Friday, April 30, 2010

Skirt steak and home grown mixed green salad スカートステーキと自家製レタスのサラダ

We used to have a small raised vegetable patch in our backyard. First we could grow nice tomatoes but it got too shady because the trees were getting taller. We switched to crops which do not require as much sun as tomatoes and, finally, lettuce in the spring and fall. We, then,  totally gave up growing any vegetables in that area. Now, our Japanese plum tree is growing in the middle of what used to be our vegetable patch. It shares the space with a rather strange Japanese vegetable called "myga" 茗荷 which now grows under its boughs. When "myoga" is in season, I am sure I can post a few dishes using myoga. In any case, now my wife grows a small amount of lettuce in the raised herb garden in the front of the house where we still get sun. Some of the fall lettuce even over wintered the harsh winter we had this year and came back this spring. So this is one of the first lettuce crops of the season.
I dressed these mixed greens with a sort of Japanese dressing consisting of soy sauce (2 tbs), rice vinegar (2 tbs), sesame oil (1 tsp), vegetable oil (2 tbs) and mirin (1tbs). You could add grated ginger or crushed garlic. I just topped this with leftover marinated and grilled skirt steak (marinated for several hours in equal mixture of mirin and soy sauce and then grilled to medium rare and sliced in thin strips across the grain of the meat). Garnish with white roasted sesame seeds and chopped chives (from the same garden). Perfect starter salad.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Soft shell crab tempura ソフトシェルクラブの天ぷら

When I posted the crab cake, I promised a soft shell crab tempura. It must be getting into summer since my wife found live soft shell crabs in the fish monger's case at our neighborhood gourmet grocery store for the first time this year. Regardless of what we already planned for dinner tonight, it is time for soft shell crab tempura! 

I never saw soft shell crabs until I came to Baltimore (which was the first city I lived in after I left Japan). Soft shell crab sandwiches are famous in Maryland and look very strange at first. It consists of two pieces of bread with a large flat arachnoid looking creature between them; spider legs sticking out all over. Despite its appearance, both my wife and I independently developed a liking for soft shell crabs. The most common way to cook soft shell crabs is either battered and deep fried or dredged in flour and sauteed in clarified butter. We first encountered tempura soft shell crabs at one of the sushi bars we used to visit. With just a light tempura crust, it is our favorite way to eat this specialty--with crispy outside and juicy sweet meat inside. Actually, many sushi bars even make a "soft shell crab roll" which is not bad but we like to just eat the crab as is.

First, you have to clean the critters. If you are not up for this task, especially if they are still moving and alive, it is best to ask the fish monger to clean them for you. You need to take off the eyes/head portion, bottom apron, and gills. I sandwich the cleaned crabs between paper towels and press lightly to remove any excess moisture.

Tempura batter: I used to use whole eggs or egg yolks in my tempura batter but, more recently, I just use cake flour and potato starch mixture without eggs. I do not use any leavening agents such as baking powder. Using egg yolks makes a richer batter but I like the simple light texture of a crust made from the batter of just flour and water. Here, I used about a half cup of cake flour (the reason for the cake flour is that you do not need gluten which will make a tough crust) with 2 tbs of potato starch or corn starch and add ice cold water and mix lightly until a desired consistency is reached. Depending on what you are frying, the thickness of the batter should be adjusted. For soft shell crabs, I like a very light crust so I use a bit runny or thin batter.  

Oil: For tempura, you need to use fresh oil. I use peanut oil since we like the peanutty flavor it imparts and its high smoking point. The temperature should be around 170C (340F) but, as usual, I use the dropping-bit-of-tempura-batter method of judging the temperature. I use the shallow frying method with about half an inch deep oil. Since it splatters a lot, I took some precautions (see picture). I turned over the crabs once the bubbles around them get smaller (after 5 minutes) and fried another 5 minutes until the surface is lightly brown and crispy and bubbles around the crabs get smaller and "quieter" for the second time. I also made fresh Shiitake and asparagus tempura as accompaniments.

Green tea salt: Tempura dipping sauce and grated daikon will go well with this but we decided to eat simply with lemon wedges and green tea salt for our season's first catch. To make green tea salt, I add 3 tbs of Kosher salt and 1/3 tsp of "maccha" 抹茶 green tea powder in a small plastic sealable container and shake well to mix. It will keep for a long time in a freezer.

I cut the crab into 4 pieces for easy handling and serve. What a treat! I assume it will go very well with cold beer but I seldom drink beer nowadays. Cold sake is called for.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Browned rice with miso おこげと味噌

Last time I made "Browned crispy rice with Parmesan cheese", I longed for more authentic Japanese flavors like I remember from my childhood; just "okoge" おこげ and miso.  So I tried to reproduce this taste without using any oil or cheese and just miso.

