Monday, June 26, 2017

"Shisamo" smelt al ajillo ししゃものハーブオイル煮込み

Inventory control of my Japanese food stash in our freezer is not easy. Often I come across frozen fish items which need to be quickly consumed. I found a package of frozen "shishamo" シシャモ smelt the other day and I do not have a clue when I bought it but it still looked good.  I could have cooked them the usual way in the toaster oven or in a frying pan but I decided to slow-cook it in an herb olive oil a la "Gambas al ajillo" which I saw on the web.


This dish is more than just enjoying the fish but also soaking up the herb oil with a piece of baguette.


As usual I made some modification, the first of which was to make garlic chips. I removed them from the pan after they became brown and crispy and before cooking the fish. If I had left them in to cook with the fish they would have become bitter.  I added them back in after the fish was cooked.


Ingredients:
"Shishamo" Japanese smelt, frozen, one package (this had 10 small fish), not thawed
Olive oil, about 200ml
Fresh thyme, several sprigs
Garlic, two cloves, peeled and thinly sliced

Directions:
In a non-stick frying pan, I added the olive oil in low flame and the garlic until the garlic was golden and crispy but not bitter. I removed it from the oil (above).
In the remaining oil, I added the thyme and the fish (below) and cooked it on low flame for 10-15 minutes.


Mid-way through, I carefully turned the fish over (skin is very delicate and easily breakable).


I garnished with the thyme sprigs and served it with slices of baguette I had made. Although I used quite a few thyme springs, the thyme flavor was rather muted but the fish were very good (these had roe). The only problem was that this was an appetizer and the flavored oil with the baguette was so good that if we were not careful, and exercised a degree of restraint, this would have been dinner. The restraint was worthwhile though because they tasted even better the next day. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

Spinach cheese loaf ほうれん草とチーズのローフ

This is another one of my wife's baking projects. She likes basically anything made with pie dough; mini pies and cheese pockets you name it. She was inspired to make this spinach cheese loaf after reading a recipe in one of the "freebee" promotion cooking magazine we received. She made substantial changes to the recipe and "inspired by" rather than "followed" recipe is appropriate. We had this as a light lunch on the weekend. I made a quick cucumber and tomato salad with our home-made ranch dressing from our favorite "high "octane buttermilk. Since we also made deviled eggs, these are on the plate as well. It was sunny but rather hot day and cold crisp white wine or sparkling wine could have been good but we restrained ourselves.


I also served very sweet ripe mission figs.


You can see the spinach stuffing with bacon bits and bottom and top layers of smoked mozzarella cheese.  She used store-bought pie crust which came out nice and flaky.


This was how it looked before slicing. She made a few cuts on the top crust as vents to let the steam escape.


Ingredients:
One packaged pre-made pie crust thawed
Spinach, two bags, cooked without adding any liquid, excess moisture squeezed and finely chopped.
2 strips of bacon cooked until crispy, oil drained and crumbled.
Two onions diced and carmelized
Feta cheese, half block, crumbled or to taste.
red pepper flakes to taste
1 Egg, one beaten.
Smoked mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced, enough to cover the bottom and top of the baking dish.
1 tsp of melted butter. 

Directions:
Line the bottom of a small pyrex cooking dish with parchment paper (this makes removal of the loaf much easier). Roll out one sheet of the store-bought (Pillsbury) pie crust. Put it over the parchment on the bottom dish allowing the excess to hang over the sides (#1). Line the dough with a layer of smoked mozzarella (#2). Mix the cooked, chopped spinach, rendered bacon, caramelized onions, feta cheese, beaten egg and red pepper flakes together (#3). Pour mixture over crust in dish (#4). Cover with another layer of smoked mozzarella. Fold the excess dough hanging over the side of the dish on top the the spinach mixture (#5). Cut vent holes in the top crust and brush with melted butter. Cook in a 425 oven for 45 to 50 minutes or until the crust is nicely browned (#6). Let it cool completely before attempting to slice. 



