Monday, May 31, 2010

Japanese style steak, 2 kinds 和風ステーキ、二種類

Judging from the numbers of my posts, we do not eat beef that often. Unlike our "youngish" food blogger colleague who buys two (Japanese) servings of steak to reconstruct one serving for him, we have the opposite problem. One serving of steak we get here is way too big for us. One of the ways to deal with this "problem" is to serve the steak Japanese style or "wafu" 和風, in which the steak is served thinly sliced or served in small cubes (the famous "dice" steak along with "Lumb Chap" and "Spare Lib").

I used a somewhat unusual cut here, called Flat Iron Steak. My understanding is that this comes from upper portion of the shoulder and includes two muscle groups with a sinew in between.  But this particular one came vacuum packed and only contained one kind of muscle which is easier to handle. As the name implies, it is a rather flat rectangular piece of meat. I decided to use two different Japanese marinades and cranked up our Japanese Konro grill. Both marinades are very simple; the first is wasabi soy sauce ("real" wasabi, about 1 tbs, I smeared over the meat and added enough soy sauce to coat in a Ziploc bag, the second is "moromi" miso which I again smeared over the meat and placed it in a Ziploc bag. Both were marinated about 1 hour. I removed the marinades (reserving the wasabi soy sauce) but did not wash the meat so that some marinade remained on the surface. Over the charcoal fire, I grilled them to medium rare (2-3 minutes on each sides). I put them on a plate and loosely covered with aluminum foil and let it rest for 5-7 minutes while I made a sauce. I browned the butter (1 tsp) and then added the remaining wasabi-soy sauce marinade into a small frying pan. I then added the meat juice accumulated on the plate on which the steak was resting). After heating up (1-2 minutes), I added 1 small pat of butter to finish. I sliced both steaks into thin slices across the grain of the meat. One (left) served with wasabi and the sauce I just made and the other I just add more moromi miso.

(left, wasabi-soy sauce and right, moromi-miso marinated)

Both are good but we liked the wasabi-soy sauce steak slightly better. We had this with our potato salad and macaroni salad which also have Japanese touches--subjects for posting another time. We also made our usual grilled rice balls, this time with  a "yuzu" citrus miso (Yuzu juice from a bottle, miso, mirn and some sugar). My wife said she felt virtuous because despite how very good it was she restrained herself from overeating by not going back for seconds. We had this with an excellent (surprisingly) Bordeaux blend from South Africa, "Vilafonte" 2004. This wine really went well with this dish, highly recommended if you could get one (not too expensive to boot).

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Cabbage braised in butter キャベツのバター焼き

For some reason, shredded raw cabbage is the most common accompaniment for many Japanese-Western dishes or "Yo-shoku" 洋食 such as fried breaded pork or "Tonkatsu" トンカツ and Croquettes コロッケ. I like cabbage this way especially if I use cabbage leaves, after discarding several outermost layers of the head of cabbage, which are still green but not too tough. I like them julienned very thin and crisped in ice water before serving. My wife does not care for raw cabbage in general and I often end up making the cabbage into a kind of coleslaw. I also make sautéed cabbage with deep fried tofu pouch which was then braised in mirin and soy sauce (I am sure I can post this very soon). In any case, this is another simple quick cabbage dish which goes well with sake or any other drinks. I think I first saw this in the Kentaro Kobayashi's drinking food cook book and I made some modification (can't help it).

I cut 1/3 of a small head of cabbage (avoiding the core) which is then cut into three portions. I melt butter (1 tbs) in a frying pan and put in the cabbage chunks with cut side down on a medium low flame. I add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. I put a tightly fitting lid so that the cabbage is pan fried and steamed at the same time. Since we like cabbage to be more cooked than the original recipe will produce, I add 2-3 tbs of sake after 10 minutes or before the bottom of pan scorches and then put back the lid and continue to cook it on a slightly higher flame for another 5-6 minutes or until liquid is almost all gone. Remove the cabbage to the serving plate. Depending on how much liquid is left in the pan, I add a bit more sake to deglaze the brown bits on the bottom of the pan. I add 1 -2 tsp of soy sauce, and finish it with few pats of cold butter (less than 1 tbs). Pour the sauce over the cabbage and add freshly cracked black pepper.

This is surprisingly good. Salt and pepper flavors go well with cabbage and browned butter and soy sauce is also a winning combination. This dish will go well with any drink.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Baba Ghanoushu, Gazpacho flavored or "Baba Gazpa-nouchu" ガスパッチョ味のババガヌーシュ

Sometimes when you are trying a new recipe, things don't go right. I have less of a problem with this because I usually don't follow recipes that closely as long as I know what should be the end result. Compared to my rather free wheeling approach, my wife tends to follow recipes more precisely (which anyone in their right mind should do). She read this rather healthy sounding recipe for baked eggplant, zucchini and tomato. It was a bit complicated. The eggplant, was not the Japanese variety and needed to be peeled, sliced, salted to remove the bitterness and prebaked with olive oil. Then, the eggplant slices, zucchini, and slices of tomatoes (she used canned whole plum tomatoes) were layered in a baking dish topped with seasoned bread crumbs (panko, thyme, oregano) and repeat the layers. We thought putting the bread crumbs in the middle of the layers did not make sense but that was what the recipe called for. The resulting dish was certainly edible (good flavor) but everything was mushy and the wet bread crumbs in the middle layer were not good. My wife was extremely disappointed and ready to throw it out. But, I said, "Wait, since everything is mushy why not mush it all up and make it into a dip like babaghanoush" which is supposed to be mushy. Only difference between this dish and "Baba Ghaoushu" are the zuchini, tomato and bread crumbs (come to think of it, that is quite a difference. The only common link is the eggplant).

