Saturday, October 31, 2009

Chicken tender tempura with perilla and pickled plum 笹身の梅肉とシソ入り天ぷら

I mentioned this dish in the previous post of Ume-Shiso Rolled Chiken 梅しそ巻きFinally, I had a chance to make it. This is a classic flavor combination of chicken, pickled plum "umeboshi"  and perilla or "shiso" 青じそ. This is such a perfect combination of the flavors. You need a cold sake for this dish.
I use chicken tenders. Remove the sinew which runs on one end in the center from the tender. From the side, cut a slit which encompasses 60-70% of the length of the tender (make sure not to cut through). Remove the meat (or fruit) from "umeboshi" and chop it finely to make a kind of paste ("bainiku" 梅肉). Spread the the paste inside the slit your made in the chicken tender. Cover the open side with one or two perilla leaves (depending on it's size). Dip it into tempura batter and deep fry until done (2-3 minutes). For tempura batter, I just used cake flour with cold water. I also made Perilla tempura by dipping only one side of the perilla leaf in the tempura batter (it just looks better this way) for garnish. You do not need any sauce with this dish since it has the strong flavor of the pickle plum but I served this with a lemon wedge and a powdered green tea/salt  mixture 抹茶塩 (green stuff on the right in the above picture).

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Braised burdock root きんぴらごぼう

This dish definitely qualifies as a Izakaya dish especially as "tsukidashi" 突き出し or "otoushi" お通し, the very first small appetizer in Izakaya which is served without your asking for it as soon as you sit down at the counter. Again you can find extensive discussions about this subject (in Japanese).

This is a very homey dish that you can only have in an Izakaya or at home but not in a fancy restaurant. It goes well with a glass of cold sake or with white rice. The root vegetable used here may not be very familiar in the U.S. but it is very popular in Japan. It is called "gobo" 牛蒡 or burdoc root. It has lots of fibers and is believed to have some medicinal properties. It has a nice crunch and a nutty, distinctive flavor. Among the gobo recipes, this dish, "kinpira gobo" きんぴらゴボウ, is by far the most popular and also our favorite gobo dish. "Kinpira", allegedly, is named after the character "Sakata Kinpira" 坂田金平, who was said to be a very strong and brave worrier, as told in a traditional story telling with songs and music called "joururi" 浄瑠璃 in Edo time. It requires a certain preparation which is the most labor intensive part needed to make this dish. The burdock is rather ugly, very thin long (few feet long) dark brown root vegetable. It is available in most Japanese grocery stores.

First prepare a large bowl of cold water with a small amount of vinegar or lemon juice (acidulated water). Cut the "gobo" root into shorter segments, so that they will fit into your bowl with the acidulated water. Under running water, scrape off the brown skin using the back of your knife exposing the white underneath.  Since it will discolor very quickly, place these segments in the acidulated water immediately after the skin is removed. Take out one segment at a time from the acidulated water, cut thin ovals by slicing it diagonally using a sharp heavy knife (the root is fibrous and hard). Spread them overlapping like a stack of cards and then julienne them into match sticks. Immediately put them back in the acidualted water and repeat the process until all are julienned. I usually soak julienned burdock root for 10-15 minutes in the acidulated water (the water will become dark grey), then I wash them in running water and drain. If needed, spread them on paper towels and blot dry. Meanwhile, I peel and cut 1-2 medium size carrots (the amount of carrots to the burdock root is totally up to you) in the same manner as the burdock root and set aside.

In a  large saute pan like the one shown below or a Chinese wok on a medium high flame, add 1 tbs of vegitable oil and 1 tsp of dark sesame oil. I add red pepper flakes to the oil (the amount is totally up to you). When the oil is hot, add the burdock root and saute for 1-2 minutes so that all is coated with oil. Add carrots and saute another minute or so. Most recipes use sugar and soy sauce which, to me, will make this dish too salty and too sweet. In stead, I use 3 tbs of mirin, 3 tbs of sake and 2 tsp of soy sauce (I add bit more soy sauce later) and braise (you need to keep the ingredients moving using, in my case, long bamboo kitchen chopsticks as seen below, until most of the liquid has evaporated (10 or more minutes). I taste and add a small amount of soy sauce toward the end if necessary. When the liquid is almost all gone, turn off the flame and mix in white sesame. This dish gets better after one day. Serve at room temperature with extra sesame on the top.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Mountain yam wrapped in bacon 長いものベーコン巻き

