and celery redux イカとセロリの炒め物 再登場

 This is a repeat of the squid and celery dish. The original recipe is from Mark's book p64. We really liked this dish. I got cleaned small squid and asked my wife how she would like this cooked. She suggested this dish. Since I did not have time to make the "garlic butter", I had to make some modification. First I added minced garlic in the oil as I sauteed squid and celery. Although I patted the squid dry before sauteing, more liquid came out than I expected. Since I did not want to over cook the squid, I removed the squid and celery and reduced the liquid a bit. Then I decided to make a type of beurre blanc. I just added pats of cold butter (1 tbs) to the reduction of squid liquid (somehow, it does not sound appetizing) to make an emulsion. I poured it over the squid and celery. I added cracked black pepper and a squeeze of lemon.

This modification is interesting. It gave a more unctuous mouth feel. The original was a bit more delicate. In any case, either way, this is a very good dish and so easy to make. It goes well with any drinks, including sake.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Deep fried red snapper 鯛の唐揚げ

This dish is based on a recipe in Mark's book P40 "Deep-fried Tilefish" or "Amadai no Hana-age" 甘鯛の花揚げ. I never seen this type of preparation and I was just very curious and decide to try. It appears that "tilefish" includes quite a diverse species of fish. The Japansese name "amadai" 甘鯛 appears to represent Branchiostegus japonicus (most frequently) but there are many other species being called "amadai" or "tilefish". When we had an "omakase" おまかせ dinner at "Kurita" くりた in Kyoto last time, we enjoyed a slightly salted kelp flavored ("kobujime" 昆布締め) amadai sashimi (they call it "guji" ぐじ in kyoto which come from the near-by "Wakasa" bay 若狭湾). There is some description that tilefish scales can be eaten but exactly for which spices or genus (genera), their scales can be eaten is difficult to figure out. I vaguely recall seeing Chef Moriomoto deep frying large scales from a carp in one of the Iron Chef America episodes. So apparently some fish scales can be eaten if cooked properly. Since I could not get a tilefish, I got a whole red snapper instead. This may have been a big mistake since red snapper and tilefish are quite different except for the superficial resemblance of being red. Actually, I read somewhere that fish being sold in the U.S. as "red snapper" includes many different species of fish. I have no idea what kind of a "red" fish I got.

I prepared fillets with the skin and scales on. The scales were rather large. Although I followed the recipe closely, because the scales of red snapper may be different from those of tilefish (this appears most likely), or because the skin was not dry enough or because I did not deep fry correctly, the scales did not "blossom" (the name "hana-age" means "flower-fried" indicating that the scales opens up like flower petals which is pictured on p38 of Mark's book). 

I salted the fillets and loosely wrapped them in kichen preachment paper and let them sit in the refrigerator for several hours. I dusted the meat side only with cake four and deep fried with skin side up first for 3-4 minutes and turned it over once and fried another minute or so.

Since we have not ever seen or tasted this preparation with scales attached, we were not sure how the skin plus scales would taste, but, surprisingly, it just added nice crunch to the skin and the scales appear to be perfectly edible. Although it tasted OK, we were a bit disappointed that the scales did not open up as shown in Mark's book. As a fried fish with an extra crunchy skin, it is OK especially with squeeze of lime.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Minestrone soup ミネストローニ スープ

This is my version of Minestrone soup but it is more like a vegetable stew than soup. When I serve it in a small quantity, it is perfect as one of the small dishes in the Home Izakaya.

You can use any vegetables but these are ones I usually use.
1. onion, 2. garlic, 3. carrot, 4. yellow squash, 5. zucchini, 6. cabbage, 7. canned kidney beans (Other beans such as cannellini beans, navy beans, and chick peas can be also used instead or in addition), 8. canned Italian plum tomatoes. You could also add celery, green beans, peas etc. The vegetables are all cut into small cubes except for garlic which are finely chopped.

