Thursday, September 30, 2010

Matsutake Tempura 松茸の天ぷら

This is another classic dish made of matsutake 松 茸. I have to confess that this is my least favorite way to enjoy matsutake but in order to post something new, I have to explore many permutations of matsutake dishes. I do not particularly like making tempura of matsutake because, in my opinion, deep frying overwhelms the subtle flavor of the matsutake. Nonetheless, it is a popular way to cook matsutake

I used small sized matustake (two for two small servings like those shown above) which were cleaned and sliced. I made a tempura batter which was relatively thin. I used cake flour with the addition of a small amount of potato starch and added cold water until the thin batter was formed. But I was careful not to over mix, otherwise the gluten will develop and the result will be tough crust. Although I used peanut oil from force of habit, retrospectively, I should have used a flavorless oil such as canola or vegetable oil. The peanut oil adds an essence of peanut flavor to the matsutake--a somewhat confounding element. The oil temperature should be a bit higher (about 180C, I guess, I used my put-a-drop-of-batter-and-it-floats-back-immediately method of judging the temperature of the oil) ), so that the matustake will cook quickly and a nice crust is formed. It may splatter a lot (mine certainly did), so be careful.
I served this with a lime wedge and my ususal green tea salt. It is a very nice dish but the subtle flavor of matsutake is somehow lost. (That extra peanut taste didn't help). The texture is nice; a good contrast of slightly chewy matsutake and crisp crust.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Matasutake "Dobin-mushi" style clear soup 松茸の土瓶蒸し風

This is a classic dish utilizing matsutake 松茸. It is a type of clear soup but you enjoy the broth and the items in the broth separately. This dish is made in a special "dobin" 土瓶 container (a type of rustic teapot) with a small sake cup or guinomi ぐい飲み so that the exquisite broth can be poured into the cup and enjoyed. Then diving into the pot, the matsutake and other ingredients can be savored. Since I do not own a "dobin", I served this in a mini-donabe. In the classic method, after putting the ingriedents and broth in the dobin, it is steamed ("mushi" means "to steam") but I made everything in a sauce pan. I served this with a porcelain spoon ちりれんげ and a small guinomi sake cup so that we could enjoy the broth and the matsutake and other items separately.
Matsutake: I chose two rather small matustake for two servings. I cleaned and then sliced it thinly without separating the head and the stem.

Broth: For this dish, I think you have to make the dashi from scratch. I made a classic ichiban dashi 一番だし with kelp and bonito flakes. I seasoned it with light colored soy sauce, sake, mirin and salt. I did not want a very strong seasoning here. The main ingredient is matsutake--you have to let it speak for itself. When matsutake is cooked with other ingredients in the borth, it becomes much more complex albeit still very subtle.

Other items: Many cooks use chicken meat for this dish but I do not. Chicken is too strong even breast meat. Instead I used thinly sliced pieces of fluke (a type of flounder or other white meat fish without a strong flavor), boiled ginko nuts or "ginnan" 銀杏 (from a can in my case), small shrimp (frozen) and thinly sliced scallion. In a gently simmering seasoned broth, I placed the fish first, shrimp, ginnan and matsutake and gently cooked (or warmed through) for a few minutes. I then put sliced scallion (More traditional condiment will be "mitsuba" 三つ葉 but I did not have it.) If available, a Japanese citrus called "kabosu" カボス, which is very similar to "yuzu" 柚子 is traditionally used. Since I do not have easy access to those, I served it with a wedge of lime. Just before eating, I squeezed the lime juice over the dish. The way to enjoy this dish is to sip the broth and then have some mushroom etc. (Did I say etc? I was told nobody uses "et cetra" any longer. My wife told me etc. means "entire thought collapse"). This was a reasonable approximation of the classic dish. You definitely need cold sake for this delicate dish.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Matsutake steam baked in sake 松茸の酒蒸し焼き

Certain mushrooms are highly prized among gourmands. For the French, it is truffles. For the Japanese, it is matsutake 松 茸 . Japanese domestic matsutake is very scarce since it only grows in pine forests which are apparently disappearing from the Japanese countryside.  I learned that Chinese and Korean matsutakes are more common in the Japanese market nowadays. Here in North America, we can get North American or Mexican matsutake. The latter is more expensive since the shape is more similar to the Japanese domestic variety. The flavor, mostly smell, is very subtle but distinctive. Last week, when we were at Tako Grill, we had this season's first matsutake, grilled or "yaki matsutake" 焼き松茸,  which prompted me to look into ordering our own supply of matsutake.

