Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Seared Tuna salad 炙り鮪のぬたサラダ

Again, this is a continuation of how to enjoy tuna sashimi in different ways.  Mark's book (p80) has a similar more traditional recipe, "Tuna 'Nuta' with Miso Mustard dressing". I make this dish slightly differently. "Nuta" ぬた is a traditional Japanese dish in which raw fish, sea weed, and "wakegi" わけぎ (which is very similar or identical to scallions -green or spring onions- we get in the U.S.)  are dressed in sweet miso mustard sauce "karashi sumiso" からし酢みそ. I made some modifications to this traditional recipe and made it into a salad. I used the "tataki" technique for tuna and cooked the scallions over direct gas flame. This way, the tuna attains a nice firm texture and the scallions become very sweet. You could just boil the scallions as suggested in Mark's book. For added texture, I used grilled "abura-age" 油揚げ or deep fried tofu pouch and everything was set on the top of dressed greens (I used baby arugula here but any leafy greens will do). Of course, if you omit the greens, that will also be just fine with sake.

I used 1/3 "saku" 冊 or block of tuna sashimi (previously frozen) for two servings. After thawing, remove any moisture from the surface and salt both sides. To sear the surface, you could use a frying pan with a bit of oil but I used the traditional Japanese method of a direct gas fire (or charcoal fire). I put two metal skewer, fanned out, through the tuna and held it over the flames until all surfaces were white with small light brown patches but the center was still raw. I plunged the tuna into ice water to cool. I then dried with paper towels and cut into bite size pieces.

I selected thick scallions (3-4) rather than thin ones. Holding the green part, I charred the white part of the scallion over the direct flame until the outer skin blackened. I set them aside until they were cool enough to handle (1-2 minutes). I then removed the root end and outer most blackened layer and cut the white and contiguous green parts into 1/2 inch long segments.

I put one abura-age in a toaster oven and toasted it like I would a slice of bread until surface was brown and crispy (I could have used direct flames as well). I cut it into 1/3 inch strips.

To make "nuta" or "sumiso" sauce (I posted this before); this time I used regular white miso (2 tbs), sugar (2 tbs) and mixed in enough rice vinegar to make a saucy consistency. If the sauce is vinegary enough but still too thick, you could add a bit of 'dashi" or sake. I also added 1/3 tsp of prepared hot Japanese mustard. In Mark's book, this sauce was made with the addition of mirin without sugar (mirin is sweet) and less vinegar which makes the sauce less vinegary but I like a more assertive vinegary taste. Dress all the above ingredients except for the greens with this sauce.

For the baby arugula, I simply dressed with a splash of rice vinegar and good quality olive oil, salt and black pepper.

Just place the greens on the bottom of the plate and make a mound of "nuta" on the top. My wife usually does not like scallions in big pieces but this time because of the method of cooking them they were very soft and sweet and she liked it. Abura-age added a nice crunch and everything came together with the smooth miso sauce. Arugula has nice peppery taste which also added to the overall flavor.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Tuna tartar with cucumber and grape 鮪のタルタル

If tuna sashimi is in good quality, it is best to eat it simply with wasabi and soy sauce. If you like to have tuna sashimi in different ways or the quality of tuna sashimi is not really good (often in my case), you could make something different. I already posted a few variations on this theme.

This particular night, I made tuna tartar, which is a fairly common Western adaptation of tuna sashimi. Again, this is not a recipe per se, you could make many variations on this theme to your liking. I just chop tuna sashimi in small cubes, mix in finely chopped chives, soy say sauce with wasabi dissolved, a dash of good quality olive oil to your taste. If you like, you could use, chopped perilla and/or scallion, tabasco, sesame oil etc for variations.

To make the taste a bit more interesting, I made a sweet vinegar miso sauce with Japanese mustard "karashi sumiso" からし酢みそ in addition. I used "saikyo" miso 西京味噌, which is sweet to begin with. I used 1 tbs of saikyo miso, 1/3 tsp of prepared hot Japanese mustard (in a tube), 1/2 tsp sugar, and added rice vinegar until a nice smooth saucy consistency is reached. I did this in a Japanese mortar "suribachi" すり鉢 and pestle すりこぎ but you could use a small bowl attachment using a food processor or you could just buy a premade "sumiso" sauce. Taste and adjust the degree of sweetness by adding more sugar.

