Sunday, February 28, 2010

Baguettes バゲット

Baguette by itself is obviously not Izakaya food but as more Western-style food is served in Izakaya, baguettes are often served (For example Marks' book p95, Herb Garlic baguette served with Beef Intestine stew). I have posted few dishes served with a piece of baguette. Sometimes, we may start our home Izakaya feast with small bruschetta and end with pieces of baguette rather than rice or noodle dishes. Although good quality breads including baguettes can be had in many boulangerie or gourmet markets, we still like to make our own breads on occasional weekends. The smell of baking breads and tastes and textures of freshly baked breads are difficult to resist and can be only enjoyed if and when you bake them at home. I used to make all yeast breads and my wife made quick breads. I got a bit lazy recently and have not made a loaf of white bread or English muffins for some time. My wife got a bit impatient with me and started making some yeast breads including white bread (back of the picture) and English muffin loaf (with my helpful suggestions), which is very good (for me in particular) but she leaves baguette for me to make. 

My baguette is very simple. I do not use any fancy natural yeasts or special flour, just bread flour either Gold Medal brand or King Aurthur. I do not have any secret, inherited starters. I am sure mine is not the quality of true artisanal breads but we like it, so I keep making it. There are only a few things which are very important in making decent baguettes at home. These are: a baking stone, a water sprayer, and a razor blade.

This is the rare occasion when I actually measure the ingredients rather pricisely. First I proof the yeast in a glass measuring cup (1 or 2 cup size). I add 1 package (1/4 oz) or 1 and 1/4 teaspoon of active dried granulated yeast (I use Fleischmann's or Red Star active dried yeast) in 1/4 cup of warm water (about 110F or when you put your finger, it feels just tepid) in which 1/3 tsp of sugar has been dissolved. Mix well and let stand for 3-5 minutes to make sure the yeast is active as will be indicated by the surface bubbling up. 

Mixing and Kneading: I start my dough in a food processor fitted with a dough blade (of course you could use your hands as well as a mixer fitted with a dough hook). For two bauguettes, I place 3 and 1/2 cup of bread flour in the food processor and add 1/2 tsp of salt. I then add cold water to the proofed yeast (above) to 1 cup mark and mix well. While the food processor is on (I use the low-speed setting), I add the yeast mixture in a steady thin stream. After I add one cup of liquid, I get 1/3 cup more water and keep adding to the flour until, a ball of dough is formed above the blade. You do not need all the additional 1/3 of water. I stop and open the bowl to touch the dough. It should be soft but not too sticky. The amount of water you have to add varies depending on the weather or the flour. You have to decide when you have added enough by the look and feel of the dough. I then let it stand for 5 minutes so that the moisture will more evenly distribute. After 5 minutes, I run the processor for 30 seconds or so until a single mass of elastic dough is formed. I flour a large Kneading board and hand knead the dough to finish using the heels of my hands for 5 minutes or more until the dough feels nice and smooth. I finish the kneading by making a nice tight ball. 

Raising: I let the dough rise three times. You could do the first two in an oiled large bowl but I usually use a gallon size Ziploc bag sprayed inside with Pam or a similar non-stick spray  (just because I do not have to clean the bowl this way). After I place the dough in the bag, I squeeze out as much air as possible from the bag so that the dough will have a room to expand. I then wrap it using two or three towels and let it rise to double the size (about 1 hour but you should go by the volume not by the time as the room temperature, the potency of the yeast, the amount of salt etc change the time it takes to reach this point). I take the doubled dough out and deflate and fold it over several times and put it back to the Ziploc bag for the second rising (another hour or until volume doubles again).

Forming: After the second rising, I deflate and fold the dough over a few times and then divide into two identical cylindrical portions (weighing is the best way to make the two portions identical). It is not easy to describe how to form the loaves but I press using the side of my hand to indent a cut surface and the pinch them together. Stretch and fold over the dough along the long edge. Repeat this as you elongate the dough. If dough feels too elastic, you could let it rest for 10 minutes before forming baguettes. Cover with a floured dish towel and let it rise for the last time until the volume doubles. Move it to a peel (below) which is coated with corn meal (so that the dough will slide).

Using a sharp razor blade, make multiple oblique slashes on the top and spray water on the surface of the dough (see image below). This is to set the crust. I used to throw several ice cubes into the oven on a cookie sheet after I put the bread in.  But I am afraid that this may have damaged the oven (my old oven was not working properly towards the end). So I changed to the spray method before putting the dough into the oven. It works reasonably well and forms a good crust. 
I slide the slashed and sprayed dough in onto a hot baking stone (400F, should be preheated and left at 400F for at least 20 minutes so that the stone is throughly heated).
Bake it at 400F for 15 minutes and then reduce the temperature to 350F and bake another 30 minutes. I let the bread cool on a cooling rack as seen in the first picture. As it cools the bread makes a cracking noise ("music of bread" as per Julia Child) as the crust contracts. Cool to room temperature before eating. We usually slice and freeze the portion we did not consume by the next day. I am not sure what causes the difference but many commercial baguettes from the grocery store have a crust but the inside is spongy or mealy in texture. (I suspect they use some kind of additive in the dough). Ours has a better crust and texture as well as a nice nutty toasted flour taste.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Baby clams in garlic cream sauce with angel hair pasta エンジェルヘアパスタ小蛤クリームソース

Marks's book has a Japanese style Clam pasta dish (p121). This is a much simpler version but the idea is the same. We are not sure how we ended up with this receipe but this is fairly simple and quick pasta dish and will be ideal for the last starch dish in Home Izakaya.