We used get matsutake (either North American or Mexican) from a Japanese mail order house but they charge an arm and leg. So this year, I did a web search, found a company in Oregon called "Oregon mushroom, LLC" and decided to give their product a try. This (left upper in the image below) is 1 lb of matsutake, which was sent to us overnight by FedEx and arrived in good condition. It is not too expensive (relatively speaking) at $28/lb but it took almost the same amount of money for the overnight delivery. The matsutake was quite fragrant--more so than what we received previous years from other places. The lovely, characteristically earthy smell wafted out the minute we opened the box. The Matsutake was also quite dirty when it arrived as you can see. Washing it in water is not recommended. I used a moist paper towel and gently rubbed the surface to remove as much of the dirt as I could. I then used a sharp paring knife and sliced off the very bottom, then removed the surface of the bottom end as if I were sharpening a pencil (lots of sands attached). I also removed any embedded dirt and sand (I would rather sacrifice a bit of the mushroom than bite into dirt and sand--something we experienced at some restaurants in the past.) The upper right in the image below is after this cleaning process.

Since this was a weekday night and we did not have the time or energy to grill matsutake on a charcoal fire, I decided to steam-bake it in an aluminum foil pouch. I first cut into the stem end of the cleaned matsutake and then tore off pieces by hand. I repeated this process until I got reasonably sized pieces (lower left in the above image). I then placed these in a square pouch I made from aluminum foil. I sprinkled sake over the mushrooms and let it be absorbed by the matsutake for a few minutes. I added light-colored or usukuchi shouyu 薄口醤油 (1 tsp) and closed the pouch with enough air space so the steam could rise as it cooks. I placed the pouch in a 500F toaster oven for 5-7 minutes. I did not want to overcook the mushrooms. When the pouch was opened (lower right in the image above), a heavenly earthy aroma of matsutake filled the air. The smell immediately evoked the image of colored leaves and the cool weather of fall.  I served the matsutake with the juice accumulated in the bottom of the pouch as a sauce. I added a bit more salt and some lime juice. This has such a subtle and delicate flavor but we have to have it at least once a year because it wouldn't be autumn if we didn't smell it and taste it. You need cold sake with this.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Fajitas ファヒタス

When we had the landscaping done for our new house in California many years ago, all the workers, except for the boss, were from Mexico. They asked if they could use our Weber grill which was kept outside to cook some meals. We said it was OK with us as long as they cleaned up afterward. We assumed they were using it occasionally to cook burgers for their lunch. One weekday evening when we came home from work, they were still there working. They asked if we would like to try "carne asada" with them. We felt a bit funny about this (being invited to dinner at our own house using our own grill). Nonetheless we were curious and accepted the invitation. They quickly and expertly made a fire in the Weber. They produced a skirt steak from the enormous cooler they had with them, seasoned it simply with salt then grilled it over the hot coals. They also warmed up tortillas and served the carne asada, thinly sliced, with a store bought but very tasty and spicy salsa on it. Obviously, they knew the best salsa and tortillas to buy. We all ended up companionably standing around the grill on the concrete slab patio amid the chaos of the on-going landscaping eating our fill. We learned something from that meal. It was very simple yet sophisticated--much more than the burgers we had imagined they were eating. It was also nutritiously well-balanced (meat, starch and vegetables). The best part was how it smelled as it cooked. I still remember how it made my mouth water.

A Tex-Mex version of similar dish is called "fajitas" which is extremely popular in the U.S.. Since I had a package of skirt steak in our refrigerator, I made my version of "fajitas" on Sunday. I was too lazy to fire up the grill outside and made "fajitas" in a skillet (which is the usual way to cook fajitas anyway). 

I first rubbed ground cumin, salt and black pepper on the surface of the skirt steak and let it sit for 10-15 minutes. The marinade is lime juice (2 tbs or one lime), olive oil (2 tbs), ground cumin (1 tbs, but use your judgement, we like cumin a lot but it is strong spice), jalapeno pepper (two, seeded and deveined and finely chopped), garlic (3 fat cloves, finely chopped), and fresh cilantro (2-3 tbs, finely chopped including the stem). I also sliced one large onion (halved and then thinly sliced). I placed everything in a Ziploc bag including the meat and let it marinate for several hours or overnight in the refrigerator. 

To cook, I took out the steak and if the surface is too wet, I blot it with a paper towel and season it with salt and pepper again (lightly). I use a "grill" pan which has ridges on the bottom to make char marks, and cook the steak for 1 minute on each side for medium (or to your desired doneness) on high flame with a small amount of olive oil. I set the steak aside on a plate and loosely cover it with an aluminum foil. I then cook the onion with all the marinade for 5 minutes on high flame stirring often or until the onion becomes soft and partially browned. I served the steak sliced across the grain, onion, guacamole (homemade), and salsa (store bought, this was not the best. I did not have good tomatoes to make salsa myself).

