Friday, September 30, 2011

"Kara-age" fried Squid tentacles ゲソの唐揚げ

While doing the regular weekly grocery shopping, I found some pretty good looking squid at our regular supermarket. This was a bit unusual since fish is not their forte. In addition, it appeared to be fresh and not previously frozen. I decided to get a pound of it. I have posted a few squid dishes in the past. I pondered what to make this time and decided on a quintessential Izakaya food called "Geso-no-kara-age" ゲソの唐揚げ. The origin of the word "geso" is "gesoku" 下足 which means footwear for outside (remember that Japanese don different shoes designated as inside or outside the house). In sushi bars' and Izakaya's parlance, "geso" means tentacles of squid--outside footwear for squid.

Squid: For this dish, I used all the tentacles and the "wings" or "enpera" えんぺら parts of the one pound of squid, which yielded small servings for two as you can see in the picture below. I cut off the "beaks" and any innards attached to the tentacles. Since this was a small squid, I did not divide the tentacles further. I marinated them in a mixture of soy sauce and sake (about 1:1) with small amount of grated garlic and ginger (1/4 tsp each) for 15 -20 minutes.

Flour: I removed the squid from the marinade and dried with a paper towel. I made a mixture of AP flour, potato starch or "Katakuri-ko", and rice flour (about 1:1:1 ratio) or you could use just potato flour. This was my effort to try and maximize the crunchiness of the crust.

I shallow fried them in 170-180C oil (about half inch deep) turning often for 1-2 minutes. Because the oil tends to splatter, I erected a foldable metal wall around the pan. If I am not mistaken, this one was imported from Japan (even painted with a nice floral pattern, which is rather useless since the heat from the flame scorched the bottom black). We bought it at the hardware store specialized in Japanese items called "Soko hardware" 桑港金物店 in San Francisco Japan town many years ago. Sometimes, this works better than a Western-style splatter guard or screen. In any case, it may splatter a bit, so be careful. After I drained the excess oil on a paper towel, I served it with wedges of lemon while it was hot.

The crust came out nice and crunchy. The marinade imparted good flavor and saltiness from the soy sauce. We did not need anything else but lemon to enjoy this. It is a really good Izakaya fair but it may not look that appetizing to some since it looks somewhat like "worms".

We had this with cold sake and it was a perfect starter dish. I made something else from the body of the squid.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Lamb and zucchini stir fry with Ketchup flavor 子羊肉とズッキニのケッチャプ風味

This is another quick dish from leftovers. I just came up with this since we had a leftover rack of lamb which was baked to medium rare. This was meant to go with the red wine we were drinking.

This may really date me but some of the ideas of this dish came from Galloping Gourmet (after he moderated his life style and cooking methods); one of which was using ketchup as the base of the sauce. While this may sound pretty unappetizing there is a secret which transforms it into something much better. If the ketchup is sauteed on high heat until it turns dark brown (called Maillard reaction) it becomes a completely different animal. It becomes much more complex and adds dimension to the sauce. I find I use this secret fairly frequently with very good results.  

In any case, I had a 4 rib-width of rack of lamb left. I removed the meat from the bone and thinly sliced it. I had one zucchini left over from making Minestrone soup. I just cut it into small rounds. I first sauteed onion (one small, halved and thinly sliced) until soft in a light olive oil in a frying pan. Then I added garlic (one cove, finely chopped) and the zucchini rounds. I browned the zucchini on both sides for few minutes. I then added tomatoes (Campari tomato, two, skinned and  quartered). At this point, I added the slices of the cooked lamb. I pushed the ingredients to the side to make a space and added ketchup (2-3 tbs). I browned it while mixing with a silicon spatula until the color became dark brown. This definitely add additional depth to the taste. I stirred all the ingredients together and added some salt, chopped parsley and red wine (a few tbs, I used whatever we were drinking) to finish. I garnished with more chopped parsley. This is a very simple preparation but went perfectly with the wine we were drinking