Short of having fresh small clams, the important ingredient is good quality canned baby clams - not chopped clams (which tend to be too tough and chewy). We use a 10oz can of "Sun of Italy" brand (see photo) for 2 small servings. I am sure there are many similarly good brands. Drain the clams retaining the juice, set aside. I add olive oil (2 tbs) to a frying pan and add thinly sliced garlic (3-4 cloves, we like lots of garlic but use at your discretion) in medium-low heat until garlic is fragrant and lightly browned (again do not burn, it will become bitter). Add reserved clam juice and 3 tbs of sake (or dry white vermouth) and reduce to 1/2 to 1/3 of the original volume (5 minutes on high heat). Meanwhile, I cook the angel hair pasta (about 3 minutes in boiling water).  I add 1/3 cup of cream to the pan as well as the clams. I reduce the sauce briefly and add, usually, finely chopped parsley but this time I used baby arugula (as much as you like, it will cook down quite a bit). When sauce is reduced and the green is wilted, add the angel hair pasta. Although, parmesan cheese is supposedly not to be used for sea food pasta, we like it on this dish. Adjust seasoning with salt and black pepper. I happened to make Baguette a few weekends ago (which was sliced and frozen). It appeared as an accompaniment for this dish. The usual choice of wine would be white but we rarely drink white so this night, we had this with a very inexpensive but quite decent weekday red wine, South Eastern Australian Shiraz "Reddust" 2007.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Stewed pork belly 豚の角煮

This is one of the rather classic home cooked or Izakaya dish. Pork "kaku-ni" 角煮 has an origin in China and reportedly came into Japanese culinary vocabulary through Okinawa 沖縄 and Kyushu 九州. Although one may think that Japanese food is rather low-fat and healthy (which is mostly correct), Japanese also like totally unhealthy fatty items such as this dish. Cubes of Pork belly (portions used for salt pork and bacon) are cooked a long time in a soy sauce based broth producing a meltingly soft and sweet fatty morsel. This cut of pork is very common in Japan called "sanmai niku" 三枚肉 or "bara niku" バラ肉. The closest we can get in a regular grocery store in the U.S. is pork spare ribs. But unless you get pork spare ribs which include the front side, you do not get this cut of pork. The types of meat you get under "pork spare ribs" vary and, toward the back of the ribs, you get a cut similar to pork chops. Since salt pork is exactly a block of a pork belly (which is salt cured), I decided to experiment making this dish from salt pork.  There are many recipes including using a pressure cooker. The vast majority of the recipes suggest boiling the meat in a large amount of water first before cooking it in a seasoned broth. I figured that even though salt pork is salty, by boiling it in water or a seasoned broth with a lower salt content for a long time, the salt will eventually leach out from the salt pork. I looked through several recipes and decided on one which looked differet from the vast majority of the recipes and interesting by Atsushi Tsuchiya 土屋敦.

I first removed the rind (or skin) and cut a block of salt pork (about 500 grams) into 1 inch by 2 inch rectangles. Using a small dry frying pan, I browned all sides starting with the fatty side so that some fat will render out first (2-3 minutes on each side). In a small bowl, add 4 tbs of soy sauce (I used 1/3 low sodium soy sauce) and marinate the seared pork cubes for 10 minutes. I then put the pan on a low flame and cook for 5 minutes until soy sauce reduces a little and becomes slightly viscous. I add 200ml of sake and increased heat and cook 8-10 minutes and add 3 tbs of sugar.

Meanwhile I soak about 5-6 inch long dried kelp in water and let it rehydrate for 30 minutes or more. Add the water in which the kelp was soaking to the pan above so that the meat is covered. As it comes back to the boil, I skim off fat and scum which will appear on the surface. I placed the kelp to cover most of the meat as shown below and turn down the heat to simmer. I cook about 4 hours on simmer turning the meat over after about 2 hours, adding more water as needed.
I served this with a dab of Japanese mustard and sliced scallion. As an accompaniment, I made blanched baby Bok choy or チンゲンサイ青梗菜 dressed with a mustard soy sauce (Japanese mustard, sugar and soy sauce). This is a partial success. Although the meat is not too salty and fat is nicely rendered and soft, the meaty parts are a bit dry. I have to try this recipe with pork spare ribs.

P.S. We tasted this again after letting it sit in a refrigerator for 2 days (we forgot that we had this). I skimmed off any congealed pork fat and removed the kelp and warmed up the broth and pork. The pork was much better seasoned and not as dry, as compared to the last time we tasted this. The original recipe indeed recommended to keep it in a refrigerator overnight before serving and it is definitely worthwhile to do this extra step.

P.S. I posted two other attempt at making "Kakuni"; one with spare ribs and the other using genuine pork belly (to be posted).