But that did not deter me. I just put this mixture of the baked zucchini, eggplant, tomato, and bread crumbs in the mixing cup of an immersion blender, added some lemon juice, tahini (I used Japanese white sesame paste), crushed garlic and blended it. After tasting it, I added a small amount of good extra virgin olive oil, salt, and black pepper. Finally I added finely chopped parsley for color and fresh taste. It turned out to be pretty good (and was great as a spread on sandwiches). It is sort of "Baba ghanoushu" but because of the tomato, olive oil, and bread which acted as thickener, it has the flavor profile of Gazpacho. It is a very wonderful new-age fusion dip which I henceforth named "Baba Gazpa-noushu". I also made guacamole and hummus to complete a trio of ethnically confused dips.

Small flat bread, pita or pide, will be nice but we did not have one and it takes too long to make one. So I toasted small flour tortillas (from our freezer) in a toaster oven like toasting a slice of bread. The tortillas puffed up like pide. Although texture is quite different, it is perfect for dipping into these Mexican-Spanish-Middle eastern Meze starter. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Chicken wing "Teba" Gyoza 手羽餃子

This dish must have been invented after I left Japan. It is a wonderful dish except for being rather fatty or, if I borrow the expression from the Japanese food critic who appears on Iron Chef America, "too oily". We first had this in a small Yakitori place (now defunct) run by a middle-aged husband and wife team, on a narrow alley way near the downtown "Yon-chome" 4丁目 intersection in Sapporo 札幌 some time ago while we were visiting Japan. Essentially this dish is a Japanese sausage with the skin of chicken wings as the casing. After removing the bones from the chicken wing, stuff the wing part with the pork gyoza mixture (leaving the wing tip as a handle so that you can hold it while you eat). Somehow, this dish reminds me of a "Turducken". The original recipe is to deep fry this to make it really deadly. This time, I followed the original way of cooking but I promise I will work on making this less deadly by either baking it in a high temp oven or grilling it. If I am successful you will see it in my future postings.

Chicken wings: I remove the drummetts (use for another dish) but leave the wing tips. Using a small knife, separate the meat around the two bones (equivalent to the "ulna" and "radius", if you would like to know) and pull the skin and meat down to expose the joint. I grab the ends of the bones and rotate and wiggle until both come off the joint. Please take care not to cut or break the skin. Now you have created the pocket.

Gyoza stuffing: This is the usual pork stuffing for gyoza. I made much more than I intend to use for this dish so that I could make regular gyoza later. We happened to grow garlic chives in our herb garden, so I added that as well. As usual, I used the trimming from a pork tenderloin and, by using a chef's knife, chopped up finely into ground pork (probably 1 cup). I added chopped garlic chives (probably 3 tbs), blanched and finely chopped cabbage (4 tbs), finely chopped scallion (2 tbs), crushed garlic (1 fat clove), grated ginger (1 tsp), salt (1/2 tsp), black pepper (1/2 tsp), mirin (2 tbs), soy sauce (1 tbs), sesame oil (2-3 tbs) and knead by hand until it become nicely elastic and bound together.

Assembly and frying: Stuff the wing pocket with the gyoza mixture and close it by inserting a tooth pick through the skin at the opening. I shallow fry as usual rather than deep dry. At about 160F (I actually did not measure but used the stick-bamboo-chopsticks-in-oil method as usual) for 5-7 minutes turning several times. I took them out of the oil. I then cranked up the flame and, briefly, re-fried to make the skin crispy. I cut into the fattest one to make sure the pork is thoroughly cooked (which it was).

My wife made baked green beans (just coat them with olive oil, salt and black pepper and spread in one layer in the cookie sheet and bake them for 30 minutes at 350F), which is the best way to cook green beans. They become very sweet and better than boiling or steaming. So, I added the green beans as a side after I took the first picture.

This dish is very good, although the skin was "oily" and could have been crispier. Since it is a type of sausage with a Japanese twist, it will go well with a cold beer but we had this with a red wine, Brookdale Cab Sauv from Napa, to counteract the effect of the fat.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Braised Fiddlehead fern with Konnyaku and aburaage ぜんまい、コンニャク、油揚の炒め物

Japanese like to eat seasonal "Sansai" 山菜 or mountain vegetables. These are wild vegetables collected from the mountains. One of them is furled fern leaves called "Zenmai" ぜんまい (which means a spring such as those used in wind-up toys--for it's obvious resemblance) or "Warabi" 蕨 (Both are ferns but with some subtle difference). As a kid, I was not crazy about this vegetable but as you get older (as I am), you remember and get nostalgic about the food you tasted as a kid. In North America, Fiddle head fern (which is very similar to the Japanese Zenmai) is harvested (very seasonal) from the wild and eaten especially in Eastern Canada and New England. When I saw fresh Fiddle head fern in our neighborhood gourmet supermarket, I decided to make a small dish in the Izakaya food category. In its raw form, fiddle head ferns contain some toxins and need to be prepared properly before being consumed.

I wash the Fiddle head ferns well in several changes of cold running water and remove discolored ends of the stems. I boil the fern in a large amount of salted water for 5 minutes (The water browns in the first boil). I drain them in a colander, then wash in cold water. Repeat this process twice more (total of 15 minutes cooking or boiling time and three changes of water). This process is called "nikobosu" 煮こぼす  (boil and drain) in the Japanese cooking parlance. After the last boiling and draining, place them in a sealed container with an ample amount of cold water. I leave it in the refrigerator overnight. Once this preparation is done, it is fairly easy to use the Fiddle head fern in a dish. I decided to make a rather rustic Izakaya or home style dish.