Napa Cab, Diamond Ridge Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon Special Select Reserve 2008 is a classic Napa Cab loaded with vanilla and upfront fruit. While some definitely despise this type of wine we enjoy it from time to time. This was a style everybody favored a few years ago. Recently, however, more and more California reds are going to the opposite extreme; more Bordeaux-like (but without the funky nose). I have to admit, though, the very first time you drink this, the amount of vanilla almost makes this wine taste "sweet" even though no residual sugar is present. It may be a bit overdoing the vanilla.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Potato croquette 芋コロッケ

I am not sure how and when "croquette" or korokke コロッケ was introduced to Japan but according to Wikipedia Jpn, the potato croquette recipe was first published in 1872 although the name "korokke" was not used then. This was, amazingly, a mere 4 years after Japan opened to the West! It was assumed that the original croquette was a French dish based on Béchamel sauce rather than mashed potato. (This type of croquette is referred as "cream" croquette クリームコロッケ in Japan). Dishes made from the combination of ground meat and a starch appear in so many cultures with "cottage" or "shepard's" pie being best known in the United States.

Potato croquettes have been a part of Japanese food culture for a long time. Actually, it is considered a very cheap and lowly side dish. As such, there is a famous song called "song of croquette" コロッケの唄 which was reportedly popular around 1917. Obviously that was way before I was even born but when I lived in Japan, I knew about the song and even heard it sung.  The lyrics go something like "Glad to have gotten married but my wife serves croquettes today and croquettes tomorrow and croquettes all year long". Potato croquettes are generally not made from scratch at home. Instead it is usually bought either at "side dish" stores or "zousai-ya" 惣菜屋 or at the basement gourmet food floor of Japanese department stores ("depachika" デパ地下). It can also be bought frozen at any supermarket and then just fried at home. It is almost never served in regular restaurants but is a common item in a very low-key eatery called "Taishu shokudou" 大衆食堂 or "commoner's eatery" and Izakaya. I meant to make this for some time but finally, got around to it. 

The ingredients below made about ten 3x2 inch flat patties.

Meat: Any ground meat will do but I happened to have trimmings from pork tenderloins. I hand chopped it, which turned out to be a bit over 300 grams. I first sautéed finely chopped onion (1 medium) in olive oil. I then added the ground pork and cooked until the meat was done. I seasoned it with salt and pepper.

Potate: I skinned and quartered white potatoes (5-6, small to medium) and microwaved it in a silicon microwave steamer for 5-6 minutes or until done.

I mashed the potatoes while they were hot. I divided the mashed potato and the meat mixture into two bowls. In one bowl, I added curry powder (an American variety since I was out of my regular Japanese curry powder) to taste (about 1 tsp) and salt. I seasoned the second bowl of pork and potatoes with salt and black pepper. I mixed both well and adjusted the seasoning (more curry powder and salt). Using a medium-sized ice cream scoop, I apportioned the two mixtures and put them on separate plates. Using wet hands to keep the mixture from sticking, I made the curry flavored ones into oval flat shapes (Right in #1 image below). This shape is called "koban" 小判 since it resembles one of the gold coins in Edo era. I made the salt and pepper flavored ones into flat round disks (left in #1 image below). The different shapes are just so I could distinguish the curry flavored ones from the other kind.  Since I was not planning to deep fry this (I shallow fried), it is important to make it into a thin disk rather than a cylinder shape. You could add cooked small cubes of carrot, green peas etc in this if you wish.

I let them cool a bit so that they could harden and be easier to handle. I then dredged in flour, egg water and panko Japanese bread crumbs (#2 above). Instead of deep frying, I shallow fried using light olive oil of about half inch deep (#3). My wife asked why I used olive oil. I do not have any reason. Vegetable or peanut oil will also do. Since the ingredients are all cooked, I fried rather briefly; until it became golden brown and a nice crust formed, turning once (1-2 minutes each side). 