I used cold leftover rice (not frozen). I added about one cup of rice to a dry non-stick frying pan on medium heat. Using a silicon spatula, I spread the rice thinly like a very thin pancake. I browned one side for 5-7 minutes (Please turn on an exhaust fan, it will smoke) and flipped it over and browned the other side (another 5 minutes) as well.  I then spread miso (about 1 tbs) thinly over the surface and flipped it again to make the miso slightly charred and fragrant (30 seconds). I flipped it again and slid it onto a plate. I garnished it with thinly sliced scallion. This really tastes like genuine "okoge" with miso. The one with Parmesan cheese has nice flavors but it is a bit oily. My wife suggested combining Parmesan cheese and miso without using oil. I will try that next time.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Morimoto, Philadelphia, April 23, 2010. レストラン森本、フィラデルフィア


We finally made an excursion over the weekend to dine "omakase おまかせ menu" at Morimoto in Philadelphia. From the hotel, we walked to Morimoto down Chestnut street. The walk was an interesting mix of inner city decay amid the former splendor of old Philadelphia and the inspiration of new businesses taking root. The block on which "Moriomoto" is located may need more time to fully recover its former glory. Opening the semi-transparent door, the inner decor is certainly not Japanese in any way. The space is deep and narrow with a tall undulating ceiling. In the back, there is a large square counter and the open kitchen and further back the closed main kitchen. Both sides of the main floor are slightly elevated and it is one step up to the tables for two. The center booths are divided by semitransparent Plexiglas low partitions back lit by blue and red neon in the bottom of the partition.  The color of the neon changes every-now-and-then but mostly stays blue giving an impression of the bottom of the sea. We were seated at a table for two on the elevated portion. For us, "midgets", the chairs were too tall--for the first time since childhood, our feet did not touch the ground, and it was not really comfortable. We weren't entirely sure about this interior decor but it does indicate things to come in term of the cuisine. 

The sake selection was very limited (disappointing). We chose a bottle of Akita Komachi Diaginjo 秋田小町大吟醸 from "Yuki no bosha" 雪の茅舎 brewery in Akita 秋田 prefecture of northern mainland Japan. As I tasted it, however, I regretted that I did not order "Wakatake Onigoroshi" 若竹鬼ころし Junmai Daiginjo from Shizuoka 静岡 prefecture which was also in the short list. Akita Komachi was nice enough with a smooth mouth feel with subtle pear and melon notes but it was a bit too sweet for our taste. It reminded me of Kanbara 蒲原 Bride Of The Fox from Niigata 新潟. It appears that both are specifically bottled for export, I wonder the importers must think that most American like this type of sake. We rather prefer a dry, fruity and crisp sake. Their own "Morimoto" branded sake and beer are also available but we did not try.
(Sake bottle image from

After conferring with our server, we decided to order the $120 "Omakase" menu. The dishes came at a good pace--not too fast and not too slow. 


The first course was a rather mundane "Toro tartar" with crisp fried shallot, chive topped with caviar and a small amount of broth in the bottom made of dashi, mirin, and soy sauce. The wasabi that accompanied it appears to be from a real wasabi daikon 山葵大根. The toro was too finely mashed and we would have preferred finely diced instead. The crispy fried shallot was very nice. The sauce was too sweet. The caviar must have been North American (may have been even Paddle fish caviar) and did not add much. They gave us a small stainless steal spoon but we would have preferred non metal spoon for this dish.

Next came three "Kumamoto oysters on the half shell", with three different toppings; momiji oroshi 紅葉おろし, which is daikon and hot red pepper grated together, ceviche sauce with cilantro, Yuzu soy sauce with a thin slice of Jalapeno pepper. Kumamoto is one of our favorite oysters (eaten raw). It was excellent and we liked it very much. 

This must be meant as a "salad". Several nice slices of "Kanpachi" (young Hamachi) sashimi with micro greens" dressed in yuzu vinaigrette.  The Kanpachi slices were placed on a wasabi cream sauce. It was nice but I was not sure about the wasabi-cream sauce. 

We must be moving toward cooked items on the menu and as a liaison between "raw" to "cooked", we got "Tile fish carpaccio topped with uni, chives and tarragon and heated sesame oil yuzu dressing". (When it was served, the dish was cold.) Tile fish or "amadai" 甘鯛 is rather delicate and the hot sesame oil cooked the fish just a little. We found the sauce to be too overwhelming for this delicate fish.

At some point (unfortunately, neither of us can remember exactly when) but most like between the raw and cooked courses we were served a "palate cleanser". It was a small tall glass of carbonated beverage with a sweet mildly rose flavor. 

We were now deeply into the "cooked" course which consisted of half a small "Baked or sautéed Lobster with spicy rub and vegetables. Instead of butter for dipping, it was served with a creme fraiche and Yuzu mixture. One of the characteristic ways Japanese serve lobster, Japanese "Iseebi" prawn, or crab is so that you do not have to struggle trying to remove the meat from the shell. In the presentation at Morimoto, although the claws were cracked, we had to use our fingers and chopsticks to dig the meat out. In the end fingers and chopsticks were not the most appropriate utensils for the task and we were forced to leave some of the meat behind. Although the server warned us that the lobster may be very spicy, it was not. While the Yuzu-flavoured creme fraishe was nicely inventive, it clearly had been put into the ramekin the night before. Taste-wise it did not do much to me. I rather prefer simple melted butter and lemon. At the completion of the course we were presented with a "hot towel" to clean our hands. It was in the style of a Japanese "oshibori" おしぼり but was much larger and bulkier--essentially an American washcloth.  It had a rancid moldy smell that certainly did not add to the dining experience. 

The turf part of Moromoto "Surf and Turf" entree consisted of "Wagyu" Fillet mignon.  It was totally unmemorable and a bit over cooked to my taste.

Now comes "shime" 締め or ending dish which is 5 pieces of "nigiri sushi". Our sushi rice connoisseur (my wife) immediately said "not enough vinegar in the rice". Chu-toro was good but not exceptional. Raw octopus was nice since it is difficult to have in the U.S. but not the best we had.

Desert (strawberry mousse with chocolate cake) is more mundane American; not bad especially since it was not overly sweet but hardly creative.