For assembly, I used a ring mold; tuna tartar on the bottom, thinly sliced mini-cucumber next and thinly sliced black sweet seedless grapes (I just happened to have them) on the top with a garnish of salmon roe "ikura" いくら and chives. I drizzled sumiso sauce on the top and around the tartar on the plate. The dish has an interesting combination of texture, and taste. Mixing sumiso sauce will add one more dimension of nutty sweet and sourness. You could use thinly sliced onion, jicama or Asian pear instead or in addition. You could also use the yolk of a quail egg in stead of salmon roe.  We had this with cold sake.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Deep fried stuffed Shiitake mushroom 椎茸の肉詰め揚げ

This is a variation from "Deep fried stuffed peppers" (Mark's book p20). This is also a fairly common dish. Actually, one of the reasons I made this dish is (like Pork meat ball nabe dish) to use up the meat stuffing I made for gyoza. Somehow we did not feel like having gyoza repeated for a few days. In any case, the recipe is rather simple.
For the meat stuffing, you could use any kind of ground meat such as pork, chicken or even beef or a mixture of beef and pork. Here, since I used gyoza stuffing, it is made of pork, minced cabbage, scallion, ginger, garlic and seasoned with soy sauce, mirin and black pepper. You could use just meat but I prefer to lightly season it, at least with salt and pepper. Since this is a type of tempura, you could eat this with a tempura dipping sauce with grated daikon or graded daikon with red pepper "momijo-oroshi" 紅葉おろし as suggested in the recipe in the Mark's book or with a lemon and salt or just with a lemon juice as we did here because the meat stuffing was seasoned.

I used small fresh mushroom (about 2 inch in diameter). Although it is optional, I made a traditional decorative star-shaped cut on the surface of the shiitake mushroom as seen above. Take the meat stuffing and put it against the gill side of the mushroom and make a small mound. The amount of the stuffing depends on the size of the mushroom, I used 1-2 heaping tsp for each mushroom. I used a rather thin tempura batter. I made about 1/3 cup of the batter with 2tsp each of cake flour and potato starch and added cold water (from the refrigerator dispenser) to make the rather loose batter.

I heated peanut oil or vegetable oil in a pan to 375F (or you could use the more imprecise but easy method of judging the oil temperature as I described before). I used green beans as an accompaniment. I snipped both ends of green beans and coated them with batter. I fried the beans for 1 minute. Then, I coated the stuffed shiitake mushrooms with the batter and fried them meat stuffing side down first and after 2-3 minutes flipped them over and fried another 2 minutes on the mushroom side. I drained the stuffed mushrooms on a pepper towel or on a metal grate.

Small Japanese green peppers called "pea-man" ピーマン required in the recipe in Mark;'s book are difficult to get here in the U.S. and certainly, western green peppers are too thick and too strong in flavor for this dish. Especially since my wife does not like green peppers, shiitake mushroom is better choice for us. Shiitake mushroom has a nice meaty texture and we really like this combination.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Pork meat ball Hot Pot 豚ミートボール小鍋仕立て

Hot pot dish called "nabe" 鍋 (which means a "pot") or "nabemono" 鍋物 is a family style homey dish in which a large (usually earthen) pot was placed in the middle of a table on a portable gas or electric cooker. One large pot is shared by the diners and the ingredients are cooked on the table as you eat. This type of communal pot dish is not usual in Izakaya (unless it is a small drinking party held in Izakaya) but a small individual or 2-person nabe is served in Izakaya. Types of nabe are numerous depending on the type of broth and main items you put in it. If the broth is not seasoned, it is usually eaten with a dipping sauce such as "ponzu shoyu" sauce and if the broth is seasoned with either miso or soy sauce, it is eaten as is or with some garnish. After most of the ingredients are consumed a well seasoned savory both is left in a pot. Cooked (leftover) rice or noodles can be added to the broth to make the last starch dish of the meal. It is the best dish to be had in a cold windy night.

