Friday, December 2, 2016

Matsutake 松茸

We got a shipment of North American Matsutake from Oregon mushrooms the last week of September. Among the North American matsutake, the ones from Mexico are the most similar to the ones in Japan but, for us, the ones from Oregon are a good balance between flavor and price. I have posted many matsutake dishes previous so  this time I just made one composite post to signify the fall season.

Unlike Japanese matsutake, these Oregon matsutake are covered with dirt which is difficult to remove using just wet paper towels. So, I usually end up scraping the surface of the mushroom with a sharp paring knife. It is the pretty unpleasant to bite into grit either sand or dirt while eating matsutake.

We started with a few small dishes before we delved into feasting on the matsutake this evening. As shown below we had stir fried cabbage with abura-age similar to stir fried beef and cabbage I post before. I served this with spicy marinated tofu but instead of baking the tofu as I did previously, I cooked it in a frying pan. I first browned the pieces without sauce and then poured in the sauce and cook until the sauce was reduced. We found this is much better preparation than when they are baked. The tofu maintains its moisture with nice "piri-kara" spicy hot and salty flavor. I served this after a brief microwaving.

The cabbage dish is classic Japanese home cooking. Instead of meat, deep dried tofu pouch or abura-age is used cut into small strips and sauteed with vegetable oil and a splash of dark sesame oil and red pepper flakes. I then braised it in mirin and soy sauce. I garnished it with blanched broccoli.

The second small dish was made from something I usually discard. In preparation for making the matsutake dishes, I made a broth from kelp and dried bonito flakes (katsuo-bushi). I made two kinds of broths; Ichi-ban (#1) dashi and ni-ban (#2) dashi (一番だし、2番だし)*.  I decided to make the leftover spent kelp and bonito flakes to a dish by braising  them in mirin and soy sauce until the moisture was almost all gone. This is a type of "Tsukudani" 佃煮. Although these items were "spent" by making broth, they are still full of "umami". My wife was pleasantly surprised this dish went well with the Napa Cab we were drinking.

* #1 broth: After simmering the kelp for 10 minutes in water, I added dried bonito flakes and let it simmer for 30 seconds then cut the flame. I let it steep for another 5 minutes and then strained it without pressing. #2 broth: I put the kelp and the bonito used to make #1 broth back into the pan and added water. I let this mixture simmer for 30 minutes and then strained it. #1 dashi is the premier extraction of dashi flavors. The best analogy would be to say it is like cold pressed extra virgin olive oil while #2 dashi is like second press with heat light olive oil. #1 dashi is best used in clear soups or chawan-mushi and #2 broth is good for simmered dishes.

This is the first matsutake dish of the evening. I made matsutake touban-yaki. This time I did not add sake to steam it.

Even off the flame, the touban or ceramic disc retained heat. Upon opening the dome, the subtle but rather distinct aroma of matsutake wafted up. The steam rising from it is just visible in the picture below. We simply enjoyed this with lime (in leu of "kabosu" カボス) and Kosher salt. Of course we switched to cold sake at this point. Since we were drinking sake from Yamagata, we used "Tsugaru-nuri" sake cups we got from the Aomori prefecture (both are northern prefectures in the mainland).

The second matsutake dish I made was chawanmushi. Since I did not have any special ingredients, I made this with what I had on hand. I put in some shrimp (thawed, shelled, deveined, and cut  into small chunks), ginko nuts (from a can), and boiled North American chestnuts I had prepared previously. On the top were slices of matsutake, hana-fu 花麩 (decorative gluten cake, hydrated), the green part of scallion and yuzu skin (frozen).

Although there is a good amount of matsutake is in this dish, it is difficult to see in the picture. This is another of our favorite ways of enjoying matsutake. The egg custard was silky smooth. (I used #1 dashi broth for this dish seasoned with mirin, light colored soy sauce and salt).

At this point, we were getting filled up, so I skipped the matsutake clear soup 松茸のも吸い物  I had planned and went to the last dish of matsutake rice  松茸御飯. As usual, I used the "Kamado-san" かまどさん donabe 土鍋 rice cooker. I used a mixture of #1 and #2 broth, lightly seasoned with sake and light colored soy sauce. I also added small pieces of kelp.