We are glad we finally dined at Morimoto. We had been looking forward to it for quite some time. The food can best be described as a very good fusion with a heavy Japanese influence--we definitely would not describe it as a "Japanese" restaurant. At this price point, we were not particularly impressed but that could be because we were expecting something else. We had the same feeling after eating at "Nobu" in New York where Morimoto used to be an executive chef. We are not into Japanese fusion dishes that much, I guess. 

The sake tasted better with the food since the sweetness was dampened by the sweet taste of the sauces. After checking out the price at which I could have bought this sake at home (which I will not do), however, I found that, at $160, the mark up was over 150%--that is somewhat steep. 

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Rice porridge with salmon roe and grilled tarako お粥とイクラ、焼き鱈子

This is another example of "shime" 締め or 〆, an ending dish. I just made simple rice porridge using leftover cooked rice. I add about twice the amount of water ("dashi") to cooked rice (if you start with raw rice, add volume of water 5 times the volume of rice) in a pot (I use ceramic "ukihira" 雪平/行平 or single handled lidded ceramic pot specifically designed for making rice porridge but any pot will do). I did not make "dashi" from scratch this time and used granulated instant dashi. I simmered for 15-20 minutes in a very low flame. Toward the final 10 minutes, I added sliced fresh shiitake mushroom. When the porridge is done, I add thinly sliced scallion and a beaten egg and mix, let it stand for 1-2 minutes and serve. I intentionally did not add any salt since the condiments are rather salty. 

The condiments are salmon roe (ikura), beer marinated daikon 大根のビール漬け, blanched broccoli rabe or rapini (taste similar to "annohana" 菜の花), and broiled cod roe. This partially cooked tarako is a rather classic way of serving tarako called "yakitarako" 焼き鱈子. For adding to a bento box or to rice balls or "onigiri" おにぎり, you almost always use "yakitarako" rather than raw tarako. I use a toaster oven and place a sac of tarako on aluminum foil and "toast" as though you are toasting slices of bread. I repeat the process after turning the tarako 90 degree. You have to have all the sides cooked but the center should be uncooked. Somehow, partially cooking the tarako will add another dimension and texture contrast. Feel free to put these condiments into the porridge and enjoy.

This is a very comforting dish to end your Izakaya feast.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Omelet with semi-dried baby sardines シラス卵焼き (Mark's book P116)

Japanese like this salty, semi-dried tiny hatchling fish called "shirasu" シラス or "chirimen jako" 縮緬雑魚. The difference between these two may be regional and/or degree of dryness but they appear to be essentially very similar. This is based on the recipe on Mark's book p116 but to make two small servings from two egg omelet, I used a Japanese rectanglar frying pan (for making "dashimaki"  だし巻き Japanese omelet). Please see the picture below. This is a home-use version of a rectangular pan and has a non-stick surface. I should have taken pictures while I was making the omelet to be more informative but this was an afterthought.

I essentially followed the recipe but I made a slight modification and made it like "dashimaki" or Japanese sweet omelet, which I may be able to post in near future. First, I beat two large eggs, and added one package of shirasu (about 2 tbs), one chopped scallion (about 2 tbs), dashi (2 tbs, I added it as though I was making "dashimaki" but it is optional), ground pepper (I use white pepper just for esthetics). I did not add salt or sugar. I heated the frying pan on a medium-low flame and added a small amount (1 tsp) of vegetable oil. I poured 2/3 of the egg mixture in the pan and scrambled the eggs using a silicon spatula. When the eggs were semi-cooked, I pushed all the eggs to one of the narrow ends of the frying pan to make 1 inch wide
rectangle, leave it for 10-20 seconds and then flipped it over using a spatula. I added the remaining egg mixture and spread it in the empty part of the pan and then lifted the rectangle of omelet, so that the egg mixture went under the rectangle. I waited 10 seconds so that the bottom of the new egg mixture is set but the surface is still runny. Again using a spatula (or kitchen chopsticks if you so prefer), from the end where you made the rectangle of omelet, turn it over several times (wait few seconds at each turns) so that the surface is covered with the final layer of omelet. When the surface of the omelet is cooked (you may have to push the sides of the omelet to the sidewalls of the frying pan and flip over once to make sure all the surface is set and the final layer of the omelet is adhering to the center), take it out on a cutting board and cut into six equal pieces. Serve it with grated daikon or "daikon-oroshi" 大根おろし and soy sauce. The small fish add saltiness, as well as interesting flavor and texture.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Duck breast with red onion, grated daikon and Ponzu Soy sauce 鴨の胸肉ポン酢大根おろし赤タマネギ添え

This is a variation of serving duck breast and similar to the one in Mark's book p143. I made some modifications to most traditional way of serving duck breast and served the duck breast slices on a bed of thinly sliced red onion. This time, I slightly over cooked the breast (not intentionally) but it still tasted OK. The ways I cook the duck breast is the same as before.

I sliced the red onion into very thin slices, lightly salted, mixed and let it stand for 5 minutes. After ringing out the extra moisture, I soaked it in ice cold water (with ice cubes) for 5 minutes--ringing out the water in a paper towel. I then dressed it with a small amount of ponzu shoyu ポン酢醤油 and extra-virgin olive oil. Meanwhile I grated daikon and added ponzu shoyu. I sliced the cooked duck breast into thin pieces.