We had our first snow of the season in the DC area few days ago and it has been rather cold which prompted me to make this spur-of-the-moment nabe dish using whatever was available. I happened to have extra kelp broth from the night I made the "warm tofu with pork miso sauce". Also, I had stuffing for pork gyoza which I made the night before. So I used these leftovers and made this nabe dish. Instead of a large nabe, I used a small nabe pot usually used to make "nabeyaki Udon" 鍋焼きうどん- a Japanese noodle dish which is cooked and served in a individual pot. I am sure I can post that recipe in near future. The amount is perfect for my wife and I.

For broth, I used kelp broth and seasoned it with sake, mirin, and soy sauce (sorry, all eye-balled and then tasted for further adjustment, no precise amount here). When the broth was hot I used a small ice cream scoop and dropped small balls of the pork mixture for gyoza into the broth. Other ingredients I used were nappa cabbage 白菜 (cut into 2 inch wide pieces), firm tofu 豆腐, daikon 大根 (cut in 1/3 inch-thick, half moon shaped; put diakon in first while the broth is being heated), fresh Shiitake mushrooms 椎茸, and scallion 葱 (cut into 1 inch pieces). I cooked this in the kitchen rather than on the table. This was served in a small bowl with a sprinkling of  Japanese 7 flavored pepper powder 七味唐辛子.

After we finished this dish, I took the nabe back to the kitchen and added cooked rice (as usual frozen one, you could defrost first), added thinly cut napa cabbage (soft green part which I reserved). I added a bit more water since the broth has reduced a bit. Cooked 10 minutes in low heat until the rice was cooked and a "porridge' consistency was achieved. I adjusted the seasoning by adding salt or soy sauce (I used salt). I beat one egg and mixed it into the porridge. I put the lid back on and took the pot off the flame. I waited 5 minutes and then served the porridge.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Fried rice 炒飯

This is another popular Sino-Japanese dish and perfect for ending your Izakaya feast. Like fried noodle "yakisoba"焼きそば, I make this dish with leftovers such as frozen rice and whatever vegetables and/or proteins are available. There is no real recipes per-se and there are as many variations as numbers of people who cook this dish. We are not fried rice aficionados, but, I know that some people are really into this dish and many "secrets" have been discussed. Some people appear to like having the rice grains separated and suggest mixing a beaten egg into cold cooked rice before frying. I tried this method but I do not particularly like the end result. I only make sure that the rice does not get too greasy (through judicial use of oil and cooking on very hot wok or frying pan) and is well seasoned (I add a small amount of soy sauce along the perimeter of the hot pan at the end).
The night I made this dish, as a protein, I used thinly sliced pork spare ribs which were briefly (10 minutes) marinated in 2 parts soy sauce, 1 part sake and 1 part mirin with 1/4 tsp of grated ginger root. The vegetables I used were fresh shiitake mushrooms (4-5 medium, sliced), snow peas (10-15 pods), finely chopped onion (1/2 medium), and thinly sliced garlic (1 fat clove). I put 2 tsp of peanut oil in a non-stick frying pan and fried the garlic slices on low-medium heat until the garlic slices  brown slightly (do not burn, it will get bitter). Take them out leaving garlic infused oil in the pan and set aside the garlic chips (I use them later as a garnish). I increased the heat, added onion, meat (strained of the marinade) and stir fried until the meat was cooked. I added shiitake mushrooms and snow peas, sauted until they were cooked (about 2 minutes). Season with salt and pepper and remove from the pan and set aside.