To eat, we warmed small flour tortilla, placed onion, steak, guacamole, salsa on the tortilla and top the whole thing with plain yogurt (or sour cream). We like yogurt, which cuts the heat (spice).

Roll it up and serve it with black bean corn salad, which was made by my wife a few days ago. We have not had this for a long time and it tasted very good--reminiscent of  the one we had in so long ago in California.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Pork filet mignon cutlet 豚のヒレカツ

Over 10 years ago, on one of our visits to Japan, we stayed in Kyoto (as usual) for several days. During this stay, we were taken to a "tonkatsu" トンカツrestaurant (I do not recall the name). As soon as we opened the door, the smell of deep fried pork wafted out and made us salivate. I am sure eating deep fried pork is historically a rather new introduction to Japan but it is a very popular Japanese Western-style dish. Many restaurants specialize in it and each has their secret sauce and/or special pork. Among "tonkatsu", the kind made of tenderloin or fillet mignon of pork called "hirekatsu" ヒレカツ is considered the ultimate. It is unfortunately not particularly dietetic and I have not made this for some time.

Since the weather has been very nice, even chilly in the morning and the evening, I suggested cooking "hirekatsu" outside so that we didn't have to worry about splattering the stove and the lingering smell of deep fry permeating the house. Meanwhile, we could enjoy staying outside. Our set up is shown below. This electric wok is powerful enough to heat the oil over 170C (340F) for proper deep frying.

Fillet mignon of pork: We can not get fancy kinds of pork and used just regular packaged pork tenderloin. After trimming the silver skin and excess fat, I trimmed off both ends to make the fillet a nice equal sized cylinder. I then cut the fillet into medallions about 1 inch thick. Using the palm of my hand, I pounded the fillet flat and then reshaped it into its original thickness (an attempt to tenderize). I seasoned it with salt and pepper.

Breading: I used the usual process of dredging the medallions in AP flour, putting them through a beaten egg/water wash and coating them in Japanese panko. It is best to let it sit in the refrigerator for several hours before frying since the breading will stick better.

Deep frying: As you can see in the picture above, I placed the breaded medallions of pork in the oil when the temperature is about 150C (300F) since the medallions were rather thick, I started with a relatively low temperature. It takes 7-8 minutes turning once.  After 4-5 minutes, I cranked up the heat so that the oil temperature reached 170C (340F). When the bubbles around the meat become small, I take out the thickest piece and test to make sure it is done (picture below).

Shredded cabbage: For some reason, especially when tonkatsu is involved, the vegetable accompaniment is traditionally thinly sliced raw cabbages as seen in the left in the back of the picture below. This is usually eaten with the tonkatsu sauce rather than with different dressings. I use leaves from the cabbage that are not on the surface but a few layers in but still green (not totally white). I remove the thick center veins and slice it as thin as practical then I soak it in ice water to crisp it. My wife does not like this raw cabbage and I usually end up making it some kind of coleslaw.

Pennsylvania Dutch style sweet and sour coleslaw: My wife mentioned that the only raw cabbage she ate as a child (and she really liked it) was Pennsylvania Dutch style coleslaw (shown in the little bowel in the lower left of the picture). Since I had never tasted it she decided to make if for me. I helped by chopping up the carrot and cabbage into a fine dice. The dressing calls for vinegar, sugar, egg, salt, butter and cream. It is somewhat similar to Béarnaise sauce but much sweeter. This is how my wife made it; rice vinegar (1/4 cup), sugar (1/2 cup), egg (one beaten, we used pasteurized egg) and butter (1/2 tbs) and cream (1/4 cup). Mix everything (except the cream) in a double boiler. Stirring constantly with a whisk until the sauce becomes thick. Quickly chill the mixture while stirring by putting the pan in an ice water bath. Once the mixture is completely cooled stir in the cream. Add the sauce to the carrot/cabbage mixture and let it sit at least a few hours.

For additional condiments, I also served sweet vinegar, pickled carrot, daikon and cucumber and beer marinated daikon. I also made miso soup with maneko mushroom なめこ, tofu and finely sliced scallion.
The "hirekatsu" was so good with crunchy breading and tender meat. I served it with "Bulldog" brand semi-thick tonkatsu sauce" and a Japanese mustard. You can make your own tonkatus sauce by mixing ketchup and Worcestershire sauce. My wife liked her sweet coleslaw which reminded her of her childhood but it was way too sweet for me. (With all that sugar, is it a surprise kids like it?) I realized I do not like raw cabbage as much as I thought I did.  We counteracted the ill effect of the fried food by liberally administering a good Spanish red, Portal del Montsant Santbru 2007 .

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Japanese sweet vinegar pickles 野菜の甘酢漬け

This is a starter plate we had one evening; crab cake, spinach with creamy black sesame sauce (left and right in the back of the image below) and daikon, cucumber and carrot pickled in sweet vinegar (front).