I am not sure how much Fiddle head ferns I had but they are just enough for two small servings (probably 15-20 heads). Devils tongue or konnyaku (alternative spelling=Konjac) 蒟蒻 (I used about half) is blanched for a few minutes and sliced into thin strips. Two aburaage 油揚げ (small koage 小揚げ or ianari 稲荷 kind) were also blanched and the water squeezed out, then cut into thin strips. I put peanut oil (1tbs) with a dash of dark sesame oil in a frying pan. When the oil was hot, I added the drained Fiddle head fern, sauteed for 1-2 minutes and added the strips of konnyuaku and aburaage and sauteed another minute or two. I added mirin (1tbs) and soy sauce (1 tbs) and Japanese 7 flavor red pepper powder 七味唐辛子 to taste and braised until the liquid was almost all gone.

The Fiddle head fern has an interesting texture and flavor. With a combination of konnyaku and aburaage and some spiciness, this is a good rustic dish but given the amount of preparation required, I am not sure if I will make this often (probably once a year).

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Sushi Taro, Dupont Circle, Washington DC 寿司太郎

The Dupont Circle area has undergone significant change over the years and is now a very vibrant neighborhood with numerous good restaurants. It also was my wife's old stomping grounds. This Japanese restaurant, Sushi Taro, used to be your usual run-of-the mill sushi bar/ tempura place. It occupies the second floor of an unassuming brown square building at the corner of 17th and P, with a CVS Drug store on the ground level. Last year it went though a major renovation, when the old owner's son, Nobu Yamazaki (pictured below), took over. He transformed the place into a high-end Kaiseki and Omakase Japanese restaurant. We went to the old Sushi Taro a few times and were not particularly impressed. It was a very ordinary sushi bar. After this drastic transformation, however, we have been back three times; twice for sushi omakase and once for regular Kaiseki omakase.

Sushi omakase takes place in a room, separated from the main dining area, with a light-colored wood counter which only seats 6, Nobu himself and Chef de cuisin Masa Kitayama are behind the counter, where the cooking area is rather large with a charcoal burning Konro grill (exactly the same as the one we have) in the back counter in front of a picture window overlooking a stand of bamboo. The setting is very similar to a high-end sushi bar in Japan as described by Jon. The atmosphere is very intimate and quiet. With capacity for only six customers, the customers have the complete attention of the chefs. The night we were there only 4 customers, including ourselves, were in attendance. This time we feasted for over 3 hours with 12 courses--and this is not counting each individual piece of sashimi and sushi. This feast was much more than sushi and sashimi omakase as you will see.  

(From Washington post)

This time we started off with home-made umeshu 梅酒 aperitif with green plum simmered  in syrup or "kanroni" 青梅の甘露煮, a very nice refreshing start, which was followed by their signature appetizer Gomadofu 胡麻豆腐 topped with Maine sea urchin, real wasabi (every time wasabi was served, our chef grated a wasabi daikon root with a traditional sharkskin grater--the difference between this wasabi and the usual fake one from the tube was remarkable). Since it was in season, the next was Junsai ジュンサイ in sweet vinegar and yuzu 柚子. Junsai was very fresh with thick gelatinous layers. It matched perfectly with gentle sweet vinegar sauce highlighted with a bright yuzu flavor. (Masa showed us the fresh yuzu they had just received--the very small green kind). We then moved to a simmered dish; Hiryouzu 飛龍頭 and shrimp shinjou 海老しんじょう in yuba 湯葉 sauce. This was a nice comforting dish and well-prepared, if not spectacular. Next came a huge and fresh Pacific oyster (cut into three pieces) from Washington State, Japanese call it Iwagaki oyster 岩牡蛎, on the half shell with a lemon wedge and okinawan salt. This was so good (you may have noticed we are partial to raw oysters). It went so well with the sake we were drinking; a nice fresh ocean taste and, without any special sauce or seasoning, it  lingered pleasantly in the mouth for a while. Again seasonality is important here. "Ayu" 鮎 is in season. Japanese, especially Kyotoites, are very fond of this small fresh water river fish and we had this fish quite a few times in Kyoto. The Ayu which had been marinated very delicately in soy sauce and sake 祐庵地 was served butterflied and grilled 鮎の開き祐庵焼き. I like this rendition much better than the customary "shioyaki"塩焼き or salt grilled, which is usually served on a bed of salt and pine needles. Somewhere between these dishes, we had assorted "Hassun" appetizers 八寸 with 8 small tasty morsels; kinome-miso dengaku 木の芽味噌田楽, "aburana" with yuzu-miso アブラナの柚子味噌和え, lightly marinated firefly squid 蛍イカの沖漬け, "tamago-dofu" 卵豆腐, a small savory egg custard square with edamame paste, salt-cured shirako 白子 with vinegard daikon strips, garlic sprouts 芽ニンニク with miso-marinated Manila clams. All were fantastic. The only slight disappointment being the dengaku due to the quality of the tofu which could have been better. The salt cured "Shirako" or cod sperm sac (which does not sound appetizing) was delicate and tasty.

At this point, we were presented with two choices; one was "Lobster" shabushabu and the other was a Japanese style snapping turtle soup スッポンのお吸い物. Without hesitation, we took the snapping turtle. This was quite a soup; mine had one of the legs and my wife's had nice meaty parts. The broth was very savory. Yet the shimmering liquid in the bowl did not completely cover up the underlying primordial reptilian taste suggestive of mysteriously lurking depths of the pond. This does not taste like a chicken for sure. Since I got the leg, I had to spit out the "nails" as I chowed down. 

Since I made the reservation directly with Chef Masa and mentioned that the last time we were there we liked his home-made "Karasumi" からすみ, he gave us a small slice of that dreaded "Funazushi" フナ寿司 which was marinated with sake lee. Marinating in sake lee or "Sake kasu" 酒粕 made it very palatable (actually good). It had a similar texture and taste to "Karasumi". What a personal service! 