This time I did not intentionally make browned crust or "okoge" おこげ to maintain the delicate flavor of the matustake. The rice developed a very nice sheen. 

I ate my serving as is; enjoying the subtle flavor and aroma of the matsutake and rice. But when I wasn't looking my wife added pats of butter to hers. (She confessed it was sublime)

The sake we had was called "kudoki jouzu" or pick-up artist, Junmai Ginjou くどき上手  純米吟醸 from Kamenoi shuzou 亀の井酒造 in Yamagata prefecture 山形県. Yamagata has many good sake breweries including "Juyondai sake" 十四代 of Takagi shuzou  高木酒造. This is made from 美山錦 miyama-nishiki which is the sake rice adapted to colder climate as I understand it. This is a nice clean sake with crisp acidity and the floral quality of Daiginjou. Ture sake website describes this sake as follows; "Great name and a great nose on this sake with hints of pear, apple, and purple plum aromas. Ahhhhh! A brew that gets it. A terrific feeling sake that fills the mouth with fat and gooey flavors but stays super smooth. The brilliant acidity-balancing act takes the sweetness out of the gambit of fruit flavors including pineapple and mango. Plump and complex this "sexy beast" is layered and luxurious with attitude and swagger. Drink closer to room temp if you want even more fruit tones, but chilled is happening." which we agree for the most part. We enjoyed matsutake this evening. Only regret I have is that I could not arrange to have some nice sashimi with this.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Sushi Taro Michelin ☆ Part 3, すし太郎 ミシュラン☆ その3

Chef Masaya asked if we would like soba. We know he is passionate about soba and actually makes it by hand out of pure buckwheat flour which is extremely difficult. In turn, we are passionate about the results of his labor. We particularly remember the 100% buckwheat soba 十割蕎麦 that came with the last years Osechi box 御節箱.  For this dinner he gave us a choice of warm or cold dipping sauce. After some indecision, I chose warm and my wife chose cold. I asked for only a small amount which, of course, Masaya knew without our asking. 

While it took some time to prepare the soba, he served us a wonderful Japanese snow crab or "Zuwai-gani" ズワイガニ stuffed in it's own shell with roe or "uchiko" 内子 to share. This is a real delicacy harvested from the cold waters of the sea of Japan in winter. The last time, we visited "Maguro Ganchi" まぐろがんち(a restaurant specialized in "maguro" = tuna and "Ganchi" = crab in the local dialect) in Kanazawa, 金沢, we could not have zuwai-gani crab since it was out of season. I really should have taken a picture of Chef Masaya's crab dish but I was too busy enjoying it. This was served with a very special sauce; Jalapeno pepper infused soy sauce. We really liked this unique sauce. It had a nice fresh Jalapeno flavor without much heat, which went so well with the sweet succulent crab meat. My wife, who never in her life would have entertained the concept of imbibing soy sauce, in a surprise move upended the dipping dish and finished what remained in one draught-- it was that good. (I'm hoping Chef Masa was not looking).

Then came the soba in a shared portion. To our surprise, he served cold and hot dipping sauces for both of us. The cold sauce had nice "sudachi" すだちcitrus flavor and the hot sauce had a duck meat with the skin grilled and caramelized. It included grilled Tokyo scallion ("Kamonanba" 鴨南蛮 style). The soba had such a nice texture and fresh flavor. Both were excellent but I particularly liked kamo-nanban style dipping sauce. It was rich with tremendous umami. Once again my wife could not resist going for the sauce. With evident reluctance, however, she restrained herself from draining the bowl.  We really appreciated tasting Chef Masaya's handmade soba.

At this point, we were quite full but when offered, who could refuse dessert?  One was a very delicate green tea custard or "maccha purin" 抹茶プリン and the other was "anmitsu ice cream monaka" with shiratama  白玉餡蜜アイスクリーム最中. Again, I was too busy digging into the desserts to take pictures. I never got a snap of the maccha purin and as you can see in the picture below I remembered to take a picture of the ice cream monaka only after it was half finished. It was a clever hydrid of "monaka" (a very traditional Japanese sweet, light crunchy shell filled with sweetened red bean paste),  "anmitsu" ("shiratma" 白玉  rice flour dumpling, sweet red bean paste with sweet sauce). This combination really worked. Despite our being so full at this point, we shared and finished both desserts without a problem. 