This is a sort of eclectic combination but it happens often with us depending on what is available. Since we had leftover crab meat after making the California roll, I made that into small crab cakes. I got a bunch of fresh spinach (not a baby kind in a bag), so I made spinach with black sesame sauce. I found a bottle of good vinegar tucked in the back of the pantry and used it to make sweet vinegar. I used the sweet vinegar to make a Japanese style chicken escabeche, which followed this plate. The pickled vegetable dish picture here is another dish I made with the sweet vinegar.

Pickling liquid: In the sweet vinegar (1/2 cup), I added yuzu shoyu sauce (1 tbs, from the bottle) and just a dash of dark roasted sesame oil.

Vegetables: I cut daikon, cucumber and carrot into small batons (about 2 inch long and 1/4 inch wide) as seen above. I blanched the carrot for 1 minute and drained. In a frying pan on high flame, I added olive oil (1 tbs) a dash of sesame oil and red pepper flakes. I briefly (30-40 seconds) sauteed all the vegetables and put them in the pickling liquid while it was hot. After cooling down to the room temperature, I covered the container and placed it in the refrigerator. You need to leave the veggies in the pickling liquid at least 24 hours or up to several days. 

The pickles in the picture are about 2 days old. The color of the cucumbers is a bit off but all the vegetables were still nicely crunchy with a gentle sweet vinegar taste. Compared to asazuke, these are true Japanese pickles and are a very refreshing condiment.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Chicken breast "nanban", Escabeche Japanese style 鶏胸肉の南蛮

The type of Japanese dish in which fish or meat is first fried and then dressed in a sweet and slightly spicy vinegary sauce is called "nanban" 南蛮. The word "nanban" literally means "southern barbarians". (No offense to the people who used to be classified as "southern barbarians" 南蛮人 by Japanese). Hot red peppers are sometimes called "nanban" indicating they may have come through the southern trade to Japan, in addition, at least two totally different types of Japanese dishes carry the name "nanban". One dish is very similar to escabeche (which is the dish posted here) and it may be that the Portuguese brought this dish to Japan along with Tempura while trading in Nagasaki 長崎, located in Kyushu 九州, the southernmost (main) island of Japan, during the Edo 江戸 period. Another is the noodle and duck dish, "kamo nanban" 鴨南蛮.  One theory why this dish is called "nanban" is that this dish also features Japanese scallions or "negi" 葱 and the place near Oosaka 大阪 called "nanba" 難波 used to be famous for its production of "negi". Thus, this dish was originally called "Kamo Nanba" 鴨難波, which somehow became "kamo nanban" but I have no idea if this is correct.

In any case, this Japanese style escabeche or nanban, is best when you use small bony fish. Deep frying and marinating in vinegar makes all the bones edible. The reason I made this dish is two fold; I found a tall bottle of a good quality (made of 100% rice) rice vinegar more than half used on the uppermost shelf of our pantry (since it did not fit to the shelf where I keep the rest of the Japanese items, I totally forgot about it--"out of sight out of mind") and I also discovered that I had chicken breasts which I bought last weekend and they had to be cooked quickly.

Sweet vinegar: "Amazu" 甘酢 can be made ahead. It keeps a long time in the refrigerator. I put the aforementioned rice vinegar (it was about 1 and a half cups) in a non-reactive (such as stainless steel or Pyrex) pan on low flame and added sugar (half the amount of vinegar, either by volume or weight) and a small amount (I used 1/2 tsp but could be more) salt. Stir and make sure the sugar is completely dissolved and let it come to boil (called "nikiru" 煮きる), this makes the vinegar mellow. Let it cool down and put it in a plastic or glass container and keep it in the refrigerator. This can be used for many other recipes.

Marinade: I use 2/3 cup of sweet vinegar for one chicken breast. I add dashi (1/4 cup), mirin and soy sauce (1 tbs each). Put it in a sealable flat container to be ready for receiving the chicken.

Chicken: I make thin bite size pieces from one skinless, boneless breast by cutting across the grain of the meat on a slant. I season it with soy sauce and grated ginger (just enough to coat the meat pieces but no extra liquid should remain) and coat each piece of meat by mixing by hand and let it sit for 10-15 minutes at room temperature.

Dredging: I use potato starch or katakurko 片栗粉. This creates a nice even crust which does not come off easily and also produces a nice slippery surface after the cooked chicken is soaked in the vinegar marinade.

Frying: I again used shallow frying at 170C (340F). Since the meat is thin, it takes 1-2 minutes on each side and comes out very crispy but meat becomes kind of dry but that is OK. It is good to eat as is (which we did). It is quite different from the chicken thigh tatsutaage 竜田揚げ and it is very good in its own right.