When she put the loaf in the oven, she was a bit distraught because it looked like the moisture was seeping out to the bottom crust, She thought the bottom crust wouldn't get crispy/flaky. But it turned out to be an optical illusion and everything came out just fine.  This was very nice "all-in-one" lunch. You get you starch, vegetables, and protein all in, in one slice.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Pacific saury simmered with picked "umeboshi" plums 秋刀魚の梅煮

My wife pointed out that a package of frozen Pacific saury or ”Sanma" 秋刀魚 was in the freezer and had been there for some time. I must have bought it last autumn and it certainly required my immediate attention.   I have posted quite a few sanma dishes including classic "shio-yaki", salted and then grilled 塩焼き, "kaba-yaki" 蒲焼, "fry" 秋刀魚のフライ, and "fried rolls" 秋刀魚の巻き揚げ. I thought I had not posted sanma cooked with "umeboshi" 梅干し pickled plum or 秋刀魚の梅煮 but, when I searched my blog, I apparently already posted it some time ago. It was 7 years ago and this time, I cooked it a bit differently, which is my excuse for posting this dish again. This was a weekend and the weather was glorious and the mosquitoes were on vacation somewhere else so we enjoyed this dish outside on the deck with cold sake.


For greens, I added blanched and trimmed green beans. I also included the "umeboshi" plum which was used in the cooking liquid.


This fish is known for its numerous fine bones. Since I cooked this bone in, it took some chopstick dexterity to remove the bone before eating. The tail portion was easy because the meat had contracted exposing the bone, but the belly potion was more difficult. I demonstrated my chopstick prowess but my wife took a direct hands-on (literally) approach. This was OK with me. I would rather have her remove all the bones even if she has to use her fingers rather than have me remove a bone she missed from her throat using a needle nose pliers (This actually happened many years ago). If the removal of fish bones with fingers lacks finesse, it is completely superseded by the needle nose pliers technique. 


Ingredients:
Pacific saury "sanma", three, thawed (#2)
Umeboshi pickled plums, 4, (#1, these are last batch my mother made and sent to us several years ago)
Ginger, several slices
Sake 180ml
Water, enough to cover the fish (90-180ml)
Sugar 1tsp
Soy sauce, 1 tbs
Mirin, 1 tbs

Directions:
Press the umeboshi to separate the stones and the meat. Then tear the meat into a few chunks
Wash and clean the surface of the sanma to make sure no scales remain (scales fall off easily and usually no scales remain)
Cut the head off behind the front fins, remove the dorsal and ventral fins, and cut into three pieces.
Squeeze out the innards and wash it with a running cold water.
Place the fish in a colander and pour hot water over it turning once (this will remove some fishiness and keep the skin from breaking easily during the cooking) (#3).
Put the water, sake, pickled plum, sugar  and slices of ginger in a sauce pan on medium-high flame (#4). If needed add more water so that the fish is covered.
Once it starts boiling, turn down the heat and put an "otsohis-buta" on top (#5), I used the pink silicon one.  One can use a parchment paper or aluminum foil, instead.
After 5-7 minutes, I removed the otoshibuta and added the soy sauce and mirin and put back the otoshibuta and a lid and cooked it for 20 minutes.
I let it cool down in the cooking liquid.


The pickled plums added a nice salty and slightly sour tastes and the reaming plum meat add refreshing note. We really like this dish. My wife said next time she would remove the bone with her fingers in the kitchen ahead of time rather than at the dinner table.


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Anchovy balls in soup イワシのつみれ汁

Anchovies or "Iwashi" イワシ are generally considered "low-class" fish. In the West, it is almost exclusively used to make cans of salted and oil packed filets or paste in a tube. It is often used in Italian food such as pizza, or in a sauce or garnish but many people do not like it. In Japan, it is also considered a "low-class" fish but it is much better appreciated and eaten in many different ways. One of the problems with these blue skin fish is that they spoil very quickly. When I was in Japan, small blue skinned fish like pacific saury or "sanma" 秋刀魚 or anchovies or "iwashi" イワシ was never eaten as sashimi.  Recent improvement in quick delivery logistics, however, made it possible to consume these blue skin fish as sashimi. We occasionally see "fresh" (meaning not in a can) whole anchovies in the near-by Whole  foods market. Unfortunately, for some reason, they look all beaten up; like they just came out of a bar brawl. For this reason I hesitate to buy them. While I was checking our freezer, I came across frozen filets of fresh anchovies that I bought in our Japanese grocery store.  I completely forgot I had them and decide to make two dishes from them. 