I am not sure where I first had this dish. Wrapping vegetables in thinly sliced meat or bacon is a favorite Japanese cooking technique. Classic examples of this type of dish include: scallion wrapped with thinly sliced beef or pork called "negimaki" 葱巻き, as well as burdock root and asparagus wrapped the same way. They are ususally sauteed and then braised in the usual sauce of mirin or sugar and soy sauce.  In this dish, I used a mountain yam 長芋 and bacon. Cut yam into small rectagles (I should have cut it smaller here), wrap them in bacon and saute with the seam side down in a dry frying pan. Turn and make all sides of the bacon nicely crispy. I happened to have some very nice and sweet mission figs so I sauteed the cut surface of the figs briefly in the bacon grease. I served this with reduced balsamic vinegar and grated dikon to cut the grease. It has a very interesting texture and flavor combination. This dish can go with sake or wine. My wife must have liked it, since two pieces that I left in the pan because the bacon wrapping unraveled during the cooking, disappeared while I was not looking. I am not sure if it was just the bacon she really liked or the entire dish. (She said it was the entire dish...but you can't go wrong with anything including bacon!)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Deep-fried pork and onion skewer 豚肉とタマネギの串揚げ

Deep-fried pork and onion skewer 豚肉とタマネギの串揚げ (Mark's book p60)

This is also a very popular item either in Izakayas or restaurants specialized in "kushiage" 串揚げ.  Kushiage ("kushi" means a skewer and "age" means to deep fry) is skewered small pieces of meat, fish, or vegetables, breaded and then deep dried. My wife and I are getting too old to have an entire meal of deep dried food either kushiage or tempura. But we enjoy few deep fried items in Izakayas. This combination of pork and onion is very common and very good. We mentioned "Muroran"-style yakitori with this exact combination. Onion and pork cooked together impart some synergetic enhancements of each flavor.

Here, I used pieces of pork tenderloin and onion skewered alternately on bamboo skewers.  Some commercial establishments (not good Izakayas) may use a batter (water and flour) to coat the skewers before breading but this will usually make a very thick and oily crust. I use a more traditional method of dredging the skewered meat and onions in flour (AP flour), dipping it in an egg wash, and finally coating it in Japanese Panko crumbs (as described in the recipe in Mark's book). I deep fry using a low-meidum temperature since it will take some time to cook the pork through (15 minutes or more depending on the size of the pork). I sliced along the skewer to show the pork onion layering as it was done in the Mark's book illustration but, of course, you should just serve the skewers without cutting it. Serve this with a Japanese hot mustard and "tonkatsu sauce". The usual accompaniment is a thinly shredded cabbage but I lightly dressed the cabbage with my version of honey-musdard dressing as per my wife's request (she said she can not face a mound of a raw shredded cabbage). This dish can go with sake, beer, or red wine. We had this dish with a nice California Cabernet Sauvignon Flora Springs 2005.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Stewed Japanese pumpkin かぼちゃの煮物

Stewed Japanse pumpkin カボチャの煮物 
Although this vegetable is called Japanese pumpkin, "Kabocha" カボチャ, it is a type of winter squash. This dish is the most common way to serve kabocha. Again, like many Japanese dishes most of the work for this dish is in the preparation of the squash. It appears that kabocha is grown in North America especially in California and Florida and, reportedly, many are exported to Japan. You can sometimes get kabocha even in regular grocery stores. The quality of the kabocha can vary a lot and success of this dish depends on the quality of the kabocha.

Cut the kabocha in half using a heavy chef's knife or cleaver and remove the seeds and "guts". I cut the halves into 8th or to a large bite size pieces. I "shave off" the skin just leaving a hint of green behind (meaning the remaining layer of skin is extremely thin). I do this by securely placing the piece of kabocha on the cutting board and using a heavy chef's knife or vegetable cleaver "nakiri" 菜切り包丁. I use a paring knife and bevel all the sharp edges 面取り and soft parts (near where the seeds were). This is to prevent the kabocha from crumbling while cooking. Do not discard these scraps. I always use them to make a wonderful kabocha pottage (see below).