Then, we were presented with several square lacquer boxes of today's sashimi items. One box was all "hikarimonoayu" offered as sashimi. We started with a series of sashimi, very small but carefully prepared pieces; tuna around this time of year was less fatty and firm but very tasty. Again, freshly grated wasabi was just so nice. We can not remember every pieces we had but other stand-outs are "sayori" or needle fish, "Ayu" served two ways (one as is-just salt cured, and the other mixed with salted and preserved ayu innards called "Uruka" うるか. Ayu innards are cherished for their slightly bitter taste. Uruka definitely added a salty and slight bitter taste but it was a nice combination of tastes. I can not forget the wild white salmon from Alaska. Very tasty. Oh, one more item worth mentioning is, again in season, bonito "katsuo" 鰹 which was lightly grilled on a charcoal fire (Tataki) and served in a separate bowl with grated garlic and ginger; nice meaty slices and very flavourful. I have eaten a great deal of sashimi in my day but somehow this was especially good. Between the sashimi and sushi course we were offered a small delicately done "Sayori tempura" with perilla leaves さよりの天ぷら. At this point we were so full it was an effort to finish the sushi. Masa responded by making the rice ball very small for us and we had 4-5 pieces of yummy sushi. 

Finally, we were presented with the desert menu. We picked a Japanese "purin" custard, "kurosatou" or dark sugar (from Okinawa) ice cream. Both were very good but we particularly liked the very delicate Japanese custard.

I just want to mention sakes we tasted at Sushi Taro on three occasions. The sake list is not extremely long but quite decent covering from the high-end to moderate. Among the ones we tasted; Muromachi Jidai 室町時代 (Junmai Supreme-Daigijo or Kiwami-daiginjo), Hakkaisan 八海山 (Ginjou), Kubota Hekiju 久保田 蒼寿 (Junmai Daiginjou), Dassai23 獺祭 (Junmai Daiginjo) and Hakuryu 白龍 (Daiginjo). By far, "Muromachi Jidai" is our favorite. Complex yet clean tasting and it is just cut above. Next will be Dassai23. Not as complex but very pleasant and clean. Hakkaisan is a bit too yeasty to our taste. Kubota has some muddy note and Hakuryu is rather simplistic.

In summary, we really like this place. This is one of the best restaurants we have eaten at both here and in Japan. They serve very traditional carefully created food with a keen sense of seasonality ("Shun" 旬) and the sake selection is quite decent. The only problem for us (if you can even call it a problem for most people) is that we get so full by the end of the feast in both Sushi omakase and regular Kaiseki. It is a bit expensive but a similar class restaurant in Japan will certainly cost much more.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Kinpira Celery セロリの金平

I saw this dish in Dave P's review of "En" in Kichijouji 吉祥寺. "Kinpira" 金平 is a very simple Japanese way of braising thinly sliced or julienned vegetables, seasoned with mirin and soy sauce. Burdock or "gobo" 牛蒡 is the most common. I have made "kinpira" with diakon, carrot, lotus root or "renkon" 蓮根 beside gobo but celery is a nice idea.

I used 4 stalks of celery for two very small servings. I sliced the celery on bias thinly. In a frying pan on a medium flame, I add 1 tsp of vegetable oil, a dash of dark sesame oil, and red pepper flakes (whatever amount you like). When the oil is hot, I add the celery slices and saute for 30 seconds. I then add 2 tsp each of mirin and soy sauce, stirring until liquid is almost all gone (2-3 minutes more). I happened to have carrot slices in sweet vinegar and used them as a garnish. I sprinkled sesame seeds and 7 flavored Japanese pepper powder or "Shichimi tougarashi" 七味唐辛子, since I did not have red pepper threads 糸唐辛子 or 실고추 (shil-gochu). This is nice dish. Nice heat and crunch. This is definitely added as our Home Izakaya regular "Teiban" 定番 dishes along with Japanese style celery salad.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Stewed rolled daikon and deep fried tofu 大根と油揚の砧の煮物

This is another high-labor simple ingredient dish (it is a value added item and "you can charge more for this dish than for a simple nimono or simmered dish" is what I remember it said in the cookbook from which I got this recipe). Although I cannot charge more for this dish, I decided to make it because my wife found several Ziploc bags of half used packages of deep fried tofu pouches or "obraage" 油揚げ in our freezer, apparently representing different vintages. Since these things do not improve with age, I tried to use up the older vintage aburaage.  I made this dish a few times before and I remember that it tastes pretty good. I made this at the same time I made "Kanpyo with checkered daikon and carrot" カンピョウの市松 and the original recipe came from the same cookbook ("Appetizers and a la carte small dishes for Izakaya" by Tadashi Shinojima.)

(This is the way I served it the day I made this dish)

First, I soaked 6 "Inari" 稲荷 or "koage" 小揚げ type (i.e. small) aburaage in boiling water to thaw and remove excess oil.  While taking care not to burn my hands, I squeezed out any water it may have absorbed by pressing it between my palms. I then cut three edges of the aburaage and opened it up into a flat rectangular sheet (about 3 by 5 inches). I repeated this process with the rest of the abraage and set aside.