I first saute finely sliced and cut salt pork (or pancetta if you have one or bacon). The amount of the vegetables and salt pork is arbitrary. One of the problems of this type of soup is, as you keep adding the ingredients, the soup keeps increasing in volume.  It is difficult to control the final amount (at least for me, I even had to change the pot to a larger sized one during the cooking in the past). If the amount of fat rendered is not enough, add olive oil. I saute onion first, then add garlic, cabbage for 5 minutes or so and add other vegetables. I drain and rinse the canned beans under the running cold water before adding to the pot. I add half of the juice from the canned tomatoes depending on how acidic it is (you may want to add all the juices). Some acidity is good to counter balance with sweetness from the vegetables. I use my usual Swanson no-fat, low-sodium chicken broth to cover the vegetables. I add several bay leaves (do not forget to remove all of them at the end, I make a mental note of how many bay leaves I put in), dried majorum (or oregano), and basil (Do not overdo these herbs). I let it simmer for at least 30 minutes. I adjust seasoning by adding salt (if needed) and black pepper.

I like to cook the pasta separately rather than in the soup. I add a small amount of olive oil to coat the cooked pasta (to prevent them from sticking to each other) and put it in a sealed container after it is cool. I add it just before serving since pasta keeps absorbing water and will get very soft and soggy after some time in the soup. I suppose one can use any pasta but I happened to have "Rotini". I cook the pasta on al dente side and warm it up with a portion of the soup you are serving.

To serve: Here I used a small Japanese bowl to conform to the Izakaya theme and topped it with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and chopped chives  (or Italian parsley) and freshly cracked black pepper. Since it is rather like a stew, it will go with any drink but a nice Italian red may be the best match. Depending on the amount of vegetables, soup and pasta you serve, this could be a starter or an ending dish. Perfect for cold snowy days.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Foil-baked potatoes じゃがいものフォイル焼き

Foil-baked potatoes じゃがいものフォイル焼き, Mark's book p44

The combination of potato, butter and soy sauce is a good one and if you add sour cream to this, how can it be bad. This can be a good side dish as well as as a nice accompaniment for a drink. Any drink will go well with this; beer, sake, or wine.

I followed the recipe on Mark's book fairly closely except for substituting sour cream with Crème fraiche which made this dish a bit more deadly. I used small red new potatoes (8). I microwaved the potatoes until done and removed the skin. I place the potatoes in double layered aluminum foils shaped into a box. I added fresh shiitake mushrooms (I used 4), asparagus tips (4), salt (1/3 tsp), butter (several thin pats, a bit less than 1tbs), and soy sauce (1 tsp). I deviated a little and also added sake (1 tsp) to make sure, all the ingredients will steam inside the pouch. I left some space for the steam to expand and closed the aluminum foil by double folding. I place the pouch directly on the cook top on the lowest flame and cooked it for 15 minutes. I opened the pouch and added a small quenelle of creme fraiche (using two teaspoons to make the quenelle) and freshly ground black pepper. The creme fraiche melts and makes a wonderful sauce on the bottom. This is a simple but very satisfying dish.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Japanese winter stew おでん

"Oden" おでん is classic Izakaya food. Yakitori 焼き鳥 and oden are the two main pillars of drinking food in Japan.  Although any given Izakaya may serve up oden and/or yakitori among other items,  there are drinking places specialized just in "oden" or "yakitori".  Often I used to go to a drinking place that specialized in oden, "oden-ya" おでん屋, in Sapporo, called "Katsu-ya" かつや.  The original and name-sake proprietor has passed away, and it has moved from a quaint blind alley off the Oodouri 大通 to the basement floor of a building near Sapporo train station. One of her daughters has taken over the business. It appears that the quality of the oden and atmosphere are unchanged. It is still a very cosy welcoming place and always very crowded with salary men on the way home. I found the image of inside Katsuya on the Internet in one of the blogs (hope the author will not mind my using his picture here). Once, my wife and I visited Katsuya in this new location long time ago when we visited Sapporo. This picture really brings back memories.