In a saute pan large enough, put all the kabocha pieces in a single layer with skin side down. Add "dashi" broth so the kabocha pieces are half submerged. Sprinkle sugar over the kabocha pieces (for the amount of kabocha which will fit in a 12 inch saute pan, I use about 2-3 tbs of sugar but but you can use more), and 2 tbs each of soy sauce (if you do not want the kabocha to color too dark, you could use "usukuchi" or light colored soy sauce) and sake. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes until kabocha is cooked through.  Remove the lid and turn up the flame, gently shake the pan and reduce the liquid until it just coats the bottom of the pan and glazes the kobocha.  Let it cool down in the pan and serve at room temperature.

Kabocha Pottage カボチャのポタージュ

I make Kabocha pottage from the scraps when I make the above kabocha dish. The recipe is very standard for any type of pottages. I mince one medium onion and saute in melted butter in a deep pan until soft and semi-transparent, season with salt and pepper. Peel and cut up one small potato into small cubes. Add to the pan with the kabocha scraps, saute briefly and add chicken stock to cover (I used a commercial, 1/3 less salt, non-fat variety from Swanson which comes in a carton). Add two bay leaves and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until all the ingredients are soft. Take off the pan from the burner and make sure to remove the bay leaves. Using an immersion blender (or food processor), process until smooth consistency is achieved and no solids remain (you may add more chicken stock to adjust the consistency). Add 1/3 cup (or whatever amount you prefer) of cream, mix and put the pan back on the burner, adjust the seasoning. I often add a small amount of white miso as a "hidden taste" 隠し味 for some Japanese touch but it is optional. I often serve this with the leftover stewed kabocha as seen above. Here, I garnished it with minced parsley.

Chicken tender with wasabi 鶏のささみのとりわさ

"Tori-wasa"とりわさ or "chicken and wasabi" is a popular dish in Japan especially  in a certain type of Izakayas specialized in chicken cuisines (different from Yakitori places), a good example of this type of Izakaya is "Torihachi" とり八 near Kyoto station which we went last time we were in Japan. Usually, the chicken tenders or breast meat are cooked very briefly in boiling water and then dipped into ice cold water to stop the cooking. Sometimes, this process is called "shimofuri" 霜降り meaning "frosted", since only surface of the meat turns white as though it is covered with frost or "yubiki" 湯引き meaning "dragging it through hot water". The chicken is then sliced on the bias and eaten with wasabi and soy sauce like "sashimi" or "tataki".

When chicken tenders are prepared as Yakitori, the are often grilled only on the surface with the center still raw. As long as you eat this type of dish in a reputable establishment in Japan, salmonella appears not to be a problem.  Unfortunately, it is too dangerous to do this using store bought chicken in the U.S. Instead of using the traditional technique described above, I have to poach the chicken tenders gently in salted water with a dash of sake (to remove any smell it may have) for 5-6 minutes or until the chicken meat is completely opaque. I then let it cool down, slice it on the bias and eat it with wasabi and soy sauce. It does not taste or look as good as real "tori-wasa" but it has to do.

Here is an image borrowed from the web for "tri-wasa".

Mmmmmm..this one looks good.

P.S. (2-27-10) I came across an article (in Japanese) which indicates a higher incidence of food poisoning among people who eat raw or under cooked chicken and other meat. Campylobacter and E. coli (O-157) are two major causes. They mention that among the population that eat raw chicken, there is 77 times more risk of food poisoning. So, even in Japan, eating raw chicken like this dish may not be wise.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Deep-fried tofu in tempura sauce 揚げ出し豆腐

Deep-fried tofu in tempura sauce 揚げ出し豆腐 (Mark's book p21)

This is a favorite Izakaya "teiban" 定番 or regular dish. It's called "agedashi-dofu" 揚げ出し豆腐 ("a-ge" means "deep fried", "dashi" means "broth"). Our good friends told us that they had this dish in a small Japanese restaurant located in a remote mountain town in the Western Canadian Rockies last summer (a very unexpected place to find good Japanese food). They liked it very much. So much so, they tried to make it at home. They said that the broth came out OK but the crunchy surface of the tofu was missing from their version. They said they coated the tofu with corn starch and pan fried it, instead of deep frying it. I have not made this dish for some time since we can have it at our Izakaya substitute in the U.S., "Tako Grill", which we frequent. They make a very good agedashi-dofu.