(The next day, with sugar snap)

I happened to have a rather large good daikon. I cut about a 5 inch-long (corresponding to the width of the aburaage sheets) segment of daikon. Using "Katsura-muki" 桂剝き, after peeling off the skin, I made a long thin sheet of daikon (it should be thicker -about 3mm- than when you make a daikon garnish for sashimi).  I managed to make 3 sheets, each about 13-14 inch long. I blanched the diakon sheets for 5 minutes so that it would be more pliable. When it cooled enough to handle, I layered the aburage on top of the dakon sheet. You need two abuaage sheets to cover 80% of the diakon sheet leaving about 3-4 inches at the end (which makes the outer most layer). I rolled up both together and tied the upper and lower portions of the resulting cylinder with Kanpyo 干瓢 (I cut the width of the Kanpyo ribbon in half since this one happened to be rather wide). I made three rolls (each will be cut in half when served yielding 6 pieces). I placed the rolls on their ends in a small deep pot containing dashi broth (abut 2-3 cups--enough to just cover the daikon cylinder), mirin (3 tbs), "usukuchi" 薄口 soy sauce (3 tbs). The original recipe calls for dashi, mirin and sugar without any soy sauce but this does not make sense to me, so I omitted the sugar and added soy sauce. With "otoshibuta" 落とし蓋, gently simmer for 30-40 minutes. Before serving, I cut the cylinder in half between two Kanpyo ties to make two disks. Serve with the cut end up (looks much nicer) with a dab of Japanese hot mustard and a bit of the broth. The combination of texture (still slightly crunchy daikon and gentle softness of obraage), subtle and gentle sweetness from daikon and the broth, all produced a sublime experience punctuated by loud wake-up calls from the Japanese hot mustard. Sake is definitely called for.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Cocktail カクテル

We very rarely drink hard liquor or cocktails nowadays. Red wine and sake are more agreeable most of the time. But if the occasion calls for it like today, we enjoy a cocktail. I usually go for a Martini and my wife for a Manhattan. I think that, the quality of the gin, bourbon, and vermouth or whatever you are using is, of course, important. There are other very important details that make the cocktails especially good. The first is the glass. It has to be a very thin rimmed crystal so that when it touches your lip, it gives you a nice sensation. A thick cheap cocktail glass actually made of glass does not do it. Second, the glass and the ingredients have to be very cold. I chill the glasses by pouring crushed ice mixed with cold water into them first. Using a cocktail shaker with enough crushed ice (-10F ice from a freezer is better than ice from a stand alone ice maker some establishments may use, which is not as cold) is also important so that  the cocktail is super cold. Tiny ice crystals should float on the surface when poured. Third, the garnish--a good stuffed green olive for the Martini and maraschino cherries for the Manhattan. In the case of my wife, make that two maraschino cherries. (Its a long story having to do with good family times, and the distribution, to the kids, of Maraschino cherries, one each, from a Grandma and Grandpa who liked Manhattans but not the Maraschino's that came in them).  Of course instead of having a cocktail in a dark and smoky bar, we like to have it in our backyard on the weekend when the weather is perfect--sunny, cool and no mosquitoes, like today. We had small canapes of creme fraiche, capers and smoked salmon on small squares of Pumpernickel with the cocktails. We had to admit, though, if there is a nice Izakaya nearby like this one, we may change our mind and venue (especially if it was a weekday evening).

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Spinach soufflé ほうれん草のスフレ

This is totally not Izakaya food but, this soufflé rose nicely (for a fleeting moment anyway) warranting the post. My wife's idea of a good time and good food are somehow tied to spinach soufflé and a Manhattan (cocktail). Because I volunteered for testing Japanese grill recipes for a cookbook, we had extra bags of spinach and leftover steaks. In addition, we had 4 egg whites left since my wife made a very nice bread pudding with a delicious but deadly Whiskey sauce (required 4 egg yolks) for dessert when we had dinner guests to evaluate these recipes. So we decided to make a spinach soufflé from the leftovers. My wife only knew Stauffer's frozen spinach soufflé until I made this dish from scratch for her some time ago.
Please do not follow my recipe (I am sure we are safe since nobody in their right mind would follow any of my recipes anyway). If you are going to make this dish, please use a more accurate recipe available elsewhere. I just do not measure things and can not give you accurate amounts of anything. This is just the process we went through for our own record.

Spinach: We had one and half bags of baby spinach (one of those pre-washed variety). My wife just cooked the spinach (no water added) on a low flame in a large sauté pan with the lid on--about 5 minutes or until it is wilted (mixing several times to keep the bottom from scorching). I squeezed out any excess moisture and chopped it finely. 

Bechamel sauce: I chopped one small shallot and sauteed in about 2 tbs of olive oil and 1 tbs of butter for 2-3 minutes in a frying pan on a low flame. I added about 1/4 cup of AP flour and cooked for one to 2 minutes and added cold milk (I used 1%). I think I started with about a cup and then added more milk in several increments until it become rather loose saucy consistency. I added grated cheddar and sheep milk Gouda (about 1 cup) and mixed into the Bechamel sauce (became Mornay sauce, I guess). I seasoned with salt, white pepper, and freshly grated nutmeg to taste. I then mixed in the spinach above. I am not sure about the exact amount but I think this yielded about three cups (or little less) of the creamed spinach.

Egg white: We had 4 egg whites left over from making the Whiskey sauce (remember it used 4  egg yolks! Are those arteries I hear hardening?). I did not know how much egg whites were needed, so I asked my wife to whip all 4 egg whites to the hard peak stage. I first loosened up the creamed spinach with several large spoonful of the whipped egg white and then folded in another several spoonfuls of the egg white until it looked and felt right (whatever that means, I guess I used 2 egg whites worth or maybe a bit more).