Accompaniment: Traditional Japanese accompaniment is, as usual for any fried food, shredded raw cabbage but I made a sort of Japanese style coleslaw with thinly julienned carrot, cucumber and raisins (#4). I simply dressed it with a mixture of Dijon whole grain mustard and mayonnaise (1:3 ratio) and seasoned it with salt and pepper.
Here are the cut surfaces of the two kinds of croquettes. The upper one is curry flavored and the lower one is seasoned with salt and pepper.

Both are very good. You cannot go wrong with a combination of mashed potato, ground meat, and onion which are fried! I served this with Japanese semi-thick Tonkatus sauce と んかつソースwhich is also very common way to serve potato croquettes in Japan. I remember that the croquettes I liked as a kid were curry flavored. As an adult, I like the curry flavored one as well. Although my wife does not have such a memory, she also liked the curry flavored. Although the curry flavored potato/meat mixture tasted rather spicy before I cooked it, once it was fried, it was just pleasantly spicy and actually turned out to be rather mild.

For drinks, anything goes. Beer, sake (cold) even wine either red or white are just fine with this.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Skirt steak and quick "asazuke" vegetable スカートステーキと即席浅漬

Again, this is a nothing dish from leftovers. I usually try to make "asazuke" vegetables on the weekend so that we can eat them during the following week. I did not manage to do that last weekend so I quickly made instant "asazuke". I had a small amount of skirt steak leftover from when I made fajitas. Hence this instant drinking snack.

Instant "azsazuke": I cut a mini-cucumber into small chunks ("rangiri") (one) and daikon into thin, quarter rounds (1 inch segment of medium sized daikon).  I salted, mixed and let stand on the cutting board for 10 minutes or until the excess liquid came out. I squeezed even more excess liquid out using a paper towel.  I put the vegetables into a small Ziploc bag, poured in ponzu-shouyu sauce (from the bottle) and Japanese 7 favored red pepper. I massaged the cucumber from the outside of the bag and let it sit in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before serving.

Skirt steak: I sliced the steak thinly across the grain and mixed with leftover onion and chopped jalapeno pepper (again from the fajitas), grated garlic (from the tube), and soy sauce.

I made skinned Campari tomato cut into flower petal shapes and used it as a center piece with a sprinkling of salt. This is a nothing dish but served as a good starter.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sake steamed chicken breast with scallion sauce over rice porridge サムゲタンもどきのお粥

I am not sure how I came up with this "shime" 〆 dish one evening. Rice porridge, always reminds of me when I was sick as a kid since it was the food served in such situations in Japan. But as an adult, especially after excessive imbibing, rice porridge was a nice comforting ending dish. This evening, I had leftover sake-steamed chicken breast and made this rice porridge which has a very superficial resemblance to a famous Korean porridge/soup dish called "Samgyetang" which  is now very popular in Japan. The only resemblance here, however, is that it has chicken in it and is a rice porridge. (I also hasten to add that this was made due the availability of ingredients not excessive imbibing).
Porridge: I used frozen cooked rice I had in the freezer. I microwaved it for 30-40 seconds until it was just barely thawed. I put the rice in the Japanese ceramic pot for porridge called "yukihira" and poured chicken broth (Swanson non-fat and reduced salt kind as usual). After 20 minutes of simmering I added a small amount of the congieled simmering liquid made of black vinegar, mirin and soy sauce.

Chicken breast: This time, I made this with a shortcut method of microwaving it. I used a silicon steaming container for microwaving. I salted the surface of the chicken breast (two split breasts with skin on but bone out). I poured in sake (4-5 tbs). With a tight fitting lid, I microwaved it 5-6 minutes and let it rest with lid on for 10 minutes or until cooled enough to handle. I sliced and placed on the porridge.

Scallion sauce: This is my usual scallion sauce with a slight modification. I just mixed scallion (3, finely chopped), ponzu shouyu sauce (3 tbs, from the bottle), Tabasco (to taste), sesame oil (1/2 tsp) and grated garlic and ginger (to taste) and poured over the chicken slices and porridge.

I garnished it with blanched broccolini and, for good measure, sprinkled Wasabi flavored furikake.