To assemble, I spread the dressed onion on the plate, layer the sliced duck breast and made a linear mound of the dressed grated daikon and garnished with thinly sliced (on the bias) scallion. I added a wedge of lime (in lieu of yuzu 柚子) and also a dab of Yuzukosho 柚子胡椒 just in case some more kick was needed. To eat, I usually make a small roll of the duck slices using chopsticks with the grated daikon and scallion in the center. You could enjoy this roll with a little of the red onion and with or without Yuzukosho. I sort of like eating the duck breast this way. With Ponzu, we had this with cold sake (our house sake Yaegaki "mu" 八重垣『無』).

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Browned crispy rice with Parmesan cheese おこげのパルメザンチーズ

Although automatic rice cookers made cooking rice very easy and consistently successful, one major drawback is not having the burned or browned crust that formed on the bottom of the pot or "okoge" おこげ. As a kid, I remember "okoge" was a good snack. My mother used to make rice in a traditional Japanese pot called "okama" お釜 with a heavy wooden lid when I was a little kid. After the rice is cooked, rice has to be transferred to a wooden vessel called "ohitsu" お櫃 (see the image) leaving a charred crust on the bottom of the pot. This crust is called "okoge" and it was nicely crunchy and flavorful. With just a small amount of miso, you could have the entire meal just eating "okoge". 

This dish is trying to recreate this "okoge" with some Italian twists. I must have seen it in one of the many Japanese drinking food cook books that I have. I did not find or check the original recipe this time and I may have changed something but it is a simple preparation of leftover rice rather than a recipe.

I use leftover frozen rice (about one cup for two servings). I defrost it in a microwave oven so that rice grain can be separated but still cold. I add the rice and 1-2 tbs of chicken broth (my usual Swanson no-fat, low-sodium) to a small pan on a medium flame and mix them with a silicon spatula until the rice gets heated up and absorbs the broth and becomes somewhat sticky. Remove from the heat and place the rice in a metal bowl and let it cool down a bit. I then grate a good amount of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (about 3 tbs but the amount is arbitrary) and mix it in the rice.
Using a non-stick frying pan (on a medium flame), I add a very small amount of light olive oil (1/2 tsp) and add back the rice-cheese mixture. Using a silicon spatula, spread the rice mixture in a thin layer and brown (5-6 minutes on one side) and then flip over (either by siding it onto a plate and then transfering it back to the pan or just flipping it like a flapjack - remember "its all in your wrist!").

I browned the other side for another 5 minutes. When desired brownness and crispiness are attained, take it out and break it into small manageable pieces. I served this as the last shime 締め dish with sautéed (in butter) broccoli rabe (pre-blanched) seasoned with salt and pepper, which sort of matches the Italian aspect of this dish. To me, I still like just simple "okoge" and miso better but this is close albeit a bit "oily".

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Daikon marinated in beer #2 大根のビール漬け 二回目

As I promised in the prior post on Daikon marinated in beer, I played with the kind of beer I used and types of vegetables. The last time I used Sam Adams Summer Ale which is a more pilsener-like light-colored beer (ale). This time I used Sam Adams Brown Ale which is a bit more robust and darker ale. The proportion of other ingredients is about the same but I used a whole bottle of beer (350ml or 12 oz) and almost proportionally increased the remaining ingredients. Beer (12 oz), rice vinegar (50ml), sugar (100 grams), salt (50 grams), Japanese hot mustard powder (20 grams). Like before, I peeled and cut a daikon into 4-5 inch long pieces and quartered. I used a half of a large daikon. I also added small carrots (2) and mini-cucumber (3).

After 7 days, the daikon and carrot are good but may be a bit too mustardy (especially the daikon). The cucumber was a bit shriveled up. I added a new mini-cucumber and tasted it after one day. The above pictures are one day old cucumber and 8 day old carrot and daikon. All are good but by far, daikon is the best. I will reduce the mustard powder next time and leave cucumber probably for 2 days. This cucumber was not shriveled up but did not have enough flavor penetrated. I am not sure of the difference between the brown and summer ales but the brown ale appears to add more depth to the flavor. Among the vegetables, there is no question that daikon is the best as everybody has indicated.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Simmered daikon and pork 大根と豚肉の煮物

This is something I made without any particular recipe one weekday evening. The weekend before, I got pork spareribs, not because we had something in mind to make but because I could not resist the good amount of front portion, i.e. pork belly or "sanmai niki" 三枚肉 in the package. Unfortunately we did not have enough time to make any particualr dish such as "Kakuni" or Pork baked in barbecue sauce. So, my wife decided to cook it like she did for making scrapple. Quoting from the scapple post; "Parboil for about 5 minutes. Put into a Pyrex baking dish with some onions and carrots, a bay leaf and several pepper corns. Cover the ribs half way with boiling chicken stock. Cover and place into a 350 degree oven and cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours (until the meat is tender and falls off the bone)." We figured that once it is cooked this way, we may be able to use it more easily in some dish during the week and, at worst (a figure of speech, not really worst, actually it will be "best") case scenario, my wife can make it to scrapple next weekend.

I think I was loosely basing this dish on "simmered daikon and pork" or 大根と豚肉の煮物. The way the pork was cooked to this point is not much different from the first portion of the preparation (traditional recipe) for "Buta no kakuni" 豚の角煮. I just took out one rib (removing any congealed fat) and cut the meat into 1 inch cubes. Meanwhile, I peeled and cut daikon (about 3 x 2 inches) into 8 pieces. I sauted the daikon with a small amount of peanut oild and a dash of dark sesame oil for 1-2 minutes in a small deep pot on a medium flame. I added the pork cubes (also some of the pork aspic that accumulated on the bottom of the baking pan for good measure), mirin, soy sauce (3 tbs each) and water to cover (probably about 1 cup). When it came to the boil, I turned it down to simmer and cooked for 30 minutes (We went out to the back deck to enjoy the last of the cherry blossoms with a glass of wine at this point, so it may have cooked longer than 30 minutes). In the last 3 minutes, I added broccoli. This was a surprisingly good dish especially for a weekday evening. The daikon was well cooked, soft, and a good match for the fatty pork. The pork is unctuous and flavorful similar to "Kakuni".