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Grilled chicken salad with white sesame dressing 鶏肉と椎茸の胡麻和え

This another example of making-a-dish-from-whatever-we-have. We had a left over grilled chicken thigh with salt. I decided to make a small Japanse-style salad with sesame dressing or "goma-ae" ごま和え. I often make similar dishes with some variations depending on what I have at a given moment.
Dressing: I first saute white sesame seeds (3 tsp) in a dry frying pan for a few minutes (although the sesame seeds are bought already roasted) this brings back the fresh toasted flavor. I tip the sesame seeds (reserving a few for a garnish) into a Japanese mortar or "Suribachi" すり鉢 and, with a pestle, grind the seeds until they are coarsely cracked and some oil comes out. You can smell the nice roasted sesame. Then, add 1 tsp of tahini or "shiro negi-goma" 白練りごま and 1/2 tsp of sugar, 2-3 tsp of soy sauce. I also add a very tiny amount (1/2 tsp) of rice vinegar but this is optional. The vinegar will add a subtle sourness as wel as lighten the color of the dressing.
Chicken: I just slice the one left over grilled chicken thigh with salt into small strips.
Scallion (1-2): I char the outer skin of a large scallion (white parts) over a direct gas flame for 2-3 minutes. Let it cool a little, remove the charred skin and cut into 1 inch long segments. I slice the remaining green parts into thin strips diagonally for a garnish. 
Cucumber (1 mini or 1/3 Japanese cucumber): I thinly slice one mini cucumber, salt and mix and let it stand for few minutes. I ring out the excess moisture and dress it with a small amount of sushi vinegar. 
Shiitake mushroom: I happened to have fresh shiitake mushrooms. I grilled 3 with the stem removed in a toaster oven for few minutes and cut into small strips and dressed it with a small amount of soy sauce while hot.

Mix all the above ingredients and dress with the sesame dressing. Garnish with thinly sliced scallion, Campari tomates, and sesame seeds. It is an extra step but dry roasting the sesame seeds makes a big difference.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Plum wine 梅酒

I promised to post "Umeshu" 梅酒 previously. After all, I named my blog "on wine and food" so it is appropriate to talk about plum wines, although it is actually a fruit liquor and not really a wine. Many years ago (probably 25 years or so), while we were visiting Sapporo, we went to a get-together dinner at my late brother's in-laws' place. At the end of wonderful feast, they served us a plum wine which grandma mother-in-law had made many years ago. It was nicely aged and tasted like fine port or sherry--so good. There was no comparison to anything made commercially. Later, when we mentioned this to my mother, she immediately dove into the cabinet under the sink and produced an old bottle of umeshu that she had made and served it to us. Again, it was excellent. These episodes prompted us to make our own umeshu in the U.S. At that time, we were living in California and it was relatively easy to get green unripe Japanese plums or "Aoume" 青梅 at a Japanese market. We started making umeshu at home. The traditional recipe uses rock sugar and shouchu 焼酎 (usually 50 or 40 proof) or Japanese distilled potato liquor. After we moved to DC, it is still possible to get Japanse plums but it was hit or miss. Some years, we got some green plums from our Japanese grocery store. The owner was kind enough to set aside some for us whenever she got them but, some years, we did not get any plums. Thus, our quest to find a Japanese plum tree which will produce good fruit began.

Japanse plum 梅 or prunus mume is more closely related to apricot rather than plum or some cultivars are believed to be a hybrid such as cultivar "Bungo" 豊後梅. Their fruit reportedly is the best for umeshu and umeboshi 梅干し, a Japanese salted plum. We looked high and low but most of Japanese plum trees in the U.S. are stricktly ornamental and all of the tree catalogues we looked at only described how pretty the flower was but did not mention the fruit. After sending many emails to many tree nurseries, one from Washington state responded saying that this one (I do not remember exactly what was the name or cultivar) would produce decent fruit. So we ordered it. It came in the mail in a small brown envelope and the bare root tree was about 5 inches tall. It came in late summer so we put the small "twig" in a little pot on the deck. But winter was fast approaching and we wondered what to do with the little guy. It was not looking particularly happy and we did not think it would survive the winter sitting inside the house next to the window--for that matter we didn't think it would survive the winter no matter what we did. As a desperate measure, we plunked it down into the small raised vegetable patch we have in the backyard (we used to grow tomatoes until it got too shady for that). This was meant to be the plum tree I.C.U. and lo-and-behold, it revived itself and started growing. Now it is about 20 foot tall (see picture above) in the same vegitable patch since we lost a chance to transplant it elsewhere. It started producing fruit in the past 4-5 years. It was a first bumper crop in 2008. Vintage 2008 is our second vintage of umeshu made with estate (?) grown plums.