Somehow, this hit a spot--the perfect ending to the evening.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Greek yogurt dip with vegetable sticks ギリシャヨーグルトのディップ

On weekdays, when we come home and decide to open a bottle of wine, we tend to have crackers and cheese to go with it. Although we like the cheese, we were thinking we should have something (at least slightly) healthier. So one weekend, my wife picked up several different kinds of yogurt including plain Greek or strained yogurt, which is getting very popular in the U.S. She found a dip recipe on the inner seal and made it. The one shown here is based on that initial success, (this is actually the second attempt using a different brand of Greek yogurt). This one had a more appropriate i.e. thicker consistency especially for use as a dip compared to the first one*. Instead of commercial Greek yogurt, you could strain regular yogurt in a cheese cloth in the refrigerator over night.

*According to America's test kitchen, some "Greek" yogurts are not even strained but other thickeners are added. Certainly we experienced quite a difference between the two brands we tasted. The Test kitchen also taste tested non-fat varieties.

It is rather simple to make this. We just mixed in good fruity olive oil, lemon juice, chopped fresh mint, salt and pepper; all to taste. We then added crumbled feta cheese (We try not to overdo it since it will defeat the purpose of having a healthier snack). 

This time we added one cooked Italian eggplant (optional). Instead of skinning, cubing and roasting with olive oil as suggested in the recipe, we quickly microwaved it with the skin pierced multiple times to prevent an "explosion". (Quick preparation was in order, since we were making this after we came home from work). We removed the skin and cut up the meat into small pieces and mixed it in. 

The recipe also called for adding chick peas which we did in the first attempt but we omitted it this time since it did not add much and the chickpeas make it difficult to scope up the dip with vegetable sticks. 

If the dip tastes too sour, you could add honey (we added honey in the first version but we didn't need it in the current version). The dip will improve if you leave it in a fridge overnight. I served this garnished with a bit more olive oil and mint leaves accompanied by carrot, cucumber and celery sticks. If you have thin wedges of tomatoes, they also work.

As a dip, on its own, this is surprisingly good with a nice fresh minty note and good creamy texture. We also felt good eating all the veggies. The dip however, did not go well with the red wine we were having. The wine was Summit Lake Cabernet Sauvigon 2003 from Howell Mountain district in Napa. This is an interesting wine but more in the old world style. The color of the wine had a brownish hue which is more than the vintage of this wine would suggest. In any case, the dip by itself was good, the wine by itself not bad, together--not a great pairing. 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Cold tofu with okra and wasabi in sake lee 冷や奴のわさび漬けとオクラ添え

Most Westerners do not like slimy food (slimophobia). My wife told me a longtime ago that she hated (strong word!) okra which is one of the rare slimy food items available in a regular market in the U.S. Okra is thought to have been brought to the U.S. by slaves who were familiar with its use in Africa. Gumbo is a famous dish in New Orleans which uses okra. My wife's account was that as a kid she was served frozen and boiled okra as a vegetable side dish. It was grey-green with thickly viscous slime the consistency of snot (my wife's word precisely). I can imaging how terrible this was--she was thoroughly traumatized. From time to time, I have tried to get fresh okra but my wife made me put it back. Okra became rather popular in Japan as well, since Japanese love (many of them anyway) slimy food in general. Since my wife has been primed over time with various types of slimy Japanese food and there has been a catharsis of time factor as well, I thought I should try some okra.

I found this fresh okra in the market and it had only minimum blemishes. It looked much better than the ones I can usually find, my wife was not with me, so I just bought a few. I served it on a hot day over a cube of cold tofu or 'hiyayakko" 冷や奴. Obviously this is one of many garnish variations you can serve with cold tofu.