As usual, we so enjoyed the evening. This is something which should be experienced at least once. But once we experienced it, we found we have to come back again and again. Every thing was exquisite. All the unique flavors remain as lasting taste memories; the unctuous taste of the chutoro, for example. All the chef's attention, details, seasonality, and new innovation without totally deviating from a classic Japanese cuisine are indeed worth much more than one Michelin star to us.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Sushi Taro Michelin ☆ Part 2, すし太郎 ミシュラン☆ その2

Our sashimi and sushi course started visually  with "daikon and other sashimi garnishes" 刺身のつま and freshly grated wasabi artfully displayed on a beautiful plate. We were served two kinds of sashimi soy sauce, one with grated ginger one without.

Prepared fillets and blocks of fish for sashimi and sushi served at traditional sushi bars in Japan are usually placed in wooden boxes which are  called "Neta-bako" ネタ箱.  At Sushi Taro, they went further by displaying these boxes in front of the guests and describing all the sashimi items available for the evening at the start of  the sushi and sashimi course.  We made mental notes of our favorites throughout the presentation and selected those "must have" items when we are then invited to choose. We also deferred to the chef's choice on any other selections and have never ever been disappointed. This evening, we noticed three different kinds of "uni" ウニ sea urchin (left box). They were uni from Maine (back left), California (front left ) and Hokkaido 北海道, Japan (front right). The center box was all tuna, bluefin tuna ootoro 大トロ(right) from Boston, chutoro 中トロ (back left) and akami 赤身 (front left). 

The left box below was all white flesh "shiromi" 白身 fish including "madai" まだい sea bream and "hirame" ヒラメ flounder or flat fish. The right box was all "hikarimono" 光り物 or blue skinned fish. There were two more boxes on the right, one with partial view, contained several kinds of salmon and arctic char. The right most box which is not in the pictures contained "raw" octopus legs 生ダコの足 and ankimo あん肝 among other items.

We would have liked to try everything but, of course, we could not. We asked for our "must-have" items of uni, raw octopus, and ankimo. Beside these boxes, shell fish were also displayed on an ice filled large earthen bowl. Today's choices were scallops and abalone. We choose the scallop. We asked Masaya to provide us with his choice of sashimi and sushi to round out the selection. (That is indeed the whole idea behind "Omakase" おまかせ ; let the chef choose for you).

The uni was our first sashimi. While we have eaten each type of uni separately in the past, we had never had the opportunity for an "uni tasting" to directly compare their different characteristics. I was so eager to taste them and forgot to take a picture. Chef Masaya served them with salt on the side. All the uni was wonderful. It was a pleasure to experience the characteristic variations of each type side by side. Within the family of Uni, the California uni was it's usual brash self; bright golden yellow, creamy with a nice custard consistency and mild fresh ocean taste. The Maine uni was the country cousin with a firmer slightly grainy feel and somewhat gamey but pleasant taste.  My expectations were high for the Hokkaido uni (especially since I am from Hokkaido). The Hokkaido uni was the demure dignified cousin; smaller in size than the rest with a denser creaminess than the California uni and subtle flavor.  Masaya said the Hokkaido uni was "Bafun-uni" バフンウニ. It was so named because of its short spikes and round shape resembling "bafun" or horse droppings (not a particularly appetizing, yet oddly descriptive name).  We could certainly enjoy each kind of uni any day.

The next was a "raw" octopus leg. Most of the octopus legs we can have here, for that matter even in Japan, are pre-boiled since the octopus flesh is very perishable. I do not recall eating "raw" octopus in the U.S. The last we had was at "Tako Grill" in Kuroishi 黒石市, Aomori 青森県, Japan. In the picture below, on the left were nice cross slices of leg after the skin had been removed. On the right were the octopus leg "suckers" 吸盤. The leg had a soft consistency. It was sweet, and quite a different experience from pre-boiled octopus. The suckers had a nice crunchy almost cartilage-like snap to it. I particularly liked the sucker.