Recipe: Our recipes for umeshu have evolved a little but are based on the traditional Japanese recipes. We use regular sugar instead of rock sugar (since we did not see a big difference in quality of the resulting umeshu and it is rather difficult to get rock sugar) and use either 80 proof vodka and brandy (not VSOP or XO, just cheap Christian brothers). Our regular recipe uses 1lb of plums, 1/2 lb of sugar and 1.75 liters of brandy or vodka. We use to prick the fruit as suggested in a Japanse recipe (supposedly to encourage the flow of juices from the fruit) but this produces a murky wine with lots of precipitate. So, we do not prick the plums but, instead, coat the fruit with sugar and let it stand for one day in a jar so that the moisture is being extrated from the fruit before adding the alcohol. For Vintage 2008, I used 2 lbs of fruit since we had so much. The above picture was the Vodka version. Not intentionally but I left this batch with the fruit for one and half years (I usually bottle it after one year). The brandy version became darker and the fruit is all shriveled up (see picture below, right) as compared to the vodka version in which the fruit looks plump (picture below, left). I am not sure what made this difference. Since the sugar amount is the same, it must be something to do with the brandy (This difference was not apparent when I made brandy and vodka plum wines in previous years).

Tasting notes: The taste test was done while bottling. As a reference, we also tasted the old vintage brandy plum wine (I think it is 2000 or 1999 vintage but the label has fallen off). The picture below, from the left to right, are 1) Old vintage brandy plum wine, 2) 2008 Brandy plum wine and 3) 2008 Vodka plum wine. You can clearly see the diference in color. Nose is best in the old vintage with nice strong plum nose with a nutty sherry character. Palate is also the best in 1) with nice mellow plummy taste without any harsh edges despite a high alcohol content. 2) is not bad for young plum wine but 3) definitely has a raw, harsh edges.

We have accumulated quite a few bottles in the past 20 some years. One of these days, we may be able to do the vertical tasting but it is a bit like Scotch tasting, your have to be very careful, otherwise you will be totally soused after a few tasting.

P.S. Please see here for additional information on Umeshu.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Sliced duck breast and scallion with Ponzu sauce

Sliced duck breast with Ponzu sauce 鴨とネギのおろしポン酢 (Mark's book p145)

Japanese consider scallion or "negi" 葱 and duck or "kamo" 鴨 to be the ultimate culinary combination. The Japanese expression "Kamo ga negi o shotte kuru" 鴨が葱を背負ってくる or a short form, "Kamo-negi" 鴨葱 literally means "A duck flies in with bundles of scallion on its back", which describes the situation in which "A perfect victim falls into your hands willingly and carrying a present to boot". I had to make a small deviation from the original recipe since I did not have a "Tokyo" scallion or naga-negi 長ネギ (You could get one at a Japanese grocery store) and I did not want to use leeks as the substitute as suggested.
I cook the duck breast in my usual way. I clean the duck and score the skin in a cross hatch pattern (rather than simply piercing the skin as indicated in the recipe since this will allow more complete and easy rendering of the fat), salt and pepper, cook it in a dry frying pan, the skin side down, on a medium-low flame. I cook it for 6-7 minutes until the skin is brown and crispy. During the cooking, I remove excess fat using paper towels. I turn over the duck and place it in a preheated (400F) oven for 6 minutes. While it is hot, I marinade it in a Ponzu sauce (Mark's book p145 but I used a commercial one from the bottle) for several hours. Meanwhile I brown the white parts of scallion (as many as you need but I used 6) in a frying pan on a medium flame with a small amount of oil (5-6 minutes), cut them into pieces a few inches long. I thinly slice the green parts of the scallion on a bias as a garnish as seen above.

I remove the duck breast from the marinade and slice it rather thin and drape the slices over three segments of the scallion and top them with grated daikon, yuzu-kosho 柚子胡椒 (Mark's book p145 but I used a commercial one from the tube) and garnish with sliced scallion (green parts). We thought that yuzu-kosho was a bit too spicy to our taste but the combination of scallion and duck is great and the grated daikon was also nice cutting through the richness of the duck. We like this dish very much.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Spinach with creamy black sesame sauce ほうれん草のごま和え

Spinach with creamy black sesame sauce ほうれん草のごま和え(Based on Mark's book p76)
Spinatch with mustard soy sauce ほうれん草の芥子醤油

In general, fruits and vegetables are much tastier and better in Japan with few exceptions. These exceptions include carrots and spinach. Carrots available in the U.S. are thinner, longer and much sweeter especially when eaten raw. Western varietals of spinach are tender and good for eating as a salad especially "baby" spinach.  Although Western varietals of carrot and spinach are now available in Japan, traditional Japanese spinach is rather tough and not suited to eating raw as salad and contain a high amount of oxalic acid. I still remember that my mother told me when I was a child that spinach had to be boiled in a large amount of water and then soaked in cold water to remove as much oxalic acid as possible. I am not sure common Western varietals have a significantly lower oxalic acid content, however. It is getting difficult to find bunches of fully grown spinach in our grocery stores. Instead, I often end up with pre-washed and packaged "baby" spinach. I think that, for traditional Japanese ways of preparing spinach like seen here, it  may be better with bunches of Japanese or Asian spinach since Western spinach does not have a same texture.

I prepared two rather common sauces to serve with spinach. One to the left is with black sesame sauce as described in Mark's book p76. One to the right is dressed with a mustard soy sauce or "karashi jouyu" 芥子醤油 and topped with dried bonito flakes. I cooked the whole bag of baby spinach (which yielded only two servings) in a small amount of water in a sauté pan with a tight-fitting lid for 2 minutes or until the spinach wilted. I drained and let it cool. I squeezed out any extra moisture and rolled it using a Nori sheet in a long cylindrical shape like making a roll sushi. I left it wrapped in plastic wrap until the Nori absorbed the moisture and adhered to the spinach (few minutes). I then cut the the roll into 1/2 inch pieces yielding 8 pieces.