I first washed the okra and then added a good amount of kosher salt in my palm and rubbed the surface of the okra to remove the fine fuzz. I then washed it to remove the salt. I finely chopped the okra by hitting it with a blade ("tataki" たたき technique). I also set aside a few slices of okra for decoration. This way, the sliminess is not too bad. I happened to have "wasabi-zuke" 山葵漬け and used it to top the tofu as well. I also added finely chopped scallion. I could go on and added more items such as bonito flakes, perilla, nori, etc but I restrained myself to only these three toppings. For the sauce, instead of straight soy sauce, I used concentrated "mentsuyu" 麺つゆ from the bottle. This combination worked well and my wife found the fresh taste and minimal sliminess surprisingly quite acceptable (quite a step-up from "hated" okra).

As starters, I also served chicken breast (previously barbecued) with sesame dressing with blanched green asparagus and Campari tomato.

These two dishes are regular small dishes I make but small variations make them more interesting.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Vinegared mackerel and smoked salmon molded sushi しめ鯖、スモークサーモンの押し寿司

The molded sushi or "oshizushi" 押し寿司 ("oshi" means "to press or push") or sometimes called "hakozushi" 箱寿司 ("hako" means a box). As opposed to more familier "edomae sushi" 江戸前寿司 or Tokyo-style sushi, the molded sushi is easier to make as long as you have a special wooden mold. Sometime ago I saw a wooden sushi press mold or "oshizushi hako" and bought it so I could experiment with it. In general oshizushi is not commonly available in the U.S. restaurants or sushi bars. I do have a very nostalgic memory, however, of one of the few times we had oshizushi.

Digression alert: We had recently moved to Los Angles and were looking for a new sushi bar to call home. We stopped at one "Japanese" restaurant and I started ordering several small dishes a-la-carte as we usually do, when the very bossy Kimono-clad middle-aged Japanese waitress informed us that we would be ordering one of their combination platters--no choice. A very large platter appeared featuring sashimi and other many American-style Japanese dishes (yakitori skewers, tonkatsu etc) with big slices of water melon on the side. This looked more like a American-Mexican combo-platter. As a result, we dubbed this place "Casa sushi". Needless to say, this was the first and last time we visited. 

After some more, less-than-sucessful explorations, we finally found a small sushi place that became our regular.It was recommended to my wife by a carpet cleaner (an unexpected source of such information) who happened to notice Japanese artifacts in our household while cleaning the carpet and asked if that meant we liked sushi. We were astounded to learn that he was a sushi connoisseur having conducted an extensive survey of sushi restaurants in the LA basin. He pronounced this restaurant the best in the region.  It turned out to be the type of restaurant where drivers of 18 wheelers fresh off the freeway parked their rigs out front, bellied up to the bar to eat sushi and discuss the finer points of raw fish with the owner chef (the LA sushi scene was quite different from what we were used to). The owner-chef of the sushi bar was from Kyushu 九州 and the young chef-de-cuisine was from Osaka 大阪. The young chef was quite creative. One evening he presented deep fried tempura sushi roll with the comment, "when it comes to food I'll try anything once." One evening he presented us with "oshizushi" (off the menu), which was from his native Osaka. Somehow that one dish particularly stuck in my mind when I thought about that restaurant or oshizushi. 

Back to the sushi: I made two kinds; one is the classic of oshizushi called "battera" バッテラ (near side in the above picture and the picture below) and the other more Western style, smoked salmon and cream cheese oshizushi (the far side of the picture above).

The non-tradtional oshizushi with smoked salmon, cream cheese and nori (the picture below) was based on my wife's suggestion (she referred to is as the Osaka version of Philadelphia roll). Actually she lined up all the necessary ingredients without my asking. So this was her creation and I just assembled it.

To make battera, I used a packaged "shime saba" しめ鯖 which is bought frozen and vacuum packed (#1). I cannot get fresh enough mackerel to make "shime saba" myself. After thawing, I removed the transparent thin skin first (#2) and cut it lengthwise (the width has to match the size of the mold. You may have to solve some geometric puzzle to fit the fish best in the bottom of the mold with the skin side down. I layered it with thinly sliced vinegared ginger (#3) and perilla leaves (again cut into the width of the mold, #4). I then placed the sushi rice, about even with the edge of the mold with out pressing (#5). I then pressed the rice with the top plate of the mold (#6).