"Oden" was said to be derived from "dengaku" 田楽 which I posted before. Dengaku is skewered squares of tofu, konnyaku and vegetables grilled and then eaten with miso-based sauce. Later, after the invention of soy sauce, instead of grilling, skewered items are cooked in a soy sauce flavored broth. Eventually, it lost even the skewers (some oden items, such as meatballs-- two or three skewered together, still keep their skewers). There are many variations including regional differences in oden. My oden is definitely influenced by the types of oden Katsuya served. In commercial establishments like Katsuya, they have a large stainless steel vats with multiple segments so that different items will not mix and cook properly as seen above, but at home, it is most common to use a large donabe 土鍋 or earthen pot like the one I used (below). You could use any pot with a wide opening. You could place a portable cooker on the table, place the pot on the cooker and let diners serve themselves. I ususally cook oden on the stove and serve whichever items I like on a plate returning frequently for a subsequent selection of different items. One of the reasons for this is that we rarely sit at the table to eat. I cut some of the items such as eggs and "Kinchaku" (see below) using a pair of kitchen scissors to make it easier to eat with chopsticks.

I usually prepare oden in the order below at least several hours before serving.

Broth: I used a piece of kelp (2x8 inches) which was first soaked in water for 30-40 minutes or longer (4 cups or about 1 liter) or whatever amount is appropriate for your vessel. I then put the pot on a medium low flame. When it comes to a boil, I reduce the flame to very low and add dried bonito flakes or "Kezuri (katsuo)bushi" 削り(鰹)節. I use a special large teabag-like bag called "Dashi bukuro" だし袋 in which the bonito flakes are placed and the opening sealed (about 20 grams). This is just for convenience so that I do not have to filter the broth later (I usually take out the bag with bonito flakes when the vegetables are all cooked). You could just put the bonito flakes in the pot and simmer for 10-20 minutes and then strain using a fine mesh strainer. You could also set aside a portion of unseasoned broth just in case the broth get too salty.

Daikon 大根: Daikon is a must in any oden and requires some preparation. I peel the skin and cut the peeled diakon into 1 to 1.5 inch thick rounds and bevel the sharp edges, mentori 面取り. I pre-cook the daikon in a separate pot with enough water to cover the daikon and one pinch of raw rice grains for 20-30 minutes and then transfer to the oden pot.

Carrot and potato: These items may not be most common items in oden but "Katsu-ya" served them and we like them very much. Just peel and cut into the size you like (not too small) and bevel the sharp edges and place it in the oden pot.

Boiled eggs: This is also the must-have item. I just boil eggs for 10 minutes, peel and place them in the oden pot.

Konnyaku コンニャク: It does not have much taste on its own and it is mostly for texture.  most of Westerners will not appreciate this item but it is nonetheless a classic oden item. I make multiple shallow crosshatch cuts on both sides so that the broth will penetrate better. I then cut it into bite sized pieces (I cut this into a triangle which is traditional) then, par-boil it in plenty of water for one or two minutes. I drain the konnyaku and then place it in the oden pot.

Seasoning: At this point, I  season the broth. I use soy sauce, mirin, sake and salt (I use salt to prevent the broth from becoming too dark which would happen if I added too much soy sauce to get the desired saltiness especially because I usually use a reduced salt soy sauce. Alternatively, you could use "light colored" soy sauce or "usukuchi shouyu" 薄口醤油. You may even like a dark broth, in that case, just use soy sauce. I cannot give you an exact amount but I will err on the side of under seasoning and go light on mirin (Vegetables add some pleasant natural sweetness). You can always adjust the seasoning later.

Now, I put on the lid and let it simmer about 1 hour. It really should not boil at any time. After the vegetables are cooked and soft, I add more items listed below which do not require long cooking. If they were frozen, thaw first and the items which have been previously deep fried should be treated by pouring hot water over them in a colander (called "abura-nuki" 油抜き) to remove any excess oil and off flavor before adding to the pot.