Marinating: While the chicken pieces are still hot, add them to the sweet vinegar marinade. I also add thinly sliced red onion, julienned carrot, and red pepper flakes. You should add as much vegetables as you like or the marinade can accommodate. They are very good after pickling. I marinade them at least overnight or longer in the refrigerator.

The end result is quite nice. It is a very interesting melding of flavors. The frying cuts the acid of the sweet vinegar and the vinegar cuts the oiliness of the frying. The result is a refreshing dish with real depth. In addition, over time the chicken picks up the flavor of the vegetables with which it is sharing the marinade. The texture of the chicken is nice because the crust from the frying is still intact but develops a nice slippery or smooth surface (but not slimy, for those who have slime-o-phobia). The pickled vegetables are a nice accompaniment. Beer or sake may be a safer pairing but we had this with a Cali cab, Louis.M.Martini Cab Sauv, Alexander valley, Reserve 2007*. This wine has a nice earthy overtone with good firm tannin and went surprisingly well with this dish. The acid in this dish appears not to compete with this wine.

*P.S. Even after it was bought out by Gallo, Louise.M.Martini keeps making reasonably priced good quality wines, we liked their Napa cab and this reserve from Alexander valley (regular cab from Sonoma is so-so). Ghost pine, which is one of the Gallo's numerous brands but made by L.Martini, is also good.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Enoki mushrooms braised with miso and butter えのき茸のバター味噌

I found a package of fresh enoki mushrooms えのき茸 at the grocery store and made this dish. My wife said she tasted enoki for the first time when I took her to a Robatayaki 炉端焼き restaurant in San Francisco Japantown eons ago on one of our first dates. (The restaurant has been long defunct). I decided to make enoki the way we had it there or the closest approximation of what I remember. They put the enoki and sauce in a pouch made of aluminum foil and grilled it but I cooked this in a frying pan.

I cut off the root end of the enoki and sauteed it in a frying pan on a medium flame with butter. While it was being sauteed, I tried to keep the top and bottom ends together in the same orientation for better presentation. You may have to separate the enoki, since they may be still attached to each other near the root end. Turn them several times to cook evenly for 2 minutes or so. Meanwhile I made a miso broth consisting of dashi (1/4 cup), I used granulated instant dashi with hot water, sake (1tbs), mirin  (1tbs) and miso (2 tsp). When, the butter was bubbling and browning slightly, I added the broth and put on a tight lid for 2-3 minutes until the enoki is done. I garnished it with the chopped green parts of scallion and sprinkles of Japanese 7 flavored pepper "Shichimi tougarashi" 七味唐辛子. The butter and sweet miso combination goes so well with enoki mushrooms and took us back the fond memory of the old robatayaki restaurant we liked so much. Such a simple but wonderful dish.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

California roll and smoked salmon sushi カリフォルニア巻きとスモークサーモン寿司

When I posted tekkamaki 鉄火巻き, I said that I often make  California roll. My wife corrected this statement by reminding me that I have not made this for ages. So here it is. This was the shime 締め dish for the evening. We also had some leftover smoked salmon (just enough to make two nigiri) so I made two smoked salmon nigiri sushi or nigirizushi にぎり寿司.

The ingredients are crab meat (I got nice jumbo lump crab meat in a small container), avocado, nori sheet, sushi rice and sesame seeds. I did not have tobiko とびこ or masago roe まさご. I do not like to use imitation crab or "kanikama" カニかま for my California rolls or, for that matter, in any dishes calling for crab meat.  At sushi bars, we ask for real crab meat (if they have it) in our California roll instead of the imitation crab (for an extra charge, of course). If they do not have real crab, we order something else

This time, I recruited my wife to take the pictures so that I can show each step, (although anybody in their right mind should not follow my instructions for this or any dish).

Since this is uramaki 裏巻き (the rice layer is outside), I spread a thin layer of sushi rice to the edges of the nori sheet (I need not to leave a strip of nori without the rice layer like tekkamaki) (below left). I sprinkle white sesame seeds on the rice (below middle). Now, since this is uramaki, you have to flip over the nori-rice combination. There are several way to do it; 1). Covering one of the bamboo mats or makisu 巻き簾 with plastic wrap on both side and dedicating that mat strictly for uramaki, 2). using a sheet of plastic wrap, and 3) using a moist tea towel. I used the last method but any one of these will work. I align the edge of the tea towel with the edge of the rice/nori (below right) and flip over the nori and tea towel together.
Make sure the edge of tea towel/nori-rice is aligned with the front edge of the bamboo mat (above left). I smear real wasabi down the center of the nori and put strips of avocado and crab meat as shown in the image above on the right.
While trying to hold the crab and avocado in the middle of the roll, start rolling by lifting the edge of the makisu (#1 below). When I reach the other side of the nori surface (#2), I ease the bamboo mat and pull the tea towel from underneath the roll and while holding the tea towel and the bamboo mat together, roll forward to complete the roll. I grab the far end of the tea towel with my right hand and squeeze the bamboo mat and pull toward me using my left hand while keeping the tea towel in place with my right hand (#3) to make sure it is tightly rolled. I make sure the roll is securely together by evenly squeezing the makisu with both hands (#4). Remove the bamboo mat and the tea towel and you see the completed roll emerges (#5). Slice it using a narrow blade knife (#6) in the same manner as tekkamaki (actually I should have made 4 pieces from the half of the roll instead of three; this tells you I have not made this for a long time.