To make the smoked salmon oshizushi, I placed the smoked salmon on the bottom of the mold,  a thin slab of cream cheese, and a narrow sheet of nori and sushi rice.

You could make any kind of oshizushi this way. You could flavor the sushi rice by mixing chopped up perilla, pickled plum, or even aonori or "furikake" ふりかけ. You could make two different flavored rices and assemble oshizushi with two layers of rice. The topping could be anything such as fish, meat, omelet, and vegetables like avocado, myouga, cooked shiitake etc. Actually, if you do not have or do not want to get the special mold, you could just use a plastic wrap to make a cylinder of rice (which is called "bouzushi" 棒寿司, "bou" means "log") instead making it rectangular using an oshizushi mold.

This was the ending dish of the evening. We originally tried to go to Tako Grill for dinner but just as we were about to leave, a severe thunderstorm rolled in. We waited for a while but there was no sign of the rain letting up so we decided to stay in. Although we were eating at home our mouths were ready for the flavor of vinegared rice and this is what we came up with.  We both really enjoyed these two kinds of oshizushi. Although if truth be told, I also had a hankering for "toro" and there was no substitute for that in our freezer. 

In a true traditional way, battera should have been covered with thin sheet of kelp shaving called "shiraita konbu" 白板昆布 or "baterra konbu" バッテラ昆布 but I did not have one and I have not even tried to get one. My wife suggested that it might help to make the thickness of the shime saba more even. I will try to improve next time. I have a feeling that my wife may be inspired to come up with other ideas for oshizushi--lamb sushi anyone?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Pacific saury "Kabayaki" rice bowl さんまの蒲焼き丼

"Kabayaki" 蒲焼き is a very common Japanese way of grilling fish filets. "Eel Kabayaki" 鰻の蒲焼き is the best known example but many other kinds of fish can be prepared in the same way. The sauce is essentially a mixture of soy sauce, mirin, sugar, and sake but many eel-specialized restaurants may have their secret, and sacred recipes inherited from many generations before. Like an American barbecue sauce, towards the end of grilling, the Kabayaki sauce is applied repeatedly to make a crust of savory thickened sauce on the surface of the fish.

It is now pacific saury or "sanma" season in Japan. At Tako Grill, we just had our share of sanma sashimi and grilled sanma. I previously posted several ways of preparing sanma. I also happened to find a vacuum packed sanma kabayaki I bought few weeks ago in the refrigerator. One evening, I made this into a very simple "kabayaki" doburi or rice bowl. I just warmed up the sanma kabaayaki in the package by submerging it in boiling water for few minutes and put the warmed fish over the rice. I could have made more sauce but I did not. I also happened to have made "daikon namasu" which I garnished with salmon roe or "ikura".

If you make your own from fresh sanma, this could have been better. This pre-made kabayaki was a bit on a sweet and dry side but it was, nevertheless, a nice finish of the evening.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Miso marinated tofu 豆腐の味噌漬け

This is a rather popular item in Izakaya but somehow I neglected to make it. One weekend morning, my wife suggested we have smoked salmon and avocado scattered sushi for breakfast!. We often have English muffin bread smeared with creme fraiche and topped with smoked salmon and poached egg for breakfast but we were out of pasteurized eggs. As long as my wife was OK with this idea, I was too. I even served miso soup with tofu, wakame sea weed and scallion. This left us with 80% of the tofu leftover. I decided this was good time to make miso marinaded tofu.

This is not really a recipe and there are so many variations including a smoked one but essentially, you remove the extra moisture from tofu, either moment (firm) 木綿豆腐 or kinu-goshi (soft) tofu 絹ごし豆腐, marinade in miso for 1 or more days. The miso mixture can be variable such as straight miso, mixture of red and white miso, and prepared miso with sugar, mirin, sake, soy sauce etc. These differences as well as the duration of marination make variations in both texture and taste to the end result. Best is to try some variations and decide which combination is best for you.