Soufflé dish: We used a 7 inch souffle dish which was buttered and dusted with grated Parmesan cheese. I poured in the above mixture (perfect, it came to 80% of the volume of the dish). I cleaned up the edge of the dish and put it in a 400F oven for 30 minutes and Viola!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Kanpyo with checkered daikon and carrot カンピョウの市松

Kanpyo 干瓢, literally means "dried gourd", is a rather common item used in Japanese cuisines. The meat of the gourd (a certain edible kind, I suppose) is peeled like a narrow tape and then dried. You can buy it, in this dried form, in a Japanese grocery store. I do not think it has much flavor by itself but, certainly, it will absorb any flavors in which it is cooked. It is often used as an edible tie to tie off something. For example, when I stuff a deep fried tofu pouch or abraage with a rice cake or "mochi" in my version of the New Year Soup, I use kanpyo to tie the pouch closed. It is also a common item to be included in scattered sushi "chirashi-zushi" ちらし寿司 or sushi roll "norimaki" のり巻き. To prepare kanpyo, you first wash, rehydrate (30 minutes or longer), and briefly (5 minutes) boil in water. After this, you could cook further a few different ways. If you are going to use this to tie off something, I will just use it without further cooking. The dish I am describing here is one of the rare dishes in which kanpyo is used as the main ingredient. After using kanpyo as a string/tie for another dish, I had a lot of unused kanpyo and decided to make this dish.  It is very subtle in flavor and a bit of a chore to make but it looks more "professional" than "home made".

This dish is originally from a cookbook called (roughly translated into English) "Appetizers and a la carte small "idea" dishes for Izakaya" by Tadashi Shinojima. First, I make the center portion of the dish by cutting equally sized rectangular-shaped sticks of carrot and daikon measuring about 1/2 x 1/2 x 3 inches (2 each, total of 4) (for two small servings). Combining these sticks to make a checker board pattern on the end (this is called "Ichimatsu" 市松 pattern in Japanese which is named after a Kabuki actor in the late Edo period). I make sure the kanpyo ribbon is open and flat (not to be folded or twisted) and wrap this core of the carrot and daikon sticks, keep moving up and down so that the length of the carrot and dikon sticks are evenly wrapped. Use a butcher twine (or a more delicate thread if you prefer) to tie the end of kapyo. I simmer it gently with a "otoshibuta" 落とし蓋 in 2 cup of #2 or niban dashi, 3 tbs of mirin and (about) 2 tbs of light colored or "Usukuchi" 薄口 soy sauce for 30 minutes. Let it cool down in the broth to room temperature. For the sweet miso sauce, I mix 3 tbs of red miso, 3 tbs of mirin and 2 tsp of sugar in a small sauce pan on a low flame and stir until it reaches nice saucy consistency (for about 5 minutes). You should taste and, if needed, add more sugar. Cut the kanpyo roll into 4 equal disks and serve with the miso sauce. This is a rather classic Japanese dish; simple ingredients but lots of steps and time to prepare. It has a very subtle and pleasing flavors. Perfect accompaniment for sake.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Fresh corn Kakiage tempura トウモロコシのかき揚げ (Mark's book P47)

I found corn in the husk for the first time this year in our grocery store. I asked the woman, stocking the shelf, where the corn came from (thinking it must have come from a foreign country like Mexico). She showed me the mark on the crates they came in. It was clearly stamped "U.S.A." but she did not know where in the U.S. It appears that seasonal items become available earlier and earlier every year.  So I bought 8 ears (less than $2). They were white corn and rather small but the kernels were full and sweet when I tasted them raw. So I decided to make kakiage tempera かきあげ. Kakiage is a version of tempera where small items (sliced onions, julienned Burdock roots, small shrimp or fish etc are fried with a batter as a binder).

The "corn kakiage" appears on Mark's book p47, but it is a rather standard recipe except the use of corn is a bit uique. I made my tempura batter with cake flour (1/2 cup), potato starch or "katakuriko" (1 tbs) and egg yolk (1/2) and mixed in ice cold water (about 1/2 cup) to a desired cosistnecy. For Kakiage, I made it to the consistency of a loose pancake batter. I removed the kernels from the cob (one ear of corn yielded about 1/2 cup) using a knife and placed them in a bowl. I added enough tempura batter to coat every kernel and a bit more. Using a soup spoon, I slipped the batter and corn mixture into hot oil (170C or 340F) and fried until crispy and lightly browned, turning once (about 2-3 minutes on each side). I drained and served while hot and crispy. I also made my usual green beans and shiitake mushroom tempura. I served this with green tea salt and wedges of lime. The corn was very sweet with a nice light tempura crust. The lime juice added a nice citrus acidity and made the salt stick better. We had a bit of red wine left but switched to cold sake for this dish.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Eggplant Gratiné with meat sauce 茄子のミートソースグラタン

This is not a classic Izakaya food but goes well with red wines or beer if you are having one. I used a medium-sized Italian eggplant for this dish. Again this is a very simple quick dish to make as long as you have a good eggplant. I could have made this with layered slices of eggplant and meat sauce and cheese in a casserole (similar to eggplant parmesan) but it would have taken too much time particularly when we have already opened a bottle of wine.

I cut the eggplant in half lengthwise and scored the meat (cross hatching) taking care not to cut the skin. I salted them lightly and let it stand for 5-10 minutes and the patted dry. I put small amount (1 tbs) of olive oil in a non-stick frying pan and put two halves of the eggplant--the cut surface down, on medium heat. I put on the lid and cooked for 10 minutes (it half steamed) until the eggplant was soft (Cut side should have a nice brown surface).

For the meat sauce, I just cooked ground chicken (leftover from making other dishes) in a frying pan (with olive oil, salt and pepper) and then added my marinara sauce (leftover) and simmered to warm and make sure the chicken is cooked through. Of course, nothing will prevent you from making a more fancy "ragu" or something.