Thursday, April 15, 2010

"Yamaimo somen" Mountain yam noodle in cold broth 山芋ソーメン

Recently I was introduced to several very interesting food blogs on Izakayas through "Izakaya Sanpo", which I listed in my favorite links. One called "Eating out in Tokyo with Jon" is quite amazing as he is very prolific (eating out and blogging) and his writing very informative and interesting. I was reading one of his posts on a quaint drinking place in Takasaki, Gunmma 群馬県高崎市 called "machiya" 待家. This reminded me of the last time we were in Maebashi 前橋-Takasaki 高崎 areas in Gunmma prefecture, my friend and his wife took us to a very fancy and excellent French restaurant which we enjoyed enormously (including a bottle of Chateau Lynch-Bages -- 2001, I think), but if I had known of this place we would have begged my friend to take us there instead. In any case, he was describing a mountain yam or "yamaimo" dish called "Yamaimo somen". Since I am trying to reproduce Izakaya food at home and blog about it, I wanted to reproduce this dish based on the picture and his description.

I peeled "Nagaimo" (it is the cultivated variety of "yamaimo") and then using a Japanese mandolin (the "Benriner", which we have been using for almost 25 years but still has very sharp blades), I made thick (using the most coarse julienne blade) juliennes, which are rather fine, actually. I think that, depending on what kind of texture/sliminess you like, one can change the treatment of the "Yamaimo somen". We rather like some slimy texture as well as crunch, so we would use these juliennes as is.  If you would rather reduce the sliminess, then, I would soak them in vinegared water, drain and wash them in running water to remove the surface slim before putting them in a bowl. Judging from the picture and the delighted expression by Jon, they must have washed the slim out somehow. For us, I just placed the "yamaimo somen" into a bowl and poured in a cold noodle sauce (I used a bottled concentrate with strength weaker than for dipping but stronger than for hot noodle dishes). I garnished with chopped scallion and nori with a side of "real" wasabi. This was quite a new (at least to us) way of enjoying this slimy potato. I have posted several other ways to enjoy this slimy potato (mostly grated, Sorry, Jon). Certainly, we can serve this to our Western guests with much less problem. Another idea I have is to mix this with juliennes of daikon which may add another type of crunch to this dish.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Deep fried fish and mountain potato dumpling 薩摩揚げ(もどき)

"Satsuma-age" 薩摩揚げ is a deep fried fish cake which originated from the "Satsuma" 薩摩 region of Kyushu 九州, the southern island of Japan. This is often served in Izakaya. We occasionally have this as a "robatayaki" 炉端焼き item at Tako Grill. At home, I, like most people, ususally buy pre-made and frozen fish cakes. Just before serving, I thaw and grill (or toast them in a toaster oven). We eat these with grated ginger and soy sauce, which is pretty good. Another common use is to put them in "oden" おでん.

Since I bought a whole red snapper, I ended up with small bits of fish meat as well as meat I scraped off the bones after I filleted the fish. If this had been a salmon, I could have made a "salmon" cake in a very similar manner to "crab" cake. Although I never made this type of fish cakes before, I decided to make these fish meat scraps into a "Satsuma age". Mark's book p44 has a rather sophisticated version of this dish. I decided to use a simpler recipe which was in one of my cookbooks. In any case, I had only fish meat from red snapper but, typically, you should have a combination of two or more fish, usually cod plus some other white flesh fish to achieve good texture and taste according to these recipes. So, I knew mine would not be great before I even started making it.

I first, slice and julianne small carrots and burdock root or "gobo" 牛蒡 (gobo was soaked in vinegared water for 10 minutes) and cooked it in a small amount of "dashi" broth (I used Kelp broth since I was making something else with it) for 5-10 minutes or until the vegetable is soft.  I got about 150gm of fish meat, I added salt (1/3 tsp), 2 tsp each of sake, soy sauce and mirin and made a paste using a small bowl food processor. I was supposedly to use 1/2 egg white but entire thing (one egg white) went in before I could stop it. This recipe also calls for 10grams of grated mountain yam. I substituted it with "nagaimo" 長芋 but "nagaimo" is more watery than "yamaimo" 山芋 and the resulting paste became a bit softer than I intended. I added the drained vegetable and made 5 flat oval shaped disks (I put some vegetable oil on my hands so that the paste would be manageable.) I covered them with plastic wrap and let them rest to firm up in the refrigerator for 1 hour before deep frying.

First, I should have used a lower temperature oil and I should have used more fish meat or less egg white, liquid and grated nagaimo. Although this was quite edible (and my wife said it was even good) it is not "Satsuma age"--the consistency is totally wrong, much lighter and fluffier. I would call this "fried fish and nagaimo dumpling". I do not think I will make this one again. Store bought frozen ones are just fine.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Hummus フムス

Izakaya food consists of small dishes. I mentioned other types of small dishes from different cultures such as Spanish Tapas. A relatively new restaurant, Zaytinya in Washington DC specializes in small dishes from the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East called Mezze (Meze and other spellings). These dishes are quite different from Japanese style Izakaya food but the ideal is the same and my wife and I really enjoy their small dishes. We usually start with some of their spreads or dips with small wonderful hot (temperature) flat bread they serve (a type of pita or pide). Hummus (it appears that there are some spelling variations since the original name حمّص‎ is Arabic-obviously I just copied from Wikipedia-) is one of these and is very easy to make. Here I made Guacamole and Hummus, a bit of ethnic mix but work well together.