 Clean the pan and add a tsp of peanut oil with a dash of dark sesame oil on high heat. When the oil is almost smoking add about one cup of thawed frozen rice (leftover rice works much better since the grains separate easily) and stir until the rice is coated with oil and the grains are separated (2-3 minutes). Lightly (be aware of an additive effect of seasoning) season with salt and pepper. Add the meat/vegetable mixture back into the pan and keep stirring and flipping until well mixed. At the end, pour a small amount (about 1 tsp) of soy sauce on the inner edge of the hot frying pan so that the soy sauce gets fragrant before reaching the rice, stir or flip to mix well, and plate the fried rice. I prefer to make scrambled eggs separately. Garnish the fried rice with scrambled eggs, thinly sliced vinegared ginger root, "aonori" sea weed, and the garlic chips.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Spaghetti casserole with goat cheese スパゲッティキャセロール

Sometimes, you have to make something using whatever ingredients are available.  We had cooked spaghetti leftover from serving our vegetarian guests two night ago (which was also a moment of "have to make something vegetarian" for them), leftover marinara sauce I made the other day for my pizza. As you may recall, my wife is not particularly wild about spaghetti pasta. I needed to make something for a bottle of red wine we just opened (Mollydooker 2008 The Maitre D', Cabernet Sauvignon"). I had fresh goat cheese, fresh mozzarella cheese and fresh basel (all leftover from the pizza night). So I came up with this starter dish (with helpful suggestions from my wife).

I cut the spaghetti into short pieces so that it was easier to eat and mixed with the marinara sauce. I mixed in crumbled goat cheese. On the bottom of a ramekin or small gratin dish, I added a small amount of olive oil to coat the bottom. I added the spaghetti mixture, placed two to three slices of fresh mozzarella cheese on the top and baked in a 450 degree F toaster oven for 10 minutes. I grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, sprinkled with salt and cracked black pepper, drizzled a good quality EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil), garnished with of fresh basel. With Mollydooker cab, this was not bad. Although my wife still said, "I am not crazy about the spaghetti pasta". Oh, well.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Warm Tofu with Pork-Miso sauce 肉味噌豆腐

Sweet miso sauce with added meat is rather common Japanese sauce. Mark's book has a recipe of simmered daikon ("Furofuki" daikon ふろふき大根) with pork miso sauce (p20), althouhg more traditional "furofuki" daikon (which I posted before) is with just citrus-miso sauce. This time I had a good silken tofu from Kyou-zen-an 京禅庵, I decided make this tofu dish.

First, to warm up the tofu, I made a kelp broth (1x2 rectangle of dried kelp in 3 cups of cold water, when it comes to a simmer, I added 2-3 tbs of sake, 1 tsp of salt and just a drop of soy sauce not to color the broth. Although the kelp is necessary, you do not need any seasoning.  (This is just to warm tofu). Place cubes (about 2x2 inches) of tofu in the broth and simmer to warm (5-10 minutes). Do not boil.

To make the pork-miso sauce, first saute finely chopped scallion (2 tbs), ginger (1/2 tsp),  garlic (one small clove) in 1-2 tsp of vegetable oil. When these are soft and fragrant, add ground or hand-chopped pork (about 4 tbs), stir until the pork is cooked. Add 2 tsp of red miso, 2 tbs of mirin (I did not use sugar). Stir until nice saucy consistency is reached. If it is too thick, add the kelp broth to loosen the sauce. If you prefer the sauce to be bit sweeter add sugar.

Place warm tofu in a bowl, pour over the pork-miso sauce. Garnish with lime zests (I used a micrograter) and a wedge of lime. Squeeze lime juice and enjoy (for silken tofu, even if you are a chopstick jedi, you definitely need a spoon).

Monday, December 14, 2009

Deep fried egg plant in broth なすの揚げ浸し

Deep fried eggplant in Dashi Marinade  なすの揚げ浸し
(Based on the recipe in Mark's book p64)

This is one of the classic Japanese dishes--"Age-bitashi" 揚げ浸し meaning "fried and soaked". It is a very common Japanese cooking technique in which the ingredient is first deep fried and, while it is hot, soaked in a seasoned broth (aside from the usual soy sauce flavor, sometimes with added vinegar and/or hot pepper). Mark's book has this dish (p64), I only substituted green beans for the small Japanese green peppers "shishito" since I did not have "shishito". In the U.S., the types of eggplant "nasubi" 茄子 available are quite different from those in Japan. So called American eggplant "bei-nasu" 米茄子 is good for baked dishes such as eggplant parmesan or moussaka but not for this dish. I use a smaller eggplant with a thiner skin. Chinese or Japanese (elongated light or dark purple), or small Italian eggplants work best.