Put the cooked eggplant in the ramekin or gratiné dish which can hold the eggplant snuggly. Pour the meat sauce over and place several slices of Mozzarella cheese on the top and put it in a 450F toaster oven (400F if using a regualr oven) for 10 minutes until cheese has melted and sauce is bubbly. Remove from the oven and grate Parmesan cheese over it, drizzle good olive oil, and garnish with chiffonade of fresh basil. It went well with a bottle of Italian-style (super Tuscan) wine from Washington state "Saggi" 2007.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

"Hanpen" fish cake sauteed in olive oil はんぺんのオイル焼き

Japanese have many variations of fish cakes such as kamaboko 蒲鉾, Satsuma-age 薩摩揚げ etc. "Hanpen" 半片 is the most dedicate in taste and texture among Japanese fish cakes. It is usually a square shaped, white and light in texture, made of white fish meat (mostly Alaskan Pollock or すけとうだら) paste called "surimi" すり身, egg white and grated mountain yam 山芋. It is boiled rather than deep fried. It is a very common item in oden おでん but I did not have it when I made oden. Besides serving it as oden, I use hanpen in leu of "surimi" すり身 when making a New Year sweet rolled omelet called "datemaki" 伊達巻き. I just bought frozen hanpen in a Japanese grocery store and decided to serve it very simply.

First, I thaw one hanpen and cut it into 4 rectangles. Add 1 tsp of olive oil and thin slices of garlic (one medium clove) to a non-stick frying pan on a low flame. Slowly fry the garlic turning once until nicely brown (do not burn). Remove the garlic and set aside on a paper towel. I, then, place 4 pieces of hanpen and sauté for one minutes or until nicely light brown, turn it over and cook another 1 minute. I served with blanched broccoli rabe dressed with mustard soy sauce (Japanese mustard from a tube, sugar and soy sauce), topped with the garlic chips, which I set aside previously, and chiffonade of perilla. Add a small amount of soy sauce before eating. If you like you could just use butter and soy sauce instead of olive oil and garlic.

This is a very simple quick dish but a perfect accompaniment for a drink. The texture and taste of hanpen are so delicate but goes very well with olive oil, garlic and perilla.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Oven baked spicy chicken オーブン焼きピリ辛チキン

Our favorite ways of preparing chicken thighs for Home Izakaya are yakitori 焼き鳥, shio-yaki 塩焼き, kara-age 唐揚 or tatsuta-age 竜田揚げ. To expand our repertoire, I picked up this recipe from We thought that this is a bit healthier than deep frying and that it may attain similar crispness of the surface and skin as the deep fried chicken.
I followed the recipe closely. I boned and cleaned (but skin-on) chicken thighs (three). I cut up the chicken thighs into a bite size pieces and marinate (or massage) with sake, soy sauce (2 tbs each), grated garlic (one clove), salt and pepper and let them stand for 10 minutes or so. I beat one egg and coated the chicken pieces well. I then added potato starch or "Katakuri-ko" 片栗粉 (4 tbs) and Japanses red pepper powder or "Ichimi tougarashi" 一味唐辛子 (1/2 tsp, since we do not like overly spicy but add whatever amount to suite). I kneaded this mixture into the chicken pieces until the flour was all incorporated. I placed the chicken pieces with the skin side up on a cookie sheet and cooked in a preheated 250C (almost 500F!) oven for 10-12 minutes.

As suggested in the recipe, I served this on the bed of thinly sliced red onion. It is not bad but the skin was not uniformally crispy as it is with the other cooking method. This has  potential but it may require some work to make our Home Izakaya "Teiban" 定番 list.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Braised Chicken liver and onion 鶏の肝とタマネギの炒め煮

In recent years, the mosquitoes have become extremely bad in our area. We used to sit outside in summer but now we can barely sit outside without being eaten alive. So, right now (April and May) is the only time of the year when the weather is warm enough but the mosquitoes are not out yet. We decided to do "Yakitori" 焼き鳥  this weekend on our deck. The chicken liver we got this time must not have been handled well and many pieces were all fragemtned and not suitable for "Yakitori". Although I could have made chopped liver, that could have caused some ethnic confusion. So, I decided to make this dish from the fragmented parts and we had it as the first dish before "Yakitori". I think this dish is appropriate for any Izakayas

After cleaning and washing the liver well, I soaked it in ice cold water for 10 - 15 minutes. After draining, I soaked the liver in sake (I use "Gekeikkan" 月桂冠 brewed in California for cooking) for 20 minutes or so to remove any unpleasant smell. I drained and put the livers on a paper towel to remove any excess moisture. The fragmented portions of the liver I got from one container of chicken livers were about 1/2 lb after this preparation. Besides the chicken liver, I used coarsely chooped onion (two small), finely chopped ginger and garlic (1 tsp each), garlic chives "nira" 韮 (about 1/4 cup chopped, from our garden).  I put penut oil (1 tbs) with a splash of dark sesame oil in a non-stick frying pan and put it on a medium high flame and added the onions and sautéed for 5 minutes until it becam soft and edges browned. I then added the garlic chives, garlic, and ginger and sautéed another 2-3 minutes and set aside. I cleaned the pan with a paper towel and added another tbs of penuts oil and put it on a medium high flame. When the oil was hot and shimmering, I added all the liver pieces and sauteed until the surface changed color (2-3 minutes). I like this portion of cooking to occur at rather high heat so that the juices will not come out. I added the sauteed vegetables back into the pan and added 2 tbs of mirin, 2 tbs of soy sauce and 2 tbs of sake. I stirred and flipped until the liquid reduces to 1/3 and became somewhat viscous. I could have added corn starch slurries here but I did not. After I put it in a serving bowl, I added cracked white pepper and thinly sliced scallion as a garnish. It is sort of onion and liver in a Japanese style. I did not follow any recipe but this flavor combination appears very common among Japanese dishes. This is a very good dish. 