Again, there are some variations on a Hummus recipe but this is the way I make it. I make this either in a small bowl food processor or using an immersible blender with a mixing cup (this time I used an immersible blender). The ingredients are canned chickpeas (16oz), garlic (2-3 cloves, skin and root end removed), lemon juice (2-3 tbs), tahini or Japanese neri-goma 白練りごま (2 tbs), salt (1/2 tsp), and ground cumin (1/2 to 1 tsp). (We like cumin but some may not like it at all, you do not have to use cumin). You could mix in olive oil rather than using it as a garnish.

I first drain the chickpeas reserving the liquid. I then process all the ingredients plus 1/4 of the reserved liquid (or use lukewarm water) until a nice smooth paste is formed. If it is too thick add more liquid, if it is too soupy add more chickpeas. Taste and adjust salt, lemon juice and cumin to taste. I garnish with sliced black olive and extra-virgin olive oil. Any chips, pita bread, cracker will go wonderfully with these dips.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Roasted rack of lamb ラムのオーブン焼き

Some years ago, we visited "Hagi city" 萩市, which is located in the "San-in" district 山陰地方 (meaning "shade of the mountains"), the southwest portion of mainland Japan or "Honshu" 本州. After reading the wonderful books "Tales of the Otori" 鳳物語 written by an Australian author Gillian Rubinstein using the pseudonym of Lian Hearn, we decided to visit Hagi. Although this story takes place in an imaginary place, it closely resembles "sengoku" or the civil war period 戦国時代 of Japan. The author reportedly got inspirations from Hagi and the surrounding countryside and, actually, wrote her stories while she were staying there (at least portions of it). She used names of the places such as "Hagi" 萩 and "Tsuwano" 津和野, which are actual names of the cities in the area. In addtion, my wife has been a big fan of "Hagiware" 萩焼 pottery for some time and collected quite a few pieces. It was not easy to get there as compared to cities along the bullet train lines. We ended up taking a tour bus from the New Yamaguchi station 新山口駅. This worked well providing us a guided tour of the beautiful country side as well as a visit to Tsuwano and Hagi.
We stayed in a hotel/Japanese inn at Hagi, which I found through the Internet. This inn had been a grand and traditional Japanese inn some time ago but, now, under the management of the 2nd or 3rd generation owner, it was not doing well and the "new" building looked run down (their web site was very well done and consequently "misleading"、this is a picture from their web site of the very room we stayed. Looks very nice in the picture).  It appears that we may have been the only guests. They had a restaurant next door and our first night dinner was served there but we were the only customers. The decor had a 1960's kitschy look; Under the curving central stair case, there was a small fountain with a fake Greek goddess statue and few turtles crawling about in the water surrounding the base of the statue. They gave us a quite spread totaling 10 or 12 separate dishes all displayed on the table. As we started eating, Don Ho's "Tiny bubbles" wafted across as background music. We looked at each other and started laughing. In any case, although it was raining the next night, we said we did not need dinner at the Inn (the proprietor wanted to know why but we weren't telling). We took off to a small drinking place we had found through an internet search. It should have been within walking distance. We entered a small bar/Izakaya type place. (Later we found out this was not the one we had meant to go). Two young girls were serving at the counter and the small kitchen in the back was totally closed off from view. It was essentially a Japanese style drinking place but some of the menu items are more Westernized. Since my wife is fond of lamb, we ordered lamb chops (This is where this long preamble will connect to the dish for this posting). As my wife always complains, Japanese do not like the taste of lamb and tend to cover it up with soy sauce and other flavors. This lamb was no exception. It was a bit over cooked as well. Overall, this night's experience was not too bad. Certainly it was much better than staying at the Inn for dinner. 

Now this long story is over, we can talk about how I prepare a rack of lamb. I sometimes serve several ribs as a dinner with vegetables, rice or couscous or serve only one rib as a dish with a drink.
Depending on how you get the rack of lamb, you may have to do some additional preparation. This rack of lamb was very well-prepared and came in a vacuum-sealed pack. The ribs were nicely Frenched, the fat cap was only present between the meat and the bone (see below). The only thing I needed to do was score the fat cap in a cross hatching pattern, so that the fat would render and baste the meat.
I used a classic French method of cooking (based on Julia Child's "The way to cook"). This way, the lamb flavors are not masked by any means.

Marinade:  Dijon mustard (smooth kind) (4tbs), lemon juice (4 tbs), herb (finely chopped fresh rosemary is most classic, thyme or oregano will also do, I used 1/4 tsp of dried thyme since I did not have any fresh herbs), good olive oil (1/4 cup or more), salt and black pepper. I mix the all ingredients except for the olive oil. While mixing it with a whisk, I drizzle in the olive oil like I am making mayonnaise until the consistency of soft mayonnaise is reached. I brush the marinade all over the meat including the fat cap. I place it in a preheated 480F oven for 10 minutes on a metal rack in a roasting pan.

Crumbs: I put enough "Panko" bread crumbs in a small bowl (about 1/2 cup or more) and add about 2-3 tbs of olive oil and rub between your fingers to distribute the oil and make the bread crumbs moist. After about 10 minutes, I quickly spread the bread crumbs over the top of the meat and fat cap and place it back in the oven with the temperature lowered to 400F. I cook for another 15 to 20 minutes or until the crust is nicely browned and the internal temperature reaches 125F.  This results in a nice rosy medium rare (see below). Let it rest for 10 minutes and cut between the ribs.