Here I used a medium-sized light purple striped eggplant called "graffiti" eggplant. In any case, I cut the eggplant into 1x1 inch size pieces and then made shallow criss-crossing scores on the skin (hatch marks). This makes the skin more palatable and allows the broth to soak in better. I sprinkled the pieces with a small amount of salt and placed them in a colander for 15 minute. I then wiped the surface with paper towels to remove the salt and moisture. Meanwhile, I trimmed both ends of the green beans (10-15 or whatever amount) and wiped the surface dry with a paper towel.

I made the broth from a commercial concentrated noodle broth in a bottle but, of course, you could make this from scratch according to the recipe in Mark's book. I diluted the concentrate to taste (slightly stronger than that for broth for noodles, i.e., for the x2 concentrate, I diluted to x1.5) with cold water and then warmed it up and set aside in a flat sealable container.

I heated the peanut oil in a pan to about 340F (170C). I made sure both green beans and eggplant were dry (using paper towels) to prevent spattering when they were put into the hot oil. I fried the green beans first for 1 minute and put them on a paper towel to drain and the put them in the broth. Next, I fried the eggplant. Skin side down first then turned them over several times for 4-5 minutes until the meat of the eggplant becomes slightly brown and cooked through. I drained the eggplant on a paper towel and placed them in a colander. I poured hot water over them to remove excess oil. Then, I put the eggplant in the broth with the green beans. I let it cool down to room temperature and then put  into the refrigerator. It is best to leave it for at least 30 minutes or overnight before serving.

This dish has subtle flavors but the eggplant is very rich and has a nice soft texture. This is a very nice dish with sake.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Pork spare ribs baked in barbecue sauce ポークスペアリブ バーベキューソース

This is a good ol' American version of pork spare ribs. Instead of marinating in soy flavored marinade and baking as was done in the "soy-flavoured spare ribs" or Japanese style spare ribs 和風スペアリブ (Mark's book p92), this one is baked in a sweet and sour, ketchup based sauce. Cooking in liquid makes the meat much more tender as opposed to dry baking. We sort of like this version better and, as we served it, it can definitely pass as Izakaya food.

This dish was made by my wife, I only helped by chopping up onions and holding the oven door. It is based on a recipe in the American Classic "Joy of Cooking." We used 4 good sized bone-in pork spare ribs. For the sauce; A piece of bacon (half strip) was cooked to crisp and set aside. Two medium onions were coarsely diced and sauteed in a small amount of the bacon drippings until soft and caramerized (15-20 minutes). One cup of ketchup was added to the pan and cooked, scraping the bits left behind from cooking the bacon and onions, until the sugar in the ketchup was caramelized (the color will change from red to more dull brownish color). We learned this trick from Graham Kerr, the Galloping Gourmet. Combine, the onion, the slice of bacon crumbled and the ketchup in a sauce pan with a mixture of rice vinegar (2 tbs), water (1/2 cup), lemon (1/4 cup), paprika powder (1/2 tsp), Worcestershire sauce ( 1 tbs), salt (1 tsp), brown sugar (1 tbs) and mustard (1 tbs.) and simmer for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile parboil the spareribs for about 5 minutes in a seperate saucepan. Remove the parboiled spare ribs from the hot water and put them in an oven safe baking dish so they fit snugly. Pour the sauce over the ribs to cover. Loosely cover the dish with aluminum foil (do not seal). Place it in a 450F oven for 15 minutes. Remove the aluminum foil and reduce the temperature to 350 F and continue cooking for 1 hour or longer until the meat becomes very tender and the surface browns. I suppose this colud easily be adapted to be cooked in a slow cooker as well.