Tofu preparation: I used "firm" tofu just because this was what available (leftover). I just wrapped the tofu with paper towels and placed it on a perforated metal tray with matched bottom tray. I placed a similar shallow metal tray on the top of the tofu and weighed it down (I just used two large American-size yogurt containers (full) since they were in the refrigerator and had the right weight). I changed the paper towel after a few hours and let it sit in the refrigerator for over half a day.

Miso marinade: I do not like the end product to be too salty. I happened to have miso which was designated as rice miso or "kome-miso" 米味噌, chuukara 中辛. This means this miso is between white and red miso in terms of saltiness, not as salty as "red" but not as sweet as white or Saikyo miso (about 4 tbs), sugar (1 tsp) and mirin (I am not sure how much but about 1-2 tbs to make a pastey but not runny consistency). The kind of miso is totally up to you and you may have to experiment a bit to find your sweet spot.

I smeared the miso mixture on all sides and placed in a sealed container (Picture above). You could wrap this in plastic wrap but I did not.

I left it for 1 full day and had it as a starter for sake the next evening. I scraped off the miso marinade using the back of a knife and sliced it (The picture on the top). I smeared the miso back on the remaining tofu using the knife and put it back in a container. I served it with matsuame-zuke 松前漬 and octopus "bukkake" 蛸のぶっかけ (both bought frozen). This was a first for my wife and she really liked it. She said that if I didn't mention it was tofu she might have thought it was cheese. The consistency is like semi-soft cheese with some nutty and slightly salty miso flavor. 

The next day, I served it with baby arugula salad dressed with fruity olive oil and Champagne vinegar  (Picture below). We had this with red wine, Louise M Martini, Napa Cab 2007, which is a decent everyday red that we like. Although this was into the second day, my miso marinade was rather mild so the flavor was not too strong or too salty. (I would not go further than 2-3 days with the marination but you could try longer). I could not say this was a particularly great pairing but it was OK, at least, the tofu was very nice and generally goes well with the red wine.

Tofu is congealed soy protein and cheese is made from coagulated mild protein. So there is similarity. Obviously they are not the same, though. My wife said, if I served this to our unsuspected guests sliced like a cheese, most will think this is a type of semi-soft cheese. I may try this sometimes to see what kid of responses we get.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Baked Monk fish with smoked paprika (poor man's lobster) ベイクドパプリカアンコウ(擬製ロブスター)

Does this look like a nice lobster tail with caper butter lemon sauce? If it does, I was very successful in fooling you.
I usually do not get fresh fish at our regular grocery store since the fish does not look great most of the time. We go to (more expensive) gourmet markets to buy fish and some specialty meats. But today, they had monk fish which looked good and I got one. As you know, Japanese will make use of all parts of this deep water bottom feeder. Its liver is cherished and is called "ankimo" but here in U.S., the only part we see in the market is the tail meat. I pondered a while about how to cook this and decided to bake it with paprika. I do not remember where I got this recipe/idea. I used to cook Monk fish tails this way quite often  but I have not done this for some time. I have posted Monk fish cooked other ways but the end result of this method is that it looks like a nice fat lobster tail, although the texture and taste are not quite similar.
I had a 3/4 lb filet for 2 (small) servings. I first removed the thin membrane from the meat without wasting too much meat underneath. I then made a slit in the center lengthwise (left in the image above). I coated the filet with olive oil and season it with salt, black pepper, and smoked paprika powder (either Spanish or domestic, I used domestic). You need to use quite a good amount of paprika to get good end results. I then sautéd the bottom side in a mixture of olive oil and butter (2 tsp each) on a hot frying pan (medium high heat) for a few minutes. If you place the fish in the pan when the oil/butter is melted and hot, it will not stick. I also decided to cook/bake, green beans with it (right on the image above). I then placed the pan in a 350F oven for 10-12 minutes or until the inner temperature of the thickest part of the fish read 145-150F using a digital quick read thermometer. This is the only fish I know of, which needs to "rest'. I removed the fillets to a plate and loosely covered them with aluminum foil to let them rest at least 5 minutes.