Since the meat is flavorful with the mustard marinade and bread crumbs, I did not add any sauce and served it with simply boiled and sautéed (in butter) broccoli. Although this can go with sake or any other drink, we are partial to a good red wine for this, especially Syrah or Shiraz. John Duval Wines Entity Barossa Valley Shiraz 2006 was perfect for this. I noticed that, although I gave my wife the largest end piece, she went back for more, I assume she liked it.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Green asparagus with sesame dressing グリーンアスパラのごま和え

This is a very simple dish but it is a healthy alternative to sauting them in butter. It is a good small dish perfect with a drink.

First, the hard bottom part of green asparagus are removed (I just bend the very bottom until it snaps) and I only peel the skin on the bottom hard part using a potato peeler.  I blanch/boil the asparagus in lightly salted water until it is cooked but not too soft (it takes about 3 minutes for the asparagus above but the time it takes depends on the thickness of the asparagus) and then shock it in ice cold water to stop the cooking and keep it a nice green color. Dry on paper towels and cut into 2-3 inch long segments. I put the bottom parts on the plate first and place the tips on the top. (It looks like you got all tips....not!)

For sesame dressing, I first roast white sesame (1-2 tsp) on a dry frying pan for 4-5 minutes or until fragrant. Although white sesame I buy from a Japanese grocery store are already roasted, this will bring up the fresh taste. I started adding this extra step recently but it is worth the effort. Setting aside a small amount for garnish, tip the rest into suribach すり鉢 and grind coarsely using surikogi すりこぎ. I add Japanese white sesame paste or shiro neri-goma 白練りごま (1 tsp), sugar (1/2 tsp), soy sauce (2-3 tsp). Depending on the taste and consistency, add more soy sauce, sake, mirin or dashi to get desired consistency and taste. Pour it over the asparagus and garnish with the reserved sesame seeds. This is very nice small dish and could be served as a side dish or as a stand alone small dish.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

White asparagus with cream sauce ホワイトアスパラガスのクリームソース

Although I grew up in Sapporo, Hokkaido 札幌, 北海道 where asparagus are produced, my memory of white asparagus is a soft, limp, and overcooked white substance that came out of a can which was served cold with mayonnaise. I never liked it. (This comment is not meant for this particular brand in the image. It  appears that there have been some improvement in the quality and taste of canned white asparagus in recent years, especially in Japan, but I have not tried them.) I do not recall my mother ever cooking or serving fresh white asparagus. Later, green asparagus became more popular and fresh green asparagus sauted in butter seems a much better choice to me. In many European countries, especially Germany, we noticed that people cherish white asparagus when in season. Recently, fresh white asparagus became available even in our neighbourhood grocery stores. This is a very simple dish I make from white asparagus and it is much better what I ate in my childhood.

To cook white asparagus (I am not sure about the plural form; asparagus, asparagi or aspraguses??) requires some preparation. After washing, I peel them, except for the very top, using a potato peeler. You could get a special asparagus peeler, if you so wish but a regualr potato peeler works except that you have to place the asparagus on a cutting board and roll it while you are peeling. If you just hold it in your hand and try to peel it like a carrot, you will break the asparagus in half since it is rather brittle. After peeling, cut off or break of the hard bottom portion. You need to reserve all the peels, whatever portions broken off and the bottoms. I place these asparagus scraps in the large saute pan and place the prepared asparagus on the top and add water to cover (see picture below). The idea here is to extract as much asparagus flavor as possible into the cooking liquid. This flavored liquid is used as the basis of the sauce.
I simmer the asparagus for 10-20 minutes with the lid on (I like them throughly cooked). When they are cooked remove the asparagus carefully to a papertowel lined plate to drain. I then reduce the liquid by turning the flame to high for 10-15 minutes and strain, retrun the liquid to the pan or remove the asparagus bits and peels. Only a small amount of the liquid covers the bottom of the pan. If too much liquid remains, reduce further. I add 1/4 cup of cream and reduce briefly to a saucy consistency and adjust the seasoning (salt and pepper, if you like, use white pepper which looks better). I used light cream here and the sauce broke a bit. If you use heavy cream, the chance of breaking the sauce is less. I garnish with chopped chives (or parsley or tarragon if available). This is 100 times better than the canned white asparagus. You can serve it as a side dish or Hors d'œuvre for Home Izakaya. You could serve this with Bernaise sauce or mustard sauce (Dijon mustard, lemon juice, tarragon, and olive oil) or even store-bought mayonnaise (I would add fresh lemon juice, mustard, and fresh chopped tarragon or other herbs to spruce it up). If you have given up on white asparagus, this is worth a try.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Cherry blossom gazing 花見

Cherry trees in our backyard are in full bloom!

This winter was very hard with very unusual (for DC area) heavy snow. As a result, a little like Hokkaido, all the spring flowers are blossoming at the same time. Cherry, Magnolia, and Bradford pear trees are all in bloom. We have three cherry trees in our backyard two are ornamental which we planted and one is "wild" meaning somehow rooted when the land was still pasture. In regular years, the wild variety blooms about one week after the ones we planted but this year both are in full bloom at the same time. Our trees usually bloom about 5-7 days after the trees at the tidal basin but this year they are all in full bloom at the same time. In any case, the hard winter made this eagerly awaited spring all the more enjoyable. It is time for "Hanami" 花見 or Cherry blossom gazing.