1. For the black sesame sauce, I followed the recipe in Mark's book. I toasted 1 tbs of black sesame seeds in a dry frying pan and put them in "suribachi" すり鉢 and ground them until they became pasty. I added 1 tbs of "neri kuro-goma" 練り黒ごま (this can be bought at a Japanese grocery store) or black tahini. I deviated from the recipe and did not add any sugar but instead added mirin and soy sauce (2 tbs each). Since I did not have "dashi" broth handy to dilute the sauce to the desired consistency, I used mirin which added liquidity as well as sweetness without the dashi broth.

2. For the mustard soysauce, I put 1/2 tsp of a prepared Japanese mustard (sold in a tube, this is hot, not like Western mustards), 1/2 tsp of sugar and 3 tsp or more of soysauce in "suribachi" and mixed well.

Both are good, although we really liked the black sesame sauce. Toasting the sesame seeds really brings out the nice fresh fragrant flavor of sesame. Black sesame paste adds a nice nuttiness. I had to find "adult" (as opposed to "baby") spinach for this dish, though.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tatsuta fried chicken 鶏の竜田揚げ (Mark's book p54)

This is one of "teiban" 定番 or regular dish in Izakaya. I used to make this dish often (when we were young and reckless) but I have not made it for some time. My wife used to call this dish "Japanese chicken McNugget" but it is much better than McNugget (actually, no comparison). Two teiban fried chicken dishes in Izakaya are "kara-age" 唐揚げ and this dish. For Kara-age, no prior marinading is used or it may be just garlic flavored. "Tatsuta-age" uses a soy sauce based marinade. In either dish, the chicken pieces are deep fried after being dredged in flour (wheat, potato and rice flours with many establishments using proprietary mixes to attain the ultimate crispy coating). The name "tatsuta" is said to come from "Tatsuta" river or "Tatsuta-gawa" 竜田川 where Japanese maples or "momiji" 紅葉 (actually, "momiji" literally means "red leaves") are famous because of their brilliant red color in autumn. It is said that the color of the marinated, deep fried chicken resembles the red maple leaves along the "Tatsuta" river (that is poetic but requires lots of imagination, I think).

The recipe in the Mark's book (p54) is interesting, since the chicken is first macerated in salt and sake and then dressed in soy sauce just before it was dredged in flour and deep fried. I will try that in the near future but, here, I used my more traditional recipe. I bone, clean and cut up chicken thigh into bite size pieces across the grain of the meat. I then marinate the chicken in a Ziploc bag containing sake, mirin, and soy sauce (1:1:2 ratio) and 1/2 tsp of grated ginger (optional) for at least 30 minutes to several hours or even overnight. (For shorter marinating time, increase soy sauce in the marinade.) I lift the chicken pieces from the marinade, pat dry with paper towels, dredge in potato flour or "katakuri-ko" 片栗粉 and deep fry. I actually use a "shallow" frying method as you see below. I use the amount of oil (peanut oil) to the depth of 1/2 inch so it comes to half the thickness of the chicken pieces. The oil temperature should be about 350F but I use the bamboo-chop-stick-dipped-in-oil method of judging the oil temperature. The shallow frying will all moisture to escape more easily from the chicken pieces (since half is exposed to air) and produce a crispier outer layer besides using less oil. (I learned this technique from a chicken "kara-age" recipe in a cook book by Kentaro Kobayashi, which lists many small dishes that go with drinks). I fry for 3-5 minutes and toward the end, crank up the heat a bit to make the surface crispy (cut to test for doneness). I drain the chicken of excess oil on a metal grate before serving. I serve this dish on a folded tempura "shikishi" paper 天ぷら敷き紙, but it is obviously not necessary if you do not have one.

 You only need lemon wedges, or not even that, since the chicken pieces are already seasoned. We try not to make and eat too much deep fried food but this one is really good especially since we have not had this for some times.

Last time we were in Kyoto, we had chicken Kara-age at "Tori-hachi" 鳥八 (A specialized chicken dish drinking place but not "yakitori"-ya) near Kyoto station. They have two large vats of oil on induction cookers with electronic thermal sensors to maintain the high and low temperatures and they use a double frying method to produce an excellent "kara-age". 

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Hanger steak ハンガーステーキ

We do not eat lots of beef. We eat more pork and chicken. When we eat beef, often, we will go for filet mignon. If we are going to have Fajitas, we go for a "skirt" steak. We often noticed when you go to other countries, cuts of the meat especially beef is quite different. Hanger steak is one of these cuts which have been more popular outside the U.S.. More recently, even here in the U.S., it is getting much more popular becase it is very tasty, although it is not one of the tender cuts of beef. The day, I got  a whole red snapper, I also saw hanger steaks in the butcher section of our gourmet grocery store and I could not resist getting one small steak. When we eat beef we do not eat that much. We often prepare it in a manner suitable for an Izakaya dish or as an accompaniment for a drink. I often serve beef sliced so that you can eat it with a pair of chopsticks. 