There are many versions of the recipe for this dish but the most important factor for its success appears to be the quality of tofu followed by the kind of flour used to coat it. I have traditionally used "potato starch" 片栗粉. That is also used in the the recipe in Mark's book. Potato starch is available in our Japanese grocery store. Other recipes suggest the use of regular AP (all purpose) flour or coating the tofu first with a beaten egg before dredging it in the flour. Most of the recipes call for deep frying the tofu but some home recipes suggest pan frying.

I decided to do a small experiment. After draining and removing the excess water (as described before) from a firm or "momen-goshi" tofu, I cut the tofu into 8 equal sized rectangles and remove any surface moisture using paper towels. Four rectangles were coated with potato flour. Two each were coated with corn starch or AP flour. I usually deep fry these but our friends appeared to want to avoid deep frying. I do not think pan frying can give a nice crunchy surface to all sides of the tofu. So, I decided to use a "shallow frying" technique. The amount of oil I used is somewhat more than pan frying but much less than deep frying. The depth of the oil came to just half the thickness of the tofu as you can see below. Probably, I can further experiment to see how much more I can reduce the amount of oil while still maintaing the crunchy crust.

I used a frying pan large enough that the tofu pieces do not touch each other (otherwise they will stick together especially if you coat them with potato starch). They were cooked together in the same pan for the same amount of time. (Actually, I did two runs. The potato starch coated tofu was included in each run as a reference). I turned over the tofu once half way through the cooking (4-5 minutes each side or until the bubbles become small).

In the picture below on the left, the ones in the front were coated with potato starch, the ones in the back with AP flour (all are same size but the ones in the back look smaller because of the perspective of the camera lens). In the picture on the right, the lighter one (left) is coated with potato starch and the darker one (right) is coated with corn starch. The results were very clear; the potato starch does not burn and forms a nice crunchy surface crust with a very unique inner layer of somewhat gelatinous texture. 

The corn starch is the second best. It does result in a darker color surface than does the potato starch but the crust in nicely crunchy. My wife also noticed that the corns starch imparts a subtle corn flavor to the tofu. The tofu coated in AP flour burned easily and did not form a good crust. So, my conclusion is that potato starch is the best and corn starch is OK but AP flour does not work. So for this dish 1) use potato starch but corn starch can also be used, 2) use either "deep" or "shallow" frying.

The broth is the usual mixture of dashi, soy sauce, and mirin but I took a short cut, and used a good quality bottled concentrated broth which I just diluted with hot water (to your desired taste). I added a small amount of soy sauce because it was a bit too sweet. For this dish, I make the broth stronger than I would if I were using the broth for a warm noodle dish. I just garnished it with grated ginger and chopped chives or scallions but you could also add any combination of julienned nori sheet, bonito flakes, graded daikon, prepared mushrooms, or even thicken the broth with potato starch (then, the dish is called "agedoufu no ankake" 揚げ豆腐の餡かけ, which is similar to "Deep-fried tofu with Mushroom sauce", Mark's book p120).

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fried tofu stuffed with Raclette cheese きつねラクレット

Fried tofu stuffed with Raclette cheese きつねラクレット (Mark's book P80)

This is the recipe from Mark's book (p80) and is a variation of a classic dish. In the classic, tofu pouches "abrura-age"  油揚げ are stuffed with "natto" 納豆, which I posted previously. This version use Raclette cheese. It is remarkably good and simple to make. I did not have prunes in our pantry, so I could not make the "prunes cooked in wine" which was the suggested accompaniment for this dish in the recipe.

Just briefly reiterate the recipe from the book, stuff a tofu pouch (small "inari" 稲荷 version works best) with slices of Raclette cheese and finely chopped white parts of scallions. Toast it in a toaster oven until the tofu pouch becomes nicely brown and crunchy and the cheese has melted. Garnish with finely chopped green parts of scallions and serve while it is hot. I used bit of a soy sauce, in addition.  Althouhg we like the classic version with "natto", this one is very very good. It is amazing how well melted Raclett cheese and toasted tofu pouch go together. This will be great with wine either white or red.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Mock Eel 擬製うなぎ

This dish is probably not a common dish in Izakayas. Probably real eel is much more popular. I make this dish for our vegitarian friends but we also like it. Obviously, this is different from real eel but looks similar to and tastes slightly like real eel used in Japanese dishes. It also has a pleasing texture. It is made of tofu, miso, and sesame paste and is completely vegetarian.