Cherry blossoms are the national flower of Japan and the progression of cherry blossoms across Japan, from south to north has been reported daily and is called "cherry blossom front" or "sakura zensen" 桜前線. In Japan people celebrate cherry blossoms by having "Hanami" or a drinking party under the cherry blossoms. The parties generally consist of people from the same work place, and can become quite noisy spectacles. This week was the conjunction of spring break for most local schools, cherry blossoms in full bloom and exquisitely beautiful spring weather. My wife's family came for a visit and they went to see the cherry blossoms at the tidal basin.  They  reported back to me that it was a "mad house", "way too crowded", "couldn't even see the trees for all the hoards of people". So it is nice to have a quiet Hanami in our own backyard.

We did not have anything special ready for the occasion. So I served whatever was in the freeezer and refrigerator. We started with tuna sashimi arranged in a flower shape, Monk fish liver or "ankimo" 鮟肝 and cucumber with moromimiso.

The left is graded daikon with sweet vinegar and salmon roe or "ikura". The right is store bought (frozen) squid and guts or "shiokara" 塩辛. For the occasion, using a very small cutting mold (from Kappabashi), I made cherry flowers from carrot, lemon peel and the skin of cucumber.

This is a small salad consisting of cooked chicken breast, seaweed salad, blanched broccoli rabe in my usual sesame dressing.  Our Hanami went on until it got dark. We tunrned on the lights and then we were doing "Yozakura" 夜桜 or "night time cherry blossoms" gazing.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Tuna carpaccio まぐろのカルパッチョ

Raw beef and raw tuna have some similarity in terms of color and texture. As a result, it was easier to be accepted by Westerners if tartar was made with raw tuna instead of beef and call it tuna tartar. Carpaccio is another very common Western adaptation of sashimi. Instead of using thinly sliced raw beef, you use thinly sliced raw fish, especially tuna. You can also make carpaccio using white meat fish such as Japanese snapper or tai 鯛, halibut or even scallops. I understand that, now in Japan, carpaccios of raw fish are very popular.
 I first sprinkle a small amount of sea or Kosher salt on the plate, drizzle good extra-virgin olive oil and a good aged balsamic vinegar. I slice chutoro tuna into thin (1/4 in or 5 mm) slices and neatly arrange on the plate in a single layer. I again drizzle the olive oil and balsamic vinegar on the top and also soy sauce. You can use your imagination and try different things here (for example, ponzu, lime or lemon juice, grated garlic, roasted sesame oil, ground black pepper etc in different combinations but I will not omit olive oil). I garnish this with thin slices or shavings of a Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (using a potato peeler), thinly sliced red onion rings, separated, kinshiran 金糸卵 or golden egg thread, roasted white sesame seeds and chopped chives. Again, you could use any combination of garnish here. This will give a bit different twist to tuna sashimi. Like beef carpaccio, this could go well with red wine or sake. We had this with 2007 Joseph Phelps Cabernet which we just received. "Shime" 締め or 〆, the last dish (usually starch) was Uni-Ikura donburi 雲丹いくら丼 tonight so we switched to cold sake, what a decadent night.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Tuna sashimi with natto マグロ納豆

We got a 2 lb of block of fresh tuna, sashimi grade, from Catalina Offshore Products (2 lb is the minimum you can order for sashimi-grade fresh tuna). It has ootoro 大トロ, chutoro 中トロ, and a portion called 'chiai" 血合い. You have to first remove the skin and chiai, and then, block out these portions to rectangular blocks called 'saku" 冊 from which sashimi pieces can be cut. In other words, you have to know how to separate these portions to prepare the tuna block from Catalina. After I make the sashimi blocks, I wrap it using kitchen parchment paper, then using a paper towel. I put them in a Ziploc bag and put them back in the Styrofoam container in which the tuna came, add more ice gel packages, which I keep in the freezer, on the top. I put the entire Styrofoam box in our spare refrigerator. This appears to be the best way to keep these sashimi and the ice gels will not totally melt for 5 days or more. I can safely keep them up to 3 days. You could get frozen toro instead, which is easier to prepare since only toro is included, although you have to thaw it. We also tried the frozen toro and the quality is very good.

Chiai is at the edge of chutoro and looks very dark red. If you taste it as sashimi, it has an unpleasant bitter taste. Rather than throwing away this portion, it can be made it to a dish you can enjoy. I decided to make, maguro-natto using natto 納豆; one of the dreaded among Japanese food items.

I cut the chiai portion into small (1/2 to 1/3 inch) cubes and marinated in soy sauce, sake, and mirin mixture (2:1:1). You could add grated ginger (which I did not). I got enough chiai from the 2 lb block for two servings (probably about 100 grams or a bit less than 1/4 lb). I marinate over night in the refrigerator.

Next day just before serving, I prepare a small package (individual serving) of natto as I described before with a sauce and mustard included in the package and using my special mixing apparatus. Add thinly sliced scallion (1/3 to 1/2 scallion) and keep mixing (the longer you mix, the less the odor).

I place the cubes of marinated (excess liquid drained and pat dry) chiai in the bottom of a small bowl, top them with natto and garnish with thin strips of nori. It is rather strong flavored but it is good. This is not a high class food but it is perfect for Izakaya. You have to have this with sake.  Again, even my wife enjoyed this dish. Of course you could make this dish using a regular akami 赤身 (red) tuna or, for that matter, any parts of tuna. I would not marinate or marinate for a shorter time if you use better quality portions of tuna.