We had scallop (the order is unclear and no picture).  It was very tender and its sweet taste lingered softly on the tongue. More sashimi items followed. There was Ankimo with gel of ponzu and hirame (top left in the picture below). The hirame had lots of umami. I forgot to ask but this hirame must have been "matured" at at least a few days. It was packed with flavor. Chutoro was next (top right). The buttery taste of the chutoro lingered at the back of the palette much as the complex flavor of a fine red wine would. Then, came sanma or pacific saury (enjoyed with ginger soy sauce). I am not 100% sure but the last one was "Kamasu" かます, a type of barracuda, a rare sashimi item, with the skin side char broiled and caramelized. It contrasted with the soft flesh of the fish. 

Next was ootoro. Chef Masaya sliced it rather thin and shallowly scored it on the back ("Kakushi bocho" 隠し包丁or hidden knife work) since ootoro can have inter-veining "suji" 筋 or sinew. It looked and tasted almost like well marbled Japanese beef.  All the tuna was, of course, excellent. Next was grilled sea eel or anago アナゴ accompanied by deep fried strings and grilled  Tokyo scallion (top right). 

 Chef Masaya knows that we are not big eaters, and adjusted the portions by serving us more sashimi than sushi. After this, we had a few sushi items. I particularly remember the chutoro tuna and tai sea bream. 

more to come including dessert. To be continued......

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Sushi Taro Michelin ☆ Part 1, すし太郎 ミシュラン☆ その1

Finally Michelin came to Washington, DC and bestowed a galaxy of stars upon the city. While no 3 star constellations appeared, once they were done, 2 stars appeared behind the name of three restaurants, and one star for eight others. Among the eight restaurants which received one star was our "special occasion" Japanese restaurant "Sushi Taro" すし太郎 in Dupont Circle. We didn't need Michelin to tell us how good Sushi Taro is. We had discovered that some time ago all on our own. We gave it top rating among all the excellent restaurants we have visited even in Japan. The "star" is well deserved and as far as we are concerned, it shines bright as Venus. Despite our concern that, with the additional fame of a star, we would have difficulty getting a reservation, we were able to get a seat recently and had a fabulously memorable dinner. 

The night we were there, the main dining room was crowded and bustling but the Omakase Sushi Kaiseki 会席 area, which was separated from the main dining room, was serene and quiet. The roof top garden of bamboo highlighted in the large picture window in front of us contributed to the sense of tranquility. This was an Omakase (chef choice) dinner consisting of multiple small dishes reflecting the season and the best ingredients available. Sushi Taro deviates from a regular Kaiseki by prominently featuring sashimi and sushi. The counter accommodates 6 guests. They take only two parties and one seating per night. Each party gets the full undivided attention of Nobuhiro "Nobu" Yamazaki 山崎信博 (chef owner) or Masaya "Masa" Kitayama 北山勝也 (chef de cuisine)  for the entire length of the dinner.

We were warmly greeted by Chef de cuisine Masaya Kitayama. After choosing our sake, "Kubota Manju Diaginjo" 久保田万寿大吟醸 from Niigata 新潟 and our Guinomi ぐい呑 sake cups, an incredible course  of delicacies started. With the permission of Chef Masa, I took, or at least tried to take, some pictures. (Sometimes I got so wound up with excitement to taste the dish I forgot to take a picture.)

1. Grilled Goma-dofu 胡麻豆腐 with sesame sauce.

This is a variation of Sushi Taro's standard opening of "goma-dofu". The thin grilled crust contrasted with soft but elastic inside. Of course, freshly grated wasabi was nice with perfectly smooth sesame sauce.

2. House-smoked oyster with persimmon dressed in 150 year old balsamic vinegar 牡蠣と柿の和え物. 

This was an autumnal dish using a persimmon as a bowl which contained bite size pieces of house-smoked oyster (Kaki 牡蠣 in Japanese) and persimmon (Kaki 柿 in Japanese). So this was a whimsical play on words "Kaki and kaki in kaki". Crispy bits of deep fried "onion" (I am guessing this was  Tokyo scallion or "nihon negi" 日本ネギ) added nice flavor and crunch. The aged balsamic vinegar was sublime with just a hint of acidity and sweetness, which further brought out the sweetness of  the persimmon. The oyster was lightly smoked and very tender. Every aspect of the dish worked well together. 