This is the first dish. It is a fish meat ball called "iwashi-no-tsumire*" イワシのつみれ. I added the fish meat balls to seasoned broth with tofu, shiitake mushrooms, green beans, and garnished with the white part of scallion which makes this dish "Iwashi-no-tusmire-jiru" イワシのつみれ汁. Since this was in the evening and my wife does not like to eat a lot of soup in the evening, I added only a small amount of the broth.


Here is the close up. The tsumire  turned out to be very soft and friable.  The tofu is silken tofu from "Otokomae".


*Digression  Alert: I am sure nobody cares about the difference between "tsukune" つくね and "tsumire" つみれ but to make this blog educational, I will try to explain the subtle difference between these two Japanese culinary parlances. Both are balls made of minced fish or animal meat and cooked, either boiled or grilled. "Tsukune" is most often used to describe chicken meat balls and "tsumire" for fish meat balls but that is not the true difference between these two words. "Tsukune-ru" 捏ねる is a verb which means to "mix" or "knead" and if you are forming balls by rolling, it is called "tsukune". "Tsumu" 摘む is a verb which means to "pick" or "pluck" and 'Tumi-ireru" 摘入れる is a combined verb (tsumu+ ireru, "ireru" meaning "to place"). So tsumuireru means  "to pluck something (between your fingers) and put it (into cooking liquid). So, for authentic "tsumire", you pick up a small portion of chopped meat with your fingers and then place it in cooking liquid. In my case, I just used two small spoons to form balls, so this is "quenelle" rather than "tsumire". This is way more than anybody cares to know, but even I am amazed at my ability to pontificate on such meaningless topics.

Ingredients:
Frozen anchovy filets, 3, thawed (see below, I used half for this dish)
Miso, 1 tsp
Sake, 4 tbs+1tsp
Ginger, grated, 1/2 tsp
Potato starch, 1/2 tsp
Alternatively, you could use salt (1/2 tsp) and egg white (one egg) which make more "pure" iwashi flavored tsumire. In my case, I was more afraid of a strong"fishy" smell and flavor and used miso and ginger.

For the seasoned broth:
Japanese kelp and bonito broth (I made it  from a dashi pack), 200ml
Mirin and light colored soy sauce to taste (about 1 tbs each)


Directions:
Marinate the filets in sake for 30 minutes to overnight in the refrigerator (optional, especially if using fresh anchovies).
Using a chef's knife, mince it (the finer you mince the fish the firmer the resulting tsumire). You could remove the skin to make it less strong but I included it).
I mixed the miso with sake and worked it into the minced fish meat.
I then added the potato starch (you can add more to make the final products firmer).


Using two spoons, I made a small "quenelle" and dropped into gently simmering seasoned broth and cooked it for 5 minutes.
I kept this in the refrigerator after it cooled to the room temperature and the next day, heated it up with other items seen in the first picture or served it immediately.


This was a very slightly fishy in smell but not in taste. It had a very soft and delicate texture. The texture of the fish went very well with the texture of the soft tofu. Probably I could have minced the fish more finely and/or added more starch. In any case, it was a nice and delicate dish and we enjoyed it with cold sake on a recent holiday. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Natto and mackerel donburi 鯖味噌納豆丼

When I made natto with canned mackerel in miso sauce, the recipe suggested that this dish would be good as a drinking snack or on rice. So, I used the leftovers to make this donburi for lunch. I used frozen cooked rice which we always have in our freezer. (When we cook rice, we usually have leftovers so we freeze individual sized portions in small Ziploc bags with the date written on the outside. Then when we need rice we thaw it for 30 seconds in the microwave which makes rice to be separated but still semi-frozen. At this point, I put the rice in the bowl).


I also added precooked green beans (I usually  boil a package of green beans and keep it in the refrigerator). I microwaved it with a lid on (this donbri bowl has a lid) until the rice was warm (it comes out with a consistency and taste close to freshly made).


I also added a sunny -side-up fried egg (the egg yolk still runny).