We happened to find wooden sushi serving boards called "sushigeta" 寿司下駄 which we forgot we had in the back of the drawer earlier in the day. It looks like traditional Japanese wooden sandals called "geta" hence its name. I used this to serve the California roll. The avocado was OK but not the best. The crab meat, however, was excellent and (as per my wife), the sushi rice was better than what we often get in sushi bars. Somehow the combination of crab, avocado, sushi rice and nori with soy sauce works very well. No doubt, it is one of the great American contributions to the world of sushi.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Garlic chive and grilled abura-age in sesame dressing ニラと焼き油揚げの胡麻和え

This is another type of Otoshi お通し small dish. I bought chives in a small plastic container, along with a few other items at our grocery. The cashier was being a bit careless and the container opened while she was ringing up. Chives spilled out all over everything. So, with restless people waiting in the line behind me, I had to rush back to the produce department and grab another package. It turns out I grabbed the wrong thing. I thought I had chives but when I got home I discovered I had "garlic chive" ニラ. We have garlic chives growing in our herb garden but it tends to be tough so, even though it is prolific, we don't use it much. These garlic chives were very tender and flavorful. Thus, this dish.

I blanched the garlic chives for 30 seconds, then shocked them in ice cold water ringing out the excess moisture. I cut them into 1 inch lengths. Meanwhile, I grilled or toasted the abura-age 油揚げ or deep fried tofu pouch (I used a toaster oven) for 3-4 minutes until it becomes very crispy and slightly browned. I cut it into thin strips. The dressing is made simply; sesame (1 tbs) dry roasted in a frying pan for 2-3 minutes then ground coarsely in a suribachi Japanese mortar すり鉢. I added a small amount of sugar (1/2 tsp) and soy sauce (2-3 tsp) and a dash of dark sesame oil. I dressed the abura-age and garlic chive mixture and served. You have to enjoy this dish while the abura-age is still hot and crispy. A perfect starter dish for sake.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Angel hair pasta pancake in "okonomiyaki" style エンジェルヘアパスタと桜えびのお好み焼き風

"Okonomiyaki" お好み焼き is a very popular Japanese pancake in which you can put "anything you like on top" (this roughly translates to "okonomi"). We are not particularly fond of okonomiyaki. Last time we tried this dish was in Himeji 姫路. It was in the "Hiroshima" style, and we decided this was not our favorite. There were so many items piled up on the pancake--toppings and sauces, the flavors became "muddy" and we could not taste anything distinctive. But, I occasionally make something like "okonomiyaki" using leftovers. In this version, you can taste all the different flavors.

We had left over Angel hair pasta. So I made this as a starter. There are no rules on how to make this type of dish. I had about 1/2 cup (guesstimate) of cooked Angel hair pasta. To the pasta, I added grated Parmigiano Reggiano (about 4 tbs or more if you like), salt and pepper to taste and one egg. I mixed well. In a small frying pan on low flame, I added olive oil (1tbs), and spread the mixture (see the image below). After 4-5 minutes when the bottom is cooked (the surface is still wet), I sprinkled on the dried small shrimp called "sakura ebi" 桜えび but again anything goes. You could add anything you like or you do not have to put anything on at all. I then flip it so that the side with shrimp will cook (another 4 minutes).
I flipped it one more time to make sure the bottom and edge were crispy. I used a Pizza cutter to cut the pancake in quarters and garnished it with "aonori" 青のり and ketchup. This is a very interesting fusion dish but we like this over the more traditional "okonomiyaki". We had this with a nice Spanish red, Portal del Montsant Santbru 2007. We posted our tasting of 2005 vintage in the past. The 07 vintage appears to be very similar in appearance and taste. We shared one pancake since this was a starter.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Monkfish liver "Ankimo" with Ponzu and grated daikon 鮟肝とポン酢紅葉おろし