3. Hassun 八寸 appetizer: 

Okinawan mozuku seaweed in sweet vinegar 沖縄モズク, chestnut encased in edible imitation "Iga" outer spiky shell イガ栗揚げ, mustard stuffed-lotus root 辛子蓮根,  stuffed ginko nuts 銀杏 (clockwise starting from left back) and pickled myoga ミョウガの甘酢漬け (center).

We were told that the chestnuts were from California. Among the batch of chestnuts Chef Masa received, he carefully chose those that did not have the tough inner shell separation characteristic of California chestnuts. The ones he used in this dish were visually perfect; just one example of his impeccable attention to detail. The chestnuts were cooked in a special way called "Shibukawa-ni" 渋皮煮. With this method, the papery brown inner skin is left on but is not bitter. The chestnut was encased in a puree of white fish ("surimi" すり身) and short segments of dried somen noodles ソーメン were attached to imitate "spines" of chestnut outer shell and deep fried. It was then partially opened up to show the chestnut inside, a nice depiction of chestnuts peeking through the outer spiny shell, but all edible.  Each morsel in the dish provided a different taste and texture which were distinct and unique but went well together as a whole. For example, the stuffed lotus root had a nice crunch and a slight zing of mustard, which went well with the soft texture and vinegar of the seaweed which in turn played in tune with the somewhat sweeter vinegar but coarser texture of the myoga with its own unique flavor. All the items were perfect for sipping sake..

4. Simmered abalone 鮑の柔らか煮, Japanese "Komatsuna" greens 小松菜 and Japanese "sato-imo" taro 里芋 in oyster broth.

The broth was very special with an intense brininess and pleasing essence of "Ocean". It was made from the cooking liquid in which many oysters were simmered for another dish according to Chef Masaya. This concentrated oyster broth was the basis for the seasoning for this dish. Chef Masaya told us that abalone does not have much of its own flavor but has a nice texture. To boost the flavor of the abalone, he let the oyster and other umami flavors of the broth permeate the abalone. Although it is generally not polite to drink the broth in this kind of dish, it was way too good to leave behind; without shame we both drank it dry.

Next is the sashimi and sushi course (to be continued).

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Salmon sashimi 鮭の刺身

This was the last serving of sashimi fish (tuna, salmon and uni) we got from Catalina. I served all that was left. We have enjoyed the contents of this shipment for lunches and evening repasts for the past 3 days.

Besides Sashimi, I also served cucumber cups with moromi-miso もろみ味噌 and soy sauce marinated salmon roe いくらの醤油漬け.

I served two kinds of salmon sashimi. The rolled up one is kelp-cured and the flat one is straight salmon sashimi. 

Because the tuna had a bit of unpleasant sinew and only a small piece was left, I made "tuna nuta" マグロのぬた. I cut the tuna into small cubes and served it with wakame seaweed 若芽 and thinly sliced rings of red onion and dressed it in nuta or sumiso 酢味噌 sauce

Although we enjoyed the sashimi fish we got this time from Catalina, the tuna was a bit disappointing because of the unpleasant sinew in the meat. The Northwestern uni was just OK; with its gamey flavor and soft texture it was nothing comparable to California Gold Uni we used to get. The highlight was the salmon. 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Kelp-cured salmon molded sushi 鮭の昆布締め押し寿司

The day we received sashimi-grade salmon, I made instant gravlax for lunch. While I was preparing the gravlax, I also prepared "kelp cured salmon" 鮭の昆布締め. Usually, white meat fish is used for this preparation but I wanted to experiment. After almost 3 days curing, I made molded sushi or "Oshizushi" 押し寿司 out of it. I served it with French style green beans dressed with sesame dressing インゲンの胡麻和え and simmered burdock root ごぼうのしぐれ煮. I also served my potato salad topped with salmon roe soaked in sake and soy sauce イクラの醤油漬け.  I served miso soup with tofu, and onion on the side.

Actually one mold made 7 pieces. Since it was an uneven number,  but wife and I split one before plating. I garnished it with fresh dill. You cannot see it well but I made two layers of sushi rice; one seasoned with dried "aonori" seaweed 青のり and the other with red perilla salt or  "Yokari" ゆかり(see #6 in the composite picture below).