Chikuwa 竹輪: Cylinder-shaped fish cake (ground white fish meat with some binder and seasoning is boiled and lightly grilled and is sold frozen here in the U.S.) with a hole in the center shaped like a bamboo. Cut diagonally in the center (in the picture above it is shown in the center of the pot above the Daikon.  In the picture below it is shown on the lower right).

Ganmodoki がんもどき: Deep fried oval patty made of tofu, egg white, black sesame seeds and other shredded vegetables (tan oval item with black specs -sesame seeds- in the picture below). Often, this is shortened as "ganmo".

Mochi in fried tofu pouch or mochi kinchaku 餅巾着
: "Kinchaku" is a transitional Japanese purse. If you stuff anything in a tofu pouch or "Abura-age" 油揚げ, it is called "Kinchaku". Mochi 餅 is a rice cake made of pounded cooked rice.  I cut one end of a small rectangular abura-age and place mochi inside and close the pouch with tooth picks (This pouch is shown between the eggs and kelp in the picture above). This is the same type of preparation I do for the new year soup. (If you are an oden officinado, you would order this item using its short form name "mochikin"). After 5-10 minutes, the mochi will become soft and sticky but contained in the tofu pouch it is easier to eat. (They are seen in the picture above between eggs and kelp.)

Tied kelp 結び昆布: I happend to find this kelp preparation in a bag (cut in small size, tied in knots, steamed and dried) called "Musubi Konbu" or tied kelp at a Japanse grocery store. I put them in the pot after hydrating for 15 minutes. It does not taste that good and disintegrated after some time so this is the first and will be the last time I use this.

In the above picture, the dark triangles are konnyuku, tan oval ones with black specks (sesame seeds) are ganmodoki and tubes on the right are chikuwa. In the back, you see potato, kelp,  and carrot.
Just 10 minutes before serving, I add large cubes of tofu. Tofu should just be warmed through.  As seen in the above picture, I garnish the tofu with chopped chives (or scallion). the daikon here is very soft and you can cut it with just chopsticks. The yellow stuff at the far right corner is Japanse mustard which is very hot but a necessary condiment for oden.

Eggs are wonderful especially the egg yolks mixed into some of the broth and mustard. In the above picture, on the right is "mochi kinchaku", which is cut and showing the mochi inside. Between the eggs is chikuwa and the center front is potato.

This is a perfect dish for cold winter days with sake. Warmed sake is the classic accompaniment but we like cold sake even with oden. Depending on what you like, you could use many other items in oden such as tough sinewy parts of beef, "Gyu-suji" 牛筋 cooked for long time, octopus leg "Tako" 鮹 (these are Kansai 関西 or West of Japan items), thick Japanese omelets with crab meat ("Kanitama" かに玉), many other types of fishcakes especailly white soft square ones called "Hanpen" はんぺん, and satsuma-age 薩摩揚げ. A bit unusual are "tara no shirako" タラの白子, which is the sperm sac of cod fish (It does not sound appetizing but it does taste very good), a Japanese style stuffed cabbage ロールキャベツ, a type of small conch or sea snail called "Tsubu" つぶ and so on. We really like oden but only problem for us is that there are so many goodies in one pot and it fill us up too quickly.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Beef and potato stew 肉じゃが

I meant to make this dish much earlier and I finally managed to make it now. This is a Japanese version of "meat and potatoes" and is the ultimate home cooked comfort dish. As such, it is also one of the most popular Izakaya dishes. As usual some variations exist but I think my recipe is middle-of-the-road. One of the major variations of this dish is what kind of meat to use. Most commonly it is thinly sliced beef (for sukiyaki) but some make it with pork (bara or sanmai niku バラ肉、三枚肉). Actually, when I was growing up, my mother made it with pork. Here I took a more traditional way and used beef.