This is not a recipe per se. Often, I make a simple soy sauce brown butter sauce for steaks (I learned this sauce from a small but elegant Japanese course menu restaurant "Makoto"). Tonight, I cooked a hanger steak (seasoned with salt and pepper) in a frying pan, without finishing in an oven as I usually do for filet mignon, to cook it medium rare. I let it rest on a plate covered with aluminum foil. Since we had an already open bottle of left-over red dust Shiraz from Australia, I decided to make a red wine sauce with shallots.  While the meat was resting, I added 1 large shallot cut in thin rings and sauted using the remaining fat from cooking the steak for 3-4 minutes until it got soft and slightly brown and brown bits (fond) come off from the bottom of the pan. I deglazed the pan with 2-3 tsp of red wine vinegar and let it evaporate to almost dry. I then added 1/4 cup (or whatever was left in the bottle) of red wine and the meat juice accumulated in the plate on which the steak was resting. I reduced it to a small amont just enough to cover the bottom of the frying pan (5 or so more minutes on a high flame). I finished the sauce with 2-3 thin pats (1 tbs or less) of unsalted and cold butter, tasted and adjusted the seasoning with salt and pepper if needed (not needed here). I then sliced the hanger steak into thin strips across the grain of the steak. I topped the steak with the shallots and the wine sauce. This steak was so flavorful that you do not have to eat that much to enjoy the beef. We definitely needed to open a better wine. Crauford Maroon Vineyard Tattoo Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 went so well with this steak.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Foil-baked mushroom しめじのフォイル焼き

Foil-baked mushrooms しめじのフォイル焼き (Mark's book p28)

I came across a package of fresh "shimeji" mushrooms at our Japanese grocery store and decided to make this dish. I almost cooked this in an oven rather than directly on the stove top as instructed but I restrained myself and followed the recipe and it worked well. This is a very easy and excellent way to prepare "shimeji" mushrooms しめじ茸. I have tasted "enoki" mushrooms えのき茸 made in a similar manner (less cooking time required) at a "Robatayaki" 炉端焼き restaurant in San Francisco a long time ago.
To reiterate the recipe from Mark's book p28, trim the root end of the shimeji mushrooms (The entire bunch is connected at the root end), salt and put it in aluminum foil shaped into a box (I used double layers since the recipe calls for it to be put it directly on a low flame). I added two small slivers of lemon zest (using a peeler), thin pats of unsalted butter (total of 1 tbs), sealed the top by double folding. I placed it on a direct low flame and let it cook for 15 minutes. I added a splash of soy sauce just before serving.
I ended up transferring the mushroom to a small bowl to make two individual servings. This is a very nice dish, although I may reduce  the amount of butter next time. A good amount of juice came out of the mushroom with butter and lemon flavor mixed in with soy sauce really heighten the earthy, meaty goodness of the mushroom.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Clam chowder クラムチャウダー

Small soup is nice to have as a course in a meal while you are having a drink but it is not easy to pair it with wines or other drinks. Dry sherry or some other aperitif may be called for. Umeshu 梅酒 or plum wine, as long as it is not too sweet. Or making a type of kir by adding umeshu to dry crisp white wines such as savignon blanc or even to sake may also work. We make Umeshu at home with much less sugar than commercial ones. Some bottles of our Umeshu have aged quite a long time since we started making it 20 some years ago and it is getting nicely mellow. We also made Umeshu using brandy which is also nice. (I may post our Umeshu some time in the future). All these could be a nice choice for the clam chowder (Boston style) that I made on one cold snowy day of which we have had way too many in Washington this winter. I, however, added Fino sherry in the bottom of the soup cup when I served this instead of having it as an aperitif.

This is, again, a quick simple recipe I came up with using a canned baby clams. I chop a strip of bacon into small pieces and slowly cook in a small sauce pan until crisp and the fat is rendered. An authentic recipe may call for salt pork or recommend blanching the bacon to remove the strong smoky taste but I like the smokiness that bacon imparts. I remove the bacon bits and set aside (to be used as garnish). I saute coarsely chopped onion (1 medium) for 4-5 minutes until soft and add potatoes (one large white potato cut into small cubes) and carrots (2 small cut into small rounds). I add the juice from a can of baby clams (10 oz) and chicken broth (No fat, low salt Swanson brand in a box) to just cover the vegetables. If you so prefer you could use the same amount of clam juice from a bottle. I then add two bay leaves, a very small pinch of dried thyme, and simmer for 15 minutes or until the vegetables are soft. I then add the baby clams and 1/2 cup of cream or milk (I used milk this time). When it comes back to a boil turn down the heat and add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

I served the chowder in a cup with a small amount of Fino sherry in the bottom and top it with the bacon bits and chopped parsley. Coming in from shoveling snow, this is a good one to have.   