Kelp cured salmon
Sashimi-grade salmon, thinly sliced (#1).
Dried Konbu kelp, briefly hydrated until pliable,  moisture blotted (three 4 inch pieces of kelp).

I placed the slices of salmon on the kelp (#2) and covered them with another piece of kelp. I added one more layer of salmon slices and topped with more kelp.
I wrapped the kelp and salmon in aluminum foil and placed the package in the refrigerator.
I cured it for 3 days.

Kelp cured salmon molded sushi
Kelp cured salmon slices
Sushi rice
Dried "aonori" powder
Yukari (powder of dried red perilla leaves mixed with salt)

I soaked the wooden mold in water for 10-15 minutes. I placed one layer of the kelp-cured salmon slices on the bottom of the mold (#3). 
I divided the sushi rice into two portions; I mixed one with dried "aonori" seaweed and the other with Yukari powder making green and red colored rice.
I first placed the aonori rice in the mold over the salmon piece and pressed using the wooden lid of the mold. I then layered the Yukari rice on the top (#4) and pressed using the wooden lid.
I cut the molded portion into 7 pieces (#5).
As you can see the rice layers are green and red (#6)

Since I had potato salad which I made a few days ago and "ikura" salmon roe which I marinated in a mixture of sake and soy sauce, I made the dish below (I put the potato salad in a round mold and topped it with the salmon roe)

With the combination of side vegetables, potato salad and miso soup, we were quite full. Compared to kelp-cured white fish, the salmon has too strong a flavor and is too oily to have a lot of kelp umani flavor transferred to the fish. But still we could taste the subtle difference between straight raw salmon and this preparation of salmon.  The combination of aonori and yukari rice was a great success and the saltiness of yukari rice and nori flavor really added to this dish.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Philly and Tekka rolls フィラデルフィア巻き、鉄火巻き

We received tuna, salmon and uni from Catalina on Saturday morning. For Sunday lunch, I made one of the American-invented rolls called Philadelphia roll (or Philly roll for short). I also made the more traditional tuna "tekka" roll. I made Philly roll as a medium sized roll or "chumaki" 中巻き (left in the picture below)  and tuna roll as a "hosomaki" 細巻き (right).

Philly roll is so named because it is made with Philadelphia cream cheese.* It also included salmon and cucumber. The salmon and cream cheese combination is, of course, the traditional match used for Salmon Lox and cream cheese on a bagel; a classic (New York) Jewish breakfast. Philly roll can be "Uramaki" 裏巻き, (rice outside and nori inside) or "Omotemaki" 表巻き (Nori outside and rice inside). I decided to make it "Chumaki and omotemaki".

*Cream cheese may have the origin in Europe but is usually considered an American cheese. Philadelphia brand became the most popular version of this cheese which is now a part of Kraft Foods.

I served it with miso soup made of wakame seaweed, tofu and scallion.

Ingredients (for one medium roll):
Sushi rice, about one cup (#1, picture is the amount of rice for one medium Philly roll and one small tuna roll),
Sheet of nori (#2)
Cream cheese, cut into sticks (#4)
Salmon, sushi grade, cut into sticks
Cucumber (American mini cucumber), cut into quarters lengthwise with center soft part with seeds removed.

To make sushi rice, I mixed seasoned rice vinegar (with sugar and salt or from the bottle) and let it sit for 10-15 minutes loosely covered with a tea towel (to lower the temperature of rice and let the rice absorb the vinegar, #1).
I placed a full sheet of nori with shiny side down on the sushi mat (#2).
I spread the rice in thin layers  making sure to leave about half an inch of uncovered edge of nori on the far side (moisten your hands with water with a splash of rice vinegar in it, #3).
I smeared the wasabi in a horizontal line on the nori using a finger. The line was approximately where the contents of the roll would be placed.
I put the salmon, cream cheese and cucumber on the side close to me (#4).
I rolled the mat with the nori/rice on it to make sure the edges of the nori sheet overlaped. I then squeezed the mat with the roll in it to make a firm roll (#5).
I also made a small roll with tuna in the center using a half sheet of nori (#6).

This does not look like a lot of sushi but we were quite full after eating this. My wife likes miso soup for lunch. This was a good starter after we received the sashimi items. Our expectations for a dinner of the other sashimi items we had received grew after enjoying this lunch.