This has a classic sweet and sour flavor which goes well with pork. For libation, sake and beer will go well. Even red wines such as Australian Shiraz or Argentinean Malbec will be a good match. We had Ave Malbec Premium 2007 from Argentina with this and was wonderful.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Soy-flavoured Spare Ribs 和風スペアリブ

Soy-flavoured Spare Ribs 和風スペアリブ (Mark's book p92)

This is from Mark's book p92. Again, this is not a quite traditional Izakaya fare but this is a type of dish that goes perfectly well with sake or beer or even wine. I followed the recipe fairly closely but the marinade is sort of standard. Remove bones from pork spare ribs and also remove fat if too much fat is attached. The marinade consists 2 tbs each of sake and mirin and 3 tbs of soy sauce with grated ginger root (1/2 tbs) and pressed or finely chopped garlic (one clove). (The recipe in Mark's book also adds 1/4 sliced onion and dark sesame oil). Marinate the meat in a zip-lock bag for at least 6 hours or overnight (I did overnight). Place the meat in the baking pan with a grate and bake it in a 350F oven for a total of 30 minutes.

It is not bad but we are not sure if this is the best way to cook pork spare ribs. It has nice sweet, soy sauce and ginger flavors; however, although there is good amount of fat, the meat is a bit dry and the fat appears not to be adequately rendered. We sort of like American ways of cooking such as long baking in a liquid/sauce or more traditional barbecue. We may post the way my wife cooks pork spare ribs in the near future. In any case, we enjoyed this with California Bordeaux blend, Burgess Cellars "Ilona" Howell Mountain Red  2003. Rich pork tastes went very well with this wine.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Kabocha hors d'oeuvres three ways カボチャのオードブル三種類

I found a rather good looking Japanese winter squash "kobocha" being sold as a "butter cup" squash in a near-by grocery store. I do not think this is a "butter cup" squash since the "cup" on the blossom end is not present but I do think this is a Japanse "Kabocha". In any case, I could not resist buying one. So I ended up with a rather large amount of kabocha. After I made my usual simmered kabocha かぼちゃの煮物 and pottage かぼちゃのポタージュ, I still had at least 1/3 of the kabocha left. I thought about making kabocha tempra etc but settled on these three quick dishes.

Kabocha and oninon with red miso sauce かぼちゃとタマネギのしぎ焼き

I was supposed to make this dish using a small Italian eggplant that I thought I had in the refrigerator. "Shigi-yaki" usually uses an eggplant braised in a sweet red miso sauce. I thought I would use Kabocha to accompany the eggplant--the kabocha should not have been the main ingredients of "shigi-yaki" dish. But as I was cutting the egg plant, it became obvious that this one had had a better day and I had to discard it. So, out of necessity, I came up with this dish. The sauce is a mixture of 1 part red miso, 1 part mirin, one part sugar and Japanese seven flavored pepper powder 七味唐辛子. This time, I used sake as well (instead of 1 part mirin, I used a mixture of sake and mirin) to make this dish not too sweet. I sauteed thinly cut (1/4 inch) kabocha pieces in light olive oil until slightly brown on both sides. I put the lid on the pan, turned down the heat and cooked for 4-5 minutes or until the kabocha is soft. I then added one onioun thinly sliced ( the proportion of onion to Kabocha is arbitrary) for few more minutes until soft. Then I added enough mixed sauce to coat all the ingredients. I braised until the sauce thickened and coated the ingredients. Although, this dish was not how I planned it initially, it turned out OK. Nutty sweet miso sauce was a good match to kabocha. We had this with a good everyday California Cab, Ghost pine 2007.  It was bit surprising that sweet miso and kabocha flavors go very well with red wine.