Use one block of firm or "momen-goshi" tofu, drain, and crumble into small pieces. In a food processor or a Japanses "suribachi" add, 3 tbs of red miso, 3 tsp sugar or honey, 1 tbs of sesame paste or tahini (or make your own from roasted sesame seeds), 3 tbs of flour (all purpose), 1/2 tsp grated ginger root, and mix, add the crumbled tofu and mix or process until smooth consistency is reached. Additional flour and/or water may be needed to make the consistency like spreadable soft cream cheese. Cut a whole nori sheet into half and then cut the half into 4 small rectangular sheets. Spread the tofu mixture on the sheet of nori in a 1/3 inch thick layer. Make sure all the nori surface is covered. Take a fork and make indentations like seen above to emulate a real eel dish. Deep fry it in medium hot oil with the nori side down for several minutes. (Later addition: you can cook this dish with slightly more oil than used in regular sauteing - "shallow frying" - with good results.)

Meanwhile make an eel "kabayaki蒲焼 sauce. Add 1/3 cup of soy sauce in a small sauce pan and add up to equal amount of sugar (I use much less) and heat through and dissolve the sugar but do not boil. Brush the sauce on the "tofu" side of the surface, sprinkle "sansho" powders and serve.  Here I served this as a mock "eel donburi" or "unadon" 鰻丼 with a bed of rice and added chopped chives. I used the sauce sparingly but my wife used more sauce which she drizzled on rice as well.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Grilled Tofu with miso 豆腐の味噌田楽

This is also a classic small dish perfect for Home Izakaya. I am not going to get into a lengthy discussion of how this type of dish came to be called "dengaku" 田楽. The name reportedly came from the appearance of the dish (square with skewers) which resembles a small stage on stilts set up in a rice paddy. Music and dance were performed on this stage for a rustic rice planting cerebration in old Japan which is called "dengaku", translated as "enjoyment in a rice paddy". Small portions of tofu, potato, egg plant, "kon-nyaku" or other vegetable are placed on a skewer and grilled with some type of sauce (miso-based is most common). Some items such as potato may need to be pre-cooked before it is grilled. This dish is a sort of snack on a stick, Japanese style.

 Here, I used a "firm" or "momen-goshi" tofu. I drained it and placed it between paper towels with some weight on it, not too heavy, for 5-10 minutes to remove additional water. I then cut it into small rectangles. I broiled it (without the skewer because the skewer might burn) in an oven with high heat--placing it very close to the heating elements so that the surface browns as the tofu is warmed through. Turn over once. You can also cook it on a grill or in a toaster oven. Take it out and coat the upper surface with a generous amount of a miso sauce which I described before. This one was made with sugar, sake, dashi, sesame paste, lime juice and grated lime and lemon zests (additional lime zest was added later as garnish as shown above). Put it back under the broiler for a few minutes until the sauce bubbles and gets nicely brown. If you use a grill, you could use a kitchen torch to brown the miso sauce.  Browning the miso sauce is important as it will make the miso fragrant. Put the skewer in as shown above.  The skewer is a sort of decoration here but to qualify for a "dengaku" dish you will need a skewer for the reason described above. Besides, it also allows you to pick it up by hand. Serve immediately while hot.

Classically,"kinome" should be used as a garnish--it looks very nice and has a distinctive flavor. But "kinome" is very difficult to come by in the U.S., unless you have a "sansho" or "Sichuan or Japanese pepper" tree in your backyard. "kinome" is the young shoot of this tree. As long as you do not add any meat or egg yolk to the miso sauce (which are common variations of this type of miso sauce) and use kelp or vegetable dashi broth, this dish is strictly vegetarian.