We enjoyed it with a glass of a rather rustic turbid sake or "nigori sake" 濁り酒 from Kyoto Kizakura brewery 京都黄桜 "snow maiden" "Tozai Yuki musume" 東西雪娘 . Perfect pairing! It has tropical fruit on the palate with a slight sweetness but very straight forward sake. We continued with "Yakitori" with this sake. This rather simple but rustic sake is very enjoyable with down-to-earth dishes like Yakitori. The only strange thing about this sake is that it came in a pastel "pink" bottle and the label said it was named after a 226 year old carp (yes, a carp, see in the picutre) named "Hanako" meaning "flower child" (Although "Hanako" 花子 is a generic female Japanese name--you'll never meet a woman named "Hanako" much like you never meet a dog named pooch or rover--No direct comparison or offense meant or implied here. The person who came up with this name may have been at Woodstock). I am sure this is another one of those "bottled for export only" items. I wish the color of the bottle wasn't quite so pink and it was named after something more along the lines of Yeti or "Yuki otoko" 雪男.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Risotto with chicken breast リソトと鶏の胸肉

Another shime 締め dish with some Italian twist. It is essentially a rice dish from leftover or frozen rice we always have in the fridge or freezer. It is closer to risotto than to Japanese zousui 雑炊, so I call it risotto. Risotto is very popular dish in Japan since it is, after all, a rice dish and we also like it but it is too much work and takes too long if you make risotto from scratch, especially when you are winding down your home Izakaya feast. This is my instant risotto-like rice dish. 

You can use whatever you have but this time I used, shallot (one, small), Jalapeno pepper (1/2 seeded and deveined), fresh shiitake mushroom, stem removed (5-6, small), and parsley (2-3 tbs); all finely chopped or thinly sliced. Rather than discarding the stems of shiitake mushroms, you coud also use the stems by first tearing them apart along the length of the stem and then finely chopping them.  I use about one cup of cooked rice (if frozen, thaw it by briefly in the microwave) for two servings.

First, I add 2 tbs of light olive oil in a frying pan on a medium flame. When the oil is hot and shimmering, I saute all the vegetables except the parsley. I then saute the cooked rice to coat every rice grains with oil. You could add a bit of white wine to start but I usually do not since we do not have a half open white wine around most of the time. If you use a white wine, I will use a small amount (2-3 tbs) so that the end-product will not taste to acidic.  I add chicken broth (my usual non-fat reduced salt kind from Swanson in a box) like you are making real risotto while constantly stirring with a silicon spatula (or whatever utensils you prefer). Add enough liquid so that the rice grains are initally freely moving in the liquid and stir until the liquid has been fully absorbed by the rice then add more broth so the rice is again swimming in the liquid. I repeat this procedure 3-4 times until the rice is creamy enough (do not expect an al-dente rice here, actually, I do not particularly like al-dente risotto anyway). After the last installment of the broth has been absorbed, add a thin pad of butter (less than 2 tsp), stir and add chopped parsley. Finally, I grate Parmigiano-Rigggiano cheese (as much as you like) over the top and adjust salt and black pepper to taste. Since I had a cooked chicken breast (in balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, and sake), I added slices of the chicken breast, which were warmed up on the top of the risotto for few minutes before plating. I also added the congealed or jellied sauce from the chicken dish, which promptly melted adding an additional dimension of flavor.

We kinda like this dish. The experience is similar to a rice porridge but with a taste of Parmesan cheese and mild balsamic vinegar.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Spooned tofu with "jako" and Jalapeno pepper 掬い豆腐のじゃことハロペニョペッパーかけ

Tofu 豆腐 has become a very popular food in the U.S. but what we get as tofu in our grocery store is far from the good tofu you can enjoy in Japan. As I mentioned before some good Japanese companies are producing decent tofu in the U.S., but it is not always easy to get quality tofu. There is a category of tofu which is not pressed to remove excess water. As a result, the tofu is softer and has a more silky texture. These are often called "spooned tofu" or "sukui tofu" 掬い豆腐 or if the tofu is only drained using a a Japanese bamboo basket called "zaru", it is called "zaru-age tofu" ざる揚げ豆腐 (Although, in the factory, I am sure they do not use a bamboo basket.). Actualy, Tako Grill does serve this type of home-made tofu. It is usually eaten with a bit of salt (Tako grill serves with pink - ume or plum flavored- and green -green tea flavored- salts). You could buy this type of very soft tofu in a small plastic container in a Japanese grocery store as well. The tofu I used here is soft silken tofu from Kyo-zen-an 京禅庵. Since it was very soft (softer than usual), I scooped up soft silken tofu using a spoon and served it as "spooned tofu".

You can use any garnish. The traditional garnish for cold tofu blocks called "hiya-yakko" 冷や奴 consists of dried bonito flakes, chopped scallion, perilla, and nori with grated ginger. I decided to use very small hatchling fish which was boiled in salted water and then dried called "chirimen-jako" 縮緬雑魚 or "jako" じゃこ for short. "Jako" usually comes frozen in a small (one serving) plastic container. I just sauteed it in a dry frying pan on a low flame to thaw and dry further to make it slightly crispy (5 minutes). You could use oil such as roasted sesame oil and/or bit of mirin and soy sauce to season and make it really crispy and seasoned. This type of seasoned and crispy "jako" is usually mixed into a  freshly made rice to make "jako meshi" じゃこ飯 but you could use this type of preparation as a topping for this tofu dish. I also added Japanese Umeboshi flavored seasoning* ("furikake") and finely chopped, deveined and deseeded, fresh Jalapeno pepper. Instead of straight soy sauce, I poured a small amount of concentrated "mentuyu" めんつゆ or noodle soup from the bottle.

* Among the "frikake", Japanese rice seasonings, one made from red perilla which was a by-product of making Umeboshi can be dried or semi dried to make umeboshi flavoured frikake called "yukari". The one I used is semi-dried yukari which also contains small chunks of crispy pickled (but not dried) plum.