When we received the shipment from Catalina, we did not eat the ankimo 鮟肝 immediately since it was frozen and can keep for some time. Now, having polished off all the sashimi items, we decided to hit the ankimo. This time I served it in a more traditional style with grated daikon mixed with red pepper flakes called "momiji oroshi" 紅葉おろし (meaning "red maple leaf" grated daikon), with ponzu ポン酢 instead of the orange marmalade soy sauce. I also added "nagaimo" 長芋, which was cut into match stick-sized julienne dressed with sushi vinegar and garnished with "aonori" 青のり.
The traditional way to prepare "momiji oroshi" is to make a small hole in the middle of the daikon and insert a dried whole red pepper and then grate the daikon and pepper as one. I simply added Japanese red pepper flakes from the bottle 七味 or 一味唐辛子 and mixed it with grated daikon then poured ponzu shouyu (from the bottle) over it. The grated daikon cuts the heat of the red pepper and also the fattiness of the ankimo.
After I made (or arranged) this dish, we realized our house sake, Yaegaki "Mu" Junmai daiginjou 八重垣 "無" was all gone but, for ankimo, we need sake. We did have several bottles of the US brewed sake called "Haiku" 俳句 (we keep it for emergencies), which is brewed from Californian rice and Sierra water in California by Ozeki 大関酒造.  It is not too bad (in an emergency), and is a type of "Tokubetsu junmai" 特別純米酒 but it is a bit yeasty for our taste and we liked to have a better sake with ankimo. Then, we found the last bottle of "Nanawarai" daiginjou 七笑大吟醸 from Kiso  木曽 in our refrigerator, which we hand carried home last year from Japan.

This was good; a very gentle sake without assertive flavors. It reminded us of Dassai 23 獺祭 23. For a more clean fruity taste, we favor our house sake but this sake tasted better than I remembered it. I am not sure if I can get this sake here in the U.S. anyway. In any case, ankimo and cold sake went so well together.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Shrimp risotto 海老のリソト

I mentioned that I made stock from the shrimp shells and heads for later use when we had the sashimi shipment from Catalina Offshore products. Here is one dish I made using this stock. I also added frozen shrimp to this dish. This is a variation of my short-cut risotto.

This is the amount for 2 small servings seen above. I use cooked rice instead of raw rice. The cooked rice was frozen (about 2/3 cup). I microwave it until the kernels were separated but still cold. In a non-stick frying pan I added light olive oil (about 1-2 tbs) and sautéed finely chopped red onion (1/2 medium) for few minutes. When the onion was soft, I added finely chopped fresh shiitake mushroom (2 large meaty ones I happened to have. They had a very intense flavor) and sautéed for an additional 2-3 minutes. I then seasoned with salt and pepper. I added the cooked rice and coated the kernels with oil. I then added sake (3-4 tbs) - or you could use white wine or not use any wine - and stir until all is absorbed. I added a ladle-full of the shrimp broth (warmed on low flame) at a time and kept stirring. When the liquid is absorbed, I added the next ladle-full of the broth. (I did not add any salt in the broth). After 3-4 additions of the broth, I mixed in thawed, shelled, salted shrimp (I used 3 per serving, this is rather large shrimp matching the size of the shrimp head). Keep stirring for 2-3 more minutes or until the shrimp is cooked, I added chopped parsley, seasoned with salt and pepper to taste. For good measure, I added a thin pat of butter at the very end. I garnished the risotto with the shrimp head (I fished it out of the broth).  I think we used up all shrimp heads!

For a weekday evening, this is a mighty fine ending dish. This evening was a sort of Italian night and we started with leftover reheated home made pizza. Of course, we sucked out all the goodies from the head of the shrimp first, before enjoying the risotto. We had a bottle of decent red but I do not remember which one we had.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Tuna "chutoro" carpaccio with Uni 中トロのカルパッチョの雲丹添え

This is a variation of tuna carpaccio but this is a deluxe version with uni and chutoro 中トロ. I think I made this the second day after we received the goodies from Catalina Offshore products as a very first course of the evening.

Since both tuna sashimi and uni 雲丹 were excellent, I made it very simply. I put splashes of good balsamic vinegar, good olive oil, Kosher salt, freshly cracked black pepper and soy sauce on the bottom of the plate in crisscrossed fashion. I then sliced the chutoro very thinly and place it in one layer on the plate. I sprinkled a halved and thinly sliced red onion and finely chopped garlic chive over the chutoro. In the center, I arrange a circle of thinly sliced cucumber and placed the small mound of uni on top. I garnished with thin nori strips and a dab of real wasabi. I drizzled just a small amount of soy sauce and olive oil over the top. We had this with Napa Cab Angels Landing 2007. This cab is a nice middle-of-the-road Cali cab and went well with this dish but the balsamic vinegar competed a bit with the red wine. For this pairing, I should have omitted the balsamic vinegar. In any case, this is a wonderful dish to start before changing to sake. Oh, the uni was positively excellent.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Evening at Tako Grill 今夜は鮹グリルで一杯

First of all, this is not meant to be a restaurant review. Unlike many food bloggers, I have never taken pictures at any restaurants or drinking place but I decided to try it with Tako Grill so that we could share our evening at our Izakaya substitute.