I served this with a American mini cucumber cut in "jabara" or a snake belly style with a sweet miso sauce.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Raclett Cheese and Potato

Raclett Cheese and Potato  ジャガイモとラクレットチーズ
We recently had this in a restaurant in Zurich. It is supposedly a typical Swiss dish. You can not go wrong with the combination of potato and melted Raclett cheese. We think this is a good dish for Izakaya. It is so simple and there is no real recipe (I just recreated what we had). I used a Russet potato but the dish we had in the restaurant appears to be made using a different kind of potato. (When asked the waitress couldn't identify the type of potato). The dish may work better with something like Yukon Gold. I microwaved the potato in a covered dish for 6-7 minutes or until cooked through (depends on the size of the potato and the wattage of the microwave). I grabbed it using a towel and removed the skin while it is hot (I am sure you could leave the skin if you like). I scooped out the top of the potato to make a groove in the depth of  1/3 of the thickness of the potato and stuffed it with chopped Raclett cheese and placed a few slices to cover the top of the potato. I then put it in a 450F oven for a few minutes. You could also place it under a broiler until the cheese melts. The original we had at the restaurant did not have any garnish but I added chopped chive mostly for color. This is an especially satisfying dish particularly with a little salt on the side to enhance the flavor of those parts of the potato not covered with cheese.

Similar potato dish we also like is "potato and butter" or "jaga-bata" ジャガバタ. You start with a boiled or microwaved whole potato (you could do this step ahead of time). Cut into quoters along the long axis and put them on the grill to make char marks on the cut surfaces and to warm it thoroughly. Then cut in a crosswise fashion in half inch thick slices. Put buttons of butter on it and let it melt. Eat with some salt or with soy sauce. When we go to a near-by Robatakaki/sushi bar called Tako Grill (this is not "taco" and "tako"means "octopus" in Japanese), this is the one we always order.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Fried meat ball メンチカツ

This dish brings back the memories from my childhood. This type of deep fried minced meat dish is considered a very "homey" dish in Japan.  These type of dishes, however, are now widely available freshly prepared in many stores including the basement gourmet food floors of department stores in Japan. Any breaded and fried dish which uses "minced" meat is called "minchi or menchi katsu" ミンチカツ or メンチカツ which is short for a "minced meat cutlet". More detailed discussion of this subject can be found here, although the discussion is in Japanese.

Another variation is Japanese potato croquets コロッケ made of mashed potatoes with minced pork and onion, breaded and deep fried. In the "old days", it was said that, depending on your economic condition at any given time, the ratio of the meat and potato varied. For example, just before payday, many housewives would get by making croquettes made of 100% potatoes and onions. In any case, this is what my mother used make. It is a cross between "menchi-katsu" and "croquets". Now this is a perfect dish in Home Izakaya.

I usually use the raw trimmings and scraps left over from preparing pork tenderloins for other dishes. A more fatty portion of meat like pork shoulder may make this dish better. I mince the pork with my knife but, of course, you could use a food processor or buy ground pork, beef or a mixture of ground meat. Sauté minced onion, garlic and chopped Shiitake mushroom (optional) in a small amount of vegetable oil until soft. Season with salt and pepper and let it cool to room temperature and mix in the minced pork and chopped parsley.  I add a splash of Worcestershire sauce, freshly ground nutmeg, egg, Japanese "Panko" bread crumbs. Mix well and make golf-ball size balls. Dredge it in flour, egg water, then panko. Deep fry until golden brown. I like to serve this with "tonkatsu sauce" and hot Japanese mustard.

For the accompaniment, I made a type of coleslaw. Although, finely shredded raw cabbage will be the traditional side for this dish, my wife does not particularly like it. So I made this coleslaw. Shred or finely julienne cabbage, salt it lightly and let it stand for 5-10 minute. Ring out moisture from the cabbage. I added julienned carrot and cucumber for color. This time, I dressed it with my version of honey mustard dressing. The dressing is made of Dijon mustard, honey, rice vinegar and olive oil with salt and pepper to taste. You could use other dressings such as mayonnaise or sesame oil and soy sauce vinaigrette dressing instead.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sauteed squid and celery イカとセロリの炒めのも

Sauteed small squid and celery イカとセロリの炒めもの (Mark's Book p64)

Here I followed the recipe in Marks' book. The result was extremely good and it is very simple to make. I mostly used the body of cleaned small squid but I am sure legs will also be good. To reiterate the recipe in the book, just cut up the squid into thin rings, slice celery stalks, and cut up center portion of the celery with leaves. In a large frying pan with small amount of vegetable oil (I used light olive oil) on high heat, sauté the squid and then celery stalk (1 minutes each) and add salt and pepper. Just at the last moment add, celery leaves. Top with the garlic butter (make a paste of garlic using the classic French technique of mashing the garlic with the back of a knife using salt as an abrasive. Mix the mashed garlic into softened butter. Shape and refrigerate the butter before use). I used a torch to melt the butter as instructed in the Mark's book (the lower picture) but it appears the heat of the dish will melt the butter anyway. Enjoy with a squeeze of lemon. The garlic butter is a must.