This was quite good. I should have made more sauce.  I am sure freshly cooked rice would have been better but even with frozen rice, this was quite enjoyable.



Sunday, June 11, 2017

Blue fish simmered in misoブルーフィシュの味噌煮

The other day, we were in the near-by Wholefoods store. We always look to see what kind of whole fresh fish is available. My wife wanted mackerel since she really like mackerel in miso sauce (サバの味噌煮) but they did not have it. Instead, we saw two relatively small blue fish which were the last they had. I am not sure if there is any Japanese name or similar fish in Japan. The meat is soft and has a slightly blueish tinge. It also has a rather strong taste and is considered a fairly "low-class" fish and is often used as bait for larger fish by game fishermen. We have smoked this fish before which made it rather palatable. We thought these characteristics were somewhat similar to mackerel and decided it may be good to cook it in miso sauce. 


I garnished it with chopped chives and thin julienne of ginger。


It looks very similar to mackerel as we hoped it would.


It is essentially cooked the same as mackerel.

Ingredients:
Bluefish, two, about 10 inches, gutted and head off (#1)
300 ml water
100 ml sake
5tbs miso
3tbs sugar
4 slices of ginger300 ml water

Directions:
scale and cut two filets removing the center layer of bone (#3). this is called "Sanmai-ni-orosu" 三枚におろす.
Remove the belly portion and any bones especially under the dorsal fin  (#3).
Cut the filet into 3 pieces and score the skin to prevent the skin from breaking while cooking (#4).
Put the sake, water, and ginger in the pan and add the fish with the skin side up when the liquid starts simmering(#5).
Cook for few minutes and mix the miso, sugar and loosen it by adding the simmering liquid and then add the miso mixture (#6).
Covered it with a silicon "otoshibuta" and cook 30-40 minutes.
Remove the lid and reduce the sauce for 5-10 minutes until the miso sauce become think and clingy.



So, we found out, bluefish can be substituted for mackerel for this dish. It tasted almost identical and if you were not told, you could not tell the difference.


Thursday, June 8, 2017

Tater tots, sort of テイタートッツ

We don't eat steak very often but when we do, my wife always likes to have potatoes as the side. (Apparently, she is an all American meat-and-potato gal when it comes to steak). She usually makes oven fried (baked) potatoes. She tried several iterations using duck fat or bacon drippings in the past. Since I got two small filet mignon for dinner, she wanted potatoes but wanted to make something different. She came up with this variation of the ultimate American potato; "Tater tots". They are essentially grated potato formed into short cylinders and deep fried. Generally this dish starts life frozen in a package on the freezer isle of the grocery store (Ore-Ida invented this in 1953). Then it is baked in the oven. (When my wife was a very young child, she thought the freezer was the source of all food including a continuous supply of pre-made tater tots).  Being a bit older now, there was no way my wife was going to send me to the grocery store to get frozen tater tots. They were going to be home-made...was that even possible? Turns out tater tots are very popular and there are many recipes to make them at home from scratch. My wife consulted several of these recipes and came up with this variation. It is more like small hash-browns than tater tots.


Instead of deep frying, this was baked. 


Ingredients:
White potatoes, 5, peeled 
Bacon, 2 strips, cooked crisp and crumbled
1/2 tsp onion powder
1 Tbs. AP flour
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 Tbs. olive oil
Italian parsley, finely chopped, 1 tbs

Directions:
Partially cook the potatoes in salted water (starting from cold water, add 5 minutes after the water comes to a boil). (Next time we may try just grating the potato raw). 
Grate the partially cooked potatoes coarsely using a box grader. Then mix in the bacon, onion power, AP flour, cheddar cheese, salt, pepper, olive oil and parsley. (#1).

Instead of making the potato mixture into short cylindrical shapes which is traditional, my wife just made a loose ball using a medium size ice cream scoop on a greased non-stick baking sheet. She then lightly pressed them flat  (#2 and 3).
She baked them in a 450F for 20 minutes turning over once after 10 minutes (#4).


This was good with a crunchy outer shell and soft center. We did not taste much of the bacon, though. For the amount of work, we may be better off with our oven baked potato or I may even suggest we go for those Ore-Ida frozen original tater tots.