Broiled Kabocha with Raclette cheese かぼちゃとラクレットチーズ
Broiled Kabocha with Parmegian cheese and panko かぼちゃとパルメザンチーズ

These are also a spur-of-the-moment type dish. I cut the kabocha into slices 1/4 to 1/3 inch thick, 2-3 inch wide and sauteed them similarly to the previous dish until soft. (I suppose one can do this step in a microwave oven.) It needed to cook a bit longer than the "shigi-yaki" dish since the pieces were thicker. (I did this when I made the first dish) and set aside on a paper towel lined plate. Just before serving, I put these kabocha pieces on a cookie sheet (small one which fits into my toaster oven); Some were topped with slices of raclette cheese (left two) and others (right three) were topped with a mixture of panko (mixed with bit of good oilve oil) and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (about half and half) and baked in the 450F toaster oven for few minutes until the raclette cheese melts and Panko-Parmesian becomes golden brown.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Fried Ramen noodle 焼きそば

Yakisoba 焼きそば is another regular "teibann" 定番 dish in Izakaya. There must be as many variations as numbers of people who make this dish. I make many variations myself depending on what is available in my refrigerator or freezer. This time, I found the last of several packages of frozen ramen noodle from "Nishiyama seimen" 西山製麺 that I had bought some time ago. Since I am originally from Sapporo, I am partial to their noodles. They make good ramen noodles either dry or "raw" 生ラーメン (frozen).

I just boiled them for 3-4 minutes or until the noodles are cooked but still firm (al dente). Meanwhile, I chopped cabbage (2-3 leaves), onion (one small), carrot (one small), garlic (one clove), and separated oyster mushroom or "maikake" 舞茸 (which I happened to have). I also happened to have a leftover poached chicken breast with black vinegar sauce. (You could use any type of meat or sea food, shrimp, fish etc, either raw or cooked, or you do not have to use any meat.) I just sliced and cut the chicken into bite sized pieces. In a frying pan, heat 1tbs of peanut oil with a splash of dark sesame oil. When the oil is hot, add the onion, cabbage, and carrot and saute. Season with salt and back pepper. When these are soft, add garlic and mushroom, saute another minute and add 1-2 tbs of sake or water and keep sauteing until water evaporates (2 or so more minutes). Add about 1 tbs (adjust the amount depends on how reduced or salty the sauce is) of reduced black vinegar soy sauce (of course you could use a store-bought "Yakisoba" sauce or use Worcestershire sauce、tonkatsu sauce, soy sauce in any proportion). Add the cooked ramen noodle and saute. If needed, add more sauce and/or water to complete cooking. The final product should have almost no liquid left. Plate the yakisoba and garnish with thinly cut vinegared young ginger root (same one you have at sushibar), "aonori" 青のり powder, and white sesame seeds.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Daikon green and tofu pouch stir fry 大根葉と油揚の炒め物

Daikon 大根 is a popular Japanse root vegetable and widely available in the U.S. but I usually am not able to get daikon greens becase they are often removed before the daikon is sold. It is similar to how most carrots are sold here. But, recently, I happened to find a whole daikon with its greens attached in a near-by Japanese grocery store. Rather than discarding the greens, I made this dish based on a childhood memory. It is a kind of "collard greens with bacon" type dish in the Japanese style. Certainly, this one can be served as a condiment for rice or as is with your sake.
I used one large frozen tofu pouch "abura-age" or "aburage" 油揚 for all the daikon greens from one medium sized daikon. I placed the aburage in a colander and ran hot water over it to thaw as well as to remove excess oil. I squeezed out the moisture and cut it into small strips (approximately 1x1/4 inch) and set aside. Meanwhile, I chopped the daikon greens from one medium (about 10 inch long) daikon including stems into small pieces. In a frying pan, I added 1 tbs of peanut oil and a dash of dark sesame oil. Add the daikon greens and sauté until wilted, add the strips of abrage and keep sautéing for another minute. Add 2tbs of sake and 2tsp of mirin and 1tbs of soy sauce. Keep sautéing until almost all the liquid is gone. As a rice condiment, you may want to add more soy sauce to make it a bit saltier. If you like it a bit sweeter add more mirin. Remove from heat and sprinkle white sesame. You could use cabbage or other green vegetables instead of daikon greens. This is a perfect "tuskidashi" 突き出し or "otoshi" お通し dish.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Squid sashimi with mountain potato and fermented soy beans 長芋のイカ納豆

Japanese appear to like slimy food. Often, Japanese recipes call for not just one but a multiple of slimy ingredients in one dish. This dish called for squid sashimi, mountain yam or "naga-imo" 長芋, and fermented soybean "natto" 納豆. All have a rather slimy texture. This dish probably qualifies to appear on the "Bizarre food" TV show. In any case, I saw this recipe on line. I happened to have all the ingredients and decided to make this dish. 