We love this dish. I also make a similar squid dish with sliced fennel bulb and white vermouth, which is also good but has a different flavor all together because of the anise-like taste of fennel. Another one I make often is based on a tapas recipe, in which squid sauteed with garlic are simmered in beer and tomatoes. If I make these dishes in the future I will definitely post them. This recipe definitely joined our line-up of home Izakaya dishes.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Poached Chicken Breast with black vinegar

Poached Chicken Breast with black vinegar sauce 鶏胸肉の黒酢煮
This recipe was given to me by my niece, when we visited Japan last time. It is so easy to make and it is so good. I use boneless breast meat with the skin on. In the U.S., you may have to get bone-in split breast. In that case, remove the bones, excess skin and fat. I also remove the tenders and use them for another dish. For two breasts, I add 3 tbs each of black vinegar (Chinese or Japanese variety, more about this later), sake, soy sauce and sugar (I use less sugar but it is up to your preference) in an 10 inch frying pan on a medium flame. The liquid covers the bottom of pan in a rather thin layer (about 1/4 inch).  Dissolve the sugar and add the chicken breasts skin side down, tightly cover with a lid and poach/steam for 15 minutes. Remove the breast, set aside on a plate, covered with an aluminum foil and let it rest at least 5 minutes while the sauce reduces (This step is important. If you skip this step, the center of the thickest part of the breast may not be completely done). Meanwhile, increase the heat and reduce the marinade to one third of the original volume or until large bubbles cover the surface (another 5 minutes). Slice the breast on the bias.

This time, I served the sliced chicken on a bed of sliced cucumber (mini cucumber or Japanese), thinly sliced onion (soak in water for 10 minutes and ring out moisture if too strong). Arrange the chicken slices and top with small tomato slices (the vegetables are all optional). Drizzle the sauce.

Compared to other types of vinegar, "kuro-su" 黒酢 or black vinegar is much milder and has a more nutty taste which is a key to this dish. I also made this dish by substituting the black vinegar with balsamic vinegar with a very good result.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Grilled marinated salmon 鮭の祐庵やき

Grilled marinated fish dishes are fairly common in Japanese cooking. Mark's book has Sweet miso marinated fish 魚の西京漬け (p61). Many of the fish popular in Japan are not readily available in the U.S. Among the rather limited varieties of fresh fish available in our neighborhood grocery stores, we like salmon.  It is consistently available and reasonably fresh. We often just salt it and grill or sauté (finish in the oven). We particularly like a crispy skin and I make sure that the skin gets crispy. You could use cod, sword fish, Chilean sea bass or other similar types of fish instead.

This time, I used a liquid marinade called "Yuuan-ji" 祐庵地 which is a classic Japanese marinade for grilling. There are some variations but we do not like an overly sweet taste, so I use about equal amounts of mirin, sake and twice the amount of soy sauce (1:1:2) (the classic recipe may call for more mirin).  Combine the ingredients in a small pan and let it come to a boil to remove the alcohol and to amalgamate the tastes. Let it cool and then refrigerate. Marinate salmon for 20-30 minutes (if you marinate too long, you tend to lose the actual taste of the fish and everything starts to taste like the marinade). Grill until the skin is crispy and the meat is cooked through.

I made pencil asparagus as an accompaniment. Sauté minced onion, garlic, sliced Shiitake mushroom and pencil asparagus in small amount of melted butter. Add a small amount of the marinade and let it cook down until almost all liquid is gone about 2-3 minutes. The asparagus should still be a bit crispy.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Yakitori donburi 焼き鳥丼