The images below are taken the night of February 5 and morning of Feb 6 (after we rescued the pine tree and shoveled for several hours). I am originally from Sapporo but this is too much snow. If I wanted this kind of snow I could have stayed in Sapporo. As I am writing this, we are expecting another big snow storm with an expected snow accumulation of 8-16 inches or more. Where is spring!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Ramen noodle Part2 ラーメン その2

I just read an interesting article on Ramen noodles in Japan (Tokyo) in New York Times. I learned from this article that there are quite a few blogs both in English and Japanese on Ramen. In the previous ramen post, I also mentioned that you could get famous and regional ramen (at least soup and noodles) by mail order in Japan but apparently there is a specialized website for oversea Ramen fans.  I am not obsessed about or a connoisseur of ramen noodles but what an amazing world of the ramen noodles and the ramen obsessed! I also promise that this will the last post on ramen noodles.

When I posted "Japanese pork pot roast" 焼豚, I was trying to make it last until the next weekend so that I can make an example of a classic ramen noodle. It was miraculous that we still had the pork left on the next weekend. I also made another classic ramen topping, "seasoned" soft boiled eggs 煮卵 or 味付け卵  by simply marinating soft boiled eggs in the reduced marinade of the Japanese pork pot roast for several hours to overnight. 

Here I served "seasoned" (this one is overnight marinating) soft boiled egg and the roasted pork with "jabara" 蛇腹 cucumber as a starter. We actually had this with California Cab Salvestrin 2005 and both pork and egg went very well with it.

I made a sort of classic and simple "shio" 塩ラーメン or "salt" ramen in which "soup" is chicken broth with salt without soy sauce or miso paste. Again, the way I made the broth is my own short-cut method. I try to enhance flavors of a store-bought chicken broth. I saute one small onion thinly cut in a sauce pan with a small amount of vegetable oil and a splash of dark roasted sesame oil. I brown or caramelize onion with several thin slices of fresh ginger. When the onion is browned and "fond" has developed on the bottom of the pan, I add chopped garlic and saute for few more minutes. I then deglaze with sake (2 tbs or so) and scrape off the "fond" as much as I can. Then I add chicken broth (I used a 16oz box, which is about 470ml, of Swanson zero-fat, 33% reduced salt chicken broth). I let it simmer until I am ready for the noodles and toppings. Just before serving, I taste and add salt if needed (It has reduced to about 400ml, this is one of the reasons I use a low-salt variety). I pour only the broth through a strainer into the two bowls, discarding the solids. The resulting broth has a nice chicken flavor with some sweetness from the onion and a slight ginger note and is not bad. I used the same dried ramen noodles I used before and divided one serving into two small portions.

For toppings, two thick slices of the pork pot roast 焼豚 or チャーシュー, half of "seasoned" egg (marinate for 1 hour), seasoned bamboo shoots called "menma" メンマ or "shinachiku" 支那竹 (meaning chinese-style bamboo shoots) (see below image), thinly sliced scallion, and Nori 海苔 seaweed. I add freshly ground black pepper, although traditinally Japanese uses finely ground white pepper.

These toppings are classic. Slices of the Japanese pork pot roast definitely make this dish. The egg is also excellent.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Daikon marinated in beer 大根のビール漬け

Tsukemono 漬け物 is always one of the favorites in Izakaya. Most common one is called "asazuke" 浅漬 which I posted in the past. This one is new to me but was mentioned by my niece and she raved about it. I looked for the recipe on the Internet and found quite a few. I am not sure who first invented the dish but this is definitely a new wave tsukemono. There are some variations but after reading these recipes, I decided to base mine on one of them but the amount of sugar looked way too much, so even not knowing how this should taste, I reduced the sugar in half (which, in retrospect, was the right decision). I made a small amount since I never tasted this before.

I mixed the following ingredients in a bowl and poured it in a gallon-size Ziploc bag; 
Beer 180* ml (I used Samuel Adams Summer Ale), rice vinegar 25 ml, salt 20 grams (I used Kosher salt), sugar 50 grams (the origianl called for 100 grams), Japanese hot mustard powder 10 grams. 
I used my electronic scale to weigh these. I am glad my scale had a metric mode. I used about 10 cm long medium daikon, peeled, cut into quarters length wise. I just put into the marinade and into the refrigerator.

We tasted it after 5 days and, then, at 1  and 2 weeks. It mellows out after 1-2 weeks. This is surprisingly good as everyone is saying. The daikon is still very crunchy with a combination of flavors. But, to me, even after cutting the sugar in half, it is still a bit too sweet. My wife said she liked it and did not feel it was too sweet. This one goes well as is as a side while sipping sake and also with rice. I may experiment with different kinds of beer.

P.S. I originally wrorte "90 ml" but it should have been 180ml.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Guacamole グワッカモレ

This is another example of extremely popular Mexican-South Western cuisine and, in the U.S., it is probably one of the most common and popular dips at any party. Since I mentioned guacamole in my previous post on quesadilla, I decided to make it. Guacamole is getting popular even in Japan and some Izakaya serve up tacos and guacamole. For some reason, Japanese recipes for Guacamole include cream cheese, mayonnaise, and/or sour cream but the authentic Mexican or South Western recipes do not include these. Whether chopped tomatoes and garlic should be included appears to be controversial. In any case, this is how I make my guacamole.