The ingredients are 1) potates, 3-4 medium size, peeled and cut into a large bite size, and sharp edges beveled (called "mentori" 面取り to prevent the potatoes from crumbling while cooking), 2) beef, thinly sliced for sukiyaki, 250 grams, cut into a bite sized pieces, 3) onion, 2 large, cut in half and then cut into half inch wide wedges, 4) carrots, 2 small, cut into small half moon bit sized pieces, 4) "konnyaku" thread 糸蒟蒻, one package, cut into 2-3 inch long and parboiled for 1 minutes and drained, 5) green beans or snow peas (I used snow peas 15-20), ends trimmed.

In a large sauté pan, add 2-3 tbs of light olive or vegetable oil on a medium high flame. When the pan is hot, I first saute the onion until it is wilted (4-5 minutes). Then add and saute the beef until it loses its red color.  Add the carrot, konnyaku thread, potatoes (including the scrap from beveling the sharp edges of potatoes) and coat the vegetables with oil. Since some brown "fond" will develop on the bottom of the pan, I deglaze using 2-3 tbs of sake and then add dashi broth to cover the vegetables (I did not measure but I guess about 500ml or more). As it started boiling I turn it to simmer and skim off any scum that floats to the surface several times and let it cook for 15 or more minutes until the potates are cooked (test with a skewer). Now it is time to season. I often "eyeball" everthing and add sugar, mirin, sake, soy sauce directly into the pan but this time I tried to measure and premix the seasoning; sake, mirin, soy sauce (3 tbs each) and sugar (1 tbs). I added the seasoning mix to the pan and, with the lid off, cooked another 20 minutes on a medium flame, occasionally shaking the pan. The liquid should be reduced in half or more at the end of cooking. I taste and add more soysauce and/or sugar if needed (I added a few more tbs of soy sauce toward the end). I then add snow peas and cook an additional five minutes (you could pre-cook green the beans or snow peas, in that case, add just at the very end and mix).

This is a classic! Such a wonderful combination of flavors and textures. For potatoes, the starchy kind such as white or Russet works best. We ended up getting a second helping and filled ourselves up. This is a whole meal in a bowl. This goes well with any drink.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Stewed plums from plums used in making of plum wine 梅酒の梅の甘露煮

After bottling the umeshu, we always have to decide what to do with the remaining plums. My wife aksed me to share this story. When we first started making umeshu, my mother suggested that we take the plums used to make plum wine, bake them in a "musui-nabe" 無水鍋, which is a Japanese invention, somewhat like a cast iron Dutch oven, for several hours to make them soft and then eat them as a kind-of jam. Following her advice but since we do not have a "musui-nabe", we put the alchohol soaked plums left over from making umeshu into a pyrex baking dish, covered the baking dish with a glass lid and put it into a 350 degree oven to bake for several hours.

We were sitting in the other room watching television when there was a massive explosion in the kitchen. We rushed in expecting to find shards of glass and plums all over everything. Instead we saw the pyrex baking dish sitting quietly on the wire rack of the open oven. Apparently the alchohol fumes seeped out of the dish as it heated up and built up in the oven with enough force to blow open the oven door but didn't affect the baking dish. Word of advice that this method of making plum jam is not recommended.  

Instead, I make "Kanro-ni" 甘露煮. I just make a simple syrup (equal amounts of sugar and water heated to dissolve the sugar) and just simmer the plums on a very low flame for 30 minutes or until the plum is soft. This is rather sweet and can be used as a sort-of snack when you are having Japanese green tea or you can serve this in-between dishes as a palate cleanser as shown above.

I store this in a glass container with a tight lid in a refrigerator. As long as you use a simple syrup (very sweet), this will keep a long time. Actually, this one is two years old. Other usages of the Umeshu plums is to make it into jam. I see that you can use the Umeshu plums in stewing meat such as pork or chikcen, which I have not tried.