Yakitori donburi 焼き鳥丼
This a quick "donburi" dish using left over "Yakotori". "Donburi" 丼, which is often shorten to "don", refers to a large (relative to a regular rice bowl) Japanese bowl, like the one seen below. It can also refer to the food placed in the bowl. The basic construction of a "donburi" dish is a bed of cooked rice with whatever toppings may be available accompanied by a small amount of savory sauce. This is a very typical "whole-meal-in-a-bowl" affair. Many Japanese fast food chain restaurants are specialized in this type of dish. Am
ong the most popular are "oyako donburi" 親子丼, which is a combination of chicken and egg  ("oyako" means "mother and offspring", for obvious reason), "gyudon" 牛丼 which is made with small cut-up pieces of seasoned beef, "ten-don" 天丼 which is topped with "tempura", and "katsu-don" カツ丼 which features breaded and deep fried pork cutlet called "tonkatsu". Although I have not tried it, "Yakitori donburi" is reportedly served as a lunch item in a famous Yakitori restaurant in Tokyo. This dish appears to place freshly made Yakitori (2-5 skewer-worth depending on the price) on the bed of rice with some Yakitori "tare" sauce.

When we make Yakitori at home,  we usually will have a good amount of left-overs. When I have thigh or liver left over from a barbecue, I make my version of Yakitori donburi. (I save the left-over barbecued wings and drumettes to re-heat in the toaster oven to eat crispy and hot by themselves). If I have grilled vegetables I add them to the donburi as well.

This time, I used left-over Yakitori liver,  thinly sliced onion, shiitake  mushroom, and greens (here, I used arugula but spinach, broccoli, green beans, snow pea all work well). In a small frying pan, arrange the ingredients except for fast cooking greens such as spinach and arugula. Add a mixture of mirin, dashi, and soy sauce in about equal amounts (or use a commercial Japanese noodle sauce diluted with water). Please make sure that the broth is not too salty since it will reduce during cooking). The liquid should just barely cover the ingredients, cover the pan and simmer until the onion is soft and cooked (10 minutes). Add the greens to cook just for few minutes. At this point, the broth should be reduced to a small amount. My wife likes more broth/sauce than I do. I like just a small amount of strong tasting sauce to moisten the underlying rice rather than enough sauce to make the rice too wet. It's a personal preference, however, and the initial strength and amount of the broth need to be adjusted accordingly. Slide the topping and sauce on the bed of hot rice. I sprinkle "sansho" powder which is a Japanese version of finely ground Sichuan pepper.

Zousui 雑炊

Rice porridge with chicken and shiitake mushroom 鶏肉と椎茸の雑炊
This is a variation of rice porridge or "okayu" お粥.  "Okayu" is usually made from uncooked rice and it takes a long time to cook and usually there are no other items in it. On the other hand, "zosui" 雑炊 means to "cook various items together". The most typical way of having "zosui" is to add cooked rice to the remaining broth at the end of a "nabe" dish, especially "Muzutaki" or "Yosebabe" . This broth contains all the goodness of the vegetables and other ingredients cooked in the nabe. Adding the rice to make a savory porridge or "zousui" is one way to end your nabe feast. I often make this dish even when we did not have a "nabe" dish and it is a perfect way to end your Izakaya feast. Here I used left over "frozen" cooked rice we keep handy in the freezer (we portion the rice and put it in a Ziploc bag and freeze.)  The broth is a simple "dashi" or, in a pinch, you could use Japanese instant granulated dashi powder. Add a pinch of salt to the liquid. The proportion of broth to rice depends on how soupy you like the porridge to be but I usually use equal amounts of rice and liquid. I happened to have individual earthenware pots with a lid which is actually a rice bowl designed for making individual porridge servings. You could also use any small deep pan. You can add any vegetables. Here, I added thin (1/4 inch) daikon slices quartered, thin round slices of carrot, broccoli, and sliced Shiitake mushroom. If you have raw chicken (breast meat is good), you cut it into thin bite size pieces and add it toward the end of the cooking. I simmer for 20 minutes or until the rice becomes a nice porridge consistency.  I happened to have cooked chicken (grilled chicken breast) when I made this. I added the chicken and broccoli and eggs 5 minutes before the cooking is completed. The egg yolk has to be runny. You could add anything (any vegetables, shrimp, chicken, tofu etc) to this dish but an egg is a must.

I served this with a trio of condiments. They are 1) store-bought "takuan" pickled diakon radish was sliced and julienned and mixed with some soy sauce (it was too sweet as commercial "takuan" often is.) (top), 2) "Kelp tsukudani" that I made from left-over kelp when I made simmered daikon dish (middle), 3) "Bainiku" from umeboshi or salted plum (bottom). Mix any of these condiments, break the runny egg yolk and enjoy.