Cut one ripe but unblemished avocado in half (choosing a ripe avocado is, by itself, another subject needing some discussion), remove the pit, and cut the green "meat" into quarters. After removing and discarding the skin, I put the pieces in a bowl (true authentic recipes should specify the use of a molcajete and tejolote but I do not have one), add the juice of one or two limes (about 2 tbs), two scallions finely chopped, one jalapeño pepper finely chopped after de-seedng and de-veinng, 1/2 tsp of salt, freshly ground black pepper to taste and 3-4 sprigs of cilantro, only leafy parts, chopped finely. I use either the back of a fork or a small potato masher to make a smooth paste with some small chunks of avocado remaining. Since the heat of jalapeño pepper (capsaicin) is in the veins and seeds, this may not be spicy enough for some. I adjust the spiciness by adding Tabasco. I do not use garlic or tomatoes in my guacamole but these are optional. I think if you add sour cream, mayonnaise or cream cheese like many Japanese guacamole recipes suggest, it is not guacamole but is an avocado-flavored dip.

This time, I made chicken quesadilla and served them with guacamole. Yum...yum.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Quesadilla ケサディア

Like some favorite Japanese dishes may have an origin in China, many so-called South-Western cuisines in the U.S. are derived from or influenced by Mexican cooking. Quesadilla is one of these and a perfect bar food. Essentially, a cheese sandwich using tortillas. There is no real recipes. You can make many variations depending on types of cheeses and other proteins such as cooked shredded chicken, pork etc. My Mexican friend tells me that the authentic quesadilla is made from one tortilla and folded in half into a half-moon shape but using two tortillas may be more efficient. I just wanted to make a small amount for two of us this time, so I made it from one tortilla.

Monterely jack cheese may be authentic as a US South-Western version but you can use any melting cheeses such as Cheddar, Gruyere etc. I happened to have a "Swiss" style cheese similar to Raclette with interesting herbal flavors. I usually add seeded and finely diced jalapeño pepper but I did not have one so I used canned roasted mild green pepper but you do not have to use any pepper. I added a small amount of vegetable oil to a frying pan and placed a tortilla (I used wheat tortilla). I then put shredded cheese and the pepper on half of the tortilla. While the tortilla was still pliable, I folded it in half and pressed it with a spatula then turned it over as seen below. I cooked it until the tortilla was browned and crispy and the cheese was melted.

You could serve this with salsa or guacamole.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Japanese pork pot roast 焼豚/煮豚

This is another favorite sino-Japanese dish, which I mentioned when I posted the Ramen noodle. I learned that the original Chinese version is called 叉焼  "Cha-siu" and the pork is indeed grilled. The Japanese version is essentially a pot roast. "Yakibuta" 焼豚 in Japanese means "grilled" pork as opposed to  "Nibuta" 煮豚 "simmered" pork. But Japanese use them almost interchangeably, although the words "Yakibuta" or "Chaashuu" チャーシュウ (adapted from the original Chinese pronunciation) are most commonly used for this dish. Even though the main mode of cooking occurs in a liquid, many recipes call for browning the surface (thus, justifying the name  "grilled pork" or "yakibuta") before and/or after cooking in a liquid. As I mentioned in the Ramen post, this is by far the most common topping for ramen noodles but there are many other ways to serve up this dish. Here I simply sliced it and served it as h'or doeuvre.

My recipe has changed during the year but I gave up on searing the surface since it does not add that much and can dirty up the stove top. So my dish is indeed "Nibuta" or pork pot roast. The ingredients I used are shown below. Here I used pork loin but I suppose pork shoulder or butt can be also used. I trimmed the extra fat and silver skin and trussed it as seen below. Trussing, to me, is necessary to maintain the oval-round shape of the pork. Other ingredients include one scallion (I pound it lightly with the back of a knife), two thin slivers of ginger, three small cloves of garlic (smashed), about 10 black pepper corns, 1-2 star anise. Use of the star anise is optional but we definitely like to include this spice.
I marinate the pork in the mixture of soy sauce, mirin and sake (2:1:1 ratio) as seen below in a small sauce pan, in which the pork snuggly fits, for 1-2 hours. I turn the pork every 10-20 minutes. After marination, I add water (about the same amount as the marinade) so that the pork is just barely covered. Put "otoshi buta" 落とし蓋 or aluminum foil to loosely cover the meat. When the liquid boils, turned down the heat to a gentle simmer and cook it for about 20-30 minutes. I turn the pork over mid-way through cooking. After shutting off the flame, I put on a tightly fitting lid and let the pork cool in the liquid to room temperature, then take the meat out. I put the remaining marinade in the refrigerator. When it cools down, I skim off congealed fat on the surface and reduce it to the original (before adding the water) volume. This leftover marinade can be used as a sauce for the pork or to season other items, especially soft boiled eggs.

I sliced it and served this just as is with a small amount of the reduced marinade, celery salad, and tomato. Since I peeled the skin off the tomato using my knife (as oppose to blanching it), I made a small rose for my wife as decoration. This pork is mighty good. I could use this pork as I would use ham. We actually made sandwiches for lunch the next day. I'm hoping this will last until next weekend, so that I can make another example of ramen noodles...but at the rate it is going it may not last.