Tako has a large sake bar as you enter and the sake menu is extensive. Early on, we tried some of these sakes but we settled on Yaegaki "Mu" 八重垣『無』as our "usual". It is also our house sake. It became  "the usual" since it is reasonably priced especially for "junmai daiginjou" 純米大吟醸 and is nicely fruity with a clean crispy finish, although it may not be as complex as more expensive sakes.

Here is today's otoshi お通し; avocado, akami 赤身 in sweet vinegar which contains what appears to be finely chopped transparent (red?) onion (below left). This night, we noticed one of the Niigata 新潟 breweries, "Ichishima" 市島酒造, was featured in the sake menu and as a part of the special, all classes of their sake was available for tasting by the bottle or glass. We decided to try "Jun-Gin" 純米吟醸 in addition to our usual bottle of "Mu". It came in the proper Izakaya way (which did our heart good) with a generous amount of overflow in the "masu" 升 cup underneath (below right).

This Ichishima Jun-Gin is rather nice. Very subtle but had a nice clean taste with a slightly assertive finish. Then our waitress suggested we should taste other Ichishima and brought out small cups of "Junmai" 純米 and "Junmai genshu" 純米原酒. We both felt that the junmai lacked character. The genshu definitely has a higher alcohol content, which we could feel, and has more edge to it. Among the three Ichishimas we tried, we liked "Jun-Gin" the best but we still like "Mu" better and, for cost performance, our usual "Mu" definitely wins out. Now, we were fairly sloshed and moving into the sashimis.

Sekisaba 関サバ (above left) is served already seasoned with (rock?) salt and sesame oil (mist?) and served with plenty of sliced scallion and threads of ginger which go very well with this oily fish. Big eye Tuna toro めばちのとろ was very nice. By the way, daikon tsuma 大根のつま was skillfully hand cut. Even in Japan, many Izakayas serve daikon tsuma prepared by a special cutter such as Benriner turning "head" slicer (actually we have one of these devices which I have not used for some time). Although this does not make any difference in the quality of the food they serve, I like the fact they pay attention to the details and take pride in these minor items. From robatayaki 炉端焼き menu, we ordered grilled shiitake mushroom (barely visible behind the toro sashimi picture above. I forgot to take a picture), Ginko nuts 焼き銀杏 (below left), and shishi-tougarashi ししとう (below right). As usually happens, with shishito produced in the United States, two of the peppers were atomic hot, each of us got one. Part of the fun of the dish is the Russian Roulette aspect of whether the one going  into your mouth is a "hot" one.

We were winding down here and had a very meaty "Hamachi kama" はまちのかま grilled, served with a large mound of grated daikon 大根おろし, which I like. My wife is usually in charge of taking off all the available meat from the bone and, as usual, she did an excellent job. As a shime 締め, we had few nigiri and two US style rolls (A California roll was made of real lump crab meat, avocado and tobiko roe. A Philly roll was made of smoked salmon, cucumber and cream cheese).

We were stuffed and had more than enough sake at this point. Chef Kudo sent us an ice cream daifuku (Ice cream encased in a mochi skin) for dessert. We do not have thousands of Izakayas to visit but we were doing well here for sure tonight.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Tuna "chiai" natto with egg yolk 血合いの漬け卵黄いり納豆

This is a variation of "Tuna and natto" or マグロ納豆. After I removed chiai 血合い from the tuna block we got, instead of throwing it out (I never tasted chiai of tuna in Japan but I never got to clean the tuna block, either), I usually make this dish or a type of soup with grilled scallion. Chiai is very dark red and has a very gamy strong taste and is certainly the least desirable portion of tuna.

After removing the chiai, I cut it into small chunks and marinaded it overnight in the refrigerator in a mixture of concentrated noodle dipping sauce (2x concentrated) with 1/3 the amount of sake (or a mixture of mirin, sake, and soy sauce 1:1:2 ratio).  After soaking overnight or for 24 hours, I drained the marinade and placed the cubes of marinated chiai in a  bowl. I prepared one small package of natto (for two servings) in my usual way but this time I added an egg yolk (of course, I used a pasteurized shell egg especially since we are in the middle of a big egg recalls due to Salmonella contamination). The addition of the egg yolk gives a very nice and much richer taste and texture. It is still "slimy" or becomes even slimier. (Great dish for Japanese in August)

This is usually not for Westerners but my wife likes it (it did take a long time before she could eat let alone enjoy natto). This dish needs cold sake to wash it down.