Squid sashimi was the pre-made frozen kind you find in a freezer case at a Japanese grocery store. I am sure it is treated with something before being frozen. I used one package (probably two servings) and one package of Natto 納豆. Natto is a difficult food to like especially for Westerners. Even among Japanese, some love it and some hate it. I already mentioned how my wife started enjoying natto. ("enjoy" may not be a right word, may be "tolerate" is a better choice.) Here, I used "hikiwari" natto 挽き割り納豆 in which whole soybeans are finely chopped. I used the same precautions I use to prepared natto with my special natto stirrer, which I also mentioned before. I just prepare the natto using the mustard and sauce that came with the natto package. The last ingredient was a mountain yam or "naga imo" (I mentioned several times in the past postings). I used a 2 inch long, 3 inch across (approximate) piece, peeled the skin, and cut into 1/2 inch wide sticks. I placed these in a zip-lock plastic bag and added 1-2 tbs of sushi vinegar. Do not seal the opening completely and hold the opening up (to prevent the bag from rupturing and the contents from spilling out in the next step), pound the naga-imo with a fist or a small rolling pin so that part of it remains chunky and part of it is mashed. Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. I added wasabi and a concentrated (x2) noodle sauce that comes in a bottle (or you could make it yourself) or use just a straight soy sauce to adjust the seasoning. Garish with chopped scallion and perilla leaves.

It was indeed very slimy but the natto did not have a strong smell. I sort of liked it and even my wife finished the dish and she said she did not dislike it (delicately put). Since all the ingredients are slimy, it sort of worked. The only drink that goes with this dish appears to be sake.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tomato and Mozzarella cheese salad トマトとマッツレラチーズのサラダ

This is a very simple dish which can be made quickly and goes well with wine or whatever you happened to be drinking. Commercially grown tomatoes in the U.S. is not great especially when they are out of the season. The best tomatoes are definitely those that are homegrown either in your backyard or your friend's backyard during hot summer days. We used to grow tomatoes in our backyard but the trees have gotten taller every year and our backyard has been getting progressively shadier and shadier. We gave up growing tomatoes for some time. Hydroponically grown tomatoes are usually tasteless and not worth buying. Recently, Campari tomatoes became available in our grocery stores. This variety is a bit larger than cherry tomatoes and tastes much better than any other out-of-the-season tomatoes available in the grocery store. I am not sure Campari tomatoes are similar to so-called fruit tomatoes "フルーツトマト" in Japan. In any case, decent tomatoes are a "must" for this dish. I used smoked fresh mozzarella cheese here but fresh plain mozzarella is also fine.

This is a variation of a more common layered salad of tomatoes, basil, and Mozzarella cheese, "Insalata Caprese". In this version, I finely chop onion or shallot and mix in a good quality olive oil, salt, black pepper and dash of balsamic vinegar and dress cubes of mozzarella cheese and quarters of tomatoes (skin removed, either by peeling the skin with a knife as I did here or blanching very briefly) and garnish with chiffonade of fresh basil. Key to this dish is good quality ingredients including the olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Scallop sashimi three ways ホタテ貝の刺身

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 27, 2009

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 26, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

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

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

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

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Monk fish liver "ankimo" 鮟肝

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

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

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

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Chawan-mushi egg custard 茶碗蒸し

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 19, 2009

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

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

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

Monday, November 16, 2009

Oven fried potato オーブンフライドポテト

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

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

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

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Pork and Vegetable Stew 豚と野菜の煮込み

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Mountain yam on nori sheet 長いもの磯辺焼き

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 8, 2009

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

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

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

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