Meanwhile I made lemon caper butter sauce. After the fish was out of the pan, I pushed the green beans on the side and added shallot (one, finely chopped) and sauteed for 1 minute or so and deglazed it with white vermouth (1 tbs). When the liquid reduced to almost dry, I added several  more small pats of butter (total of 2-3 tsps). When the butter melted, I added  lemon juice (2 tsp), capers (1 tsp) and chopped parsley. 

I sliced the cooked Monk fish into medallions and  poured the lemon caper butter sauce over them. The fish was not overcooked and very tender. Paprika is mostly for color but does add a nice slightly smoky flavor. The texture and taste are not quite like a real lobster tail but it is a very nice dish if a bit butter heavy. I could have had this with nice dry sparkling wine but instead we had cold sake.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Pork tenderloin roulade with sun-dried tomato and olive 豚ヒレ肉のルーラード

I made this one evening and served it as the main course for dinner. The next day I served the leftovers as a drinking snack. I think this recipe is based on one in Cooks Illustrated.

Pork: I used my usual vacuum packed pork tenderloins. I trimmed and removed fat and sliver skin. I then cut it along the length of the tenderloin leaving 1/2 inch on the other side and opened it up like a book. Using a meat pounder, I flattened the tenderloin into a 1/2 inch thick rectangle. 

Stuffing: You can use any kind of stuffing but the amount you can use is rather small so you should make it highly flavorful. For these two tenderloins, I used sun-dried tomato (packed in olive oil, 6-7 chopped), black (Karamata) olive (8-9 pitted and chopped), lemon zest (one lemon using micro-grater), garlic (2 cloves), fresh thyme (3-4 sprigs, stem removed), anchovy fillets (4 packed in oil). I put everything in a mini-food processor and pureed it until it became a stiff paste. I added a bit of olive oil and black pepper (It was plenty salty from the anchovy and olive).

Assembly: Since the stuffing was rather strong, I did not season the inside of the meat. I spread a single layer of baby spinach leaves (if you have them, fresh basil leaves would work) and then spread the stuffing. In the same manner as when I make sushi roll, I made a tight roll trussed it with butcher twine in two inch intervals (see image below). I smeared the surface with olive oil and seasoned it with salt and pepper.

I could have grilled this on a Weber grill but I did not (not enough time). I just browned the surface in a frying pan with olive oil (1 tbs), turning 90 degree every few minutes. I then finished in in a pre-heated 400F oven for 8-10 minutes or until the center of the rolls registered 150F. I let it rest for 5-10 minutes. When I served this for dinner, I may have made red wine sauce (I think).

A few days later, I just sliced it and drizzled on a small amount of olive oil. I probably overdid the anchovy but otherwise the stuffing was very flavorful and no sauce was really needed . I served this on a layer of cucumber slices which added a nice fresh contrast in flavor and texture. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

"Chikuwa" stuffed with cucumber and cheese 竹輪のチーズとキュウリの射込み

When I made fried chikuwa sticks, I had two chikuwa leftover since one package contained 4 chikuwa. The next day, I decided to make this quick dish which is again a classic lowly Izakaya or homey dish which does not really involve "cooking". Since chikuwa has a convenient hollow center, it is perfect to stuff the space with something, which is called "ikomi" 射込み in Japanese culinary parlance. Actually some fish cakes are made with the center already filled such as "goboten" ごぼう天 (the center contains a burdock root).

Here, I made sticks of Raclette cheese and cucumber and filled the center holes of each chikuwa. Chikuwa is elastic so you do not have to carve the cheese and cucumber precisely. I just make sure the entire length of chikuwa is stuffed. I cut it in half first. I then cut the half obliquely into two pieces. You may have to shave the flat bottom to make it stand up like you see in the picture above for a better presentation.

I added the last of wasabi-zuke わさび漬け with soy sauce. You could serve this with wasabi paste and soy sauce as well. This is nothing special but serves well as a small snack which goes well with whatever you happened to be drinking.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

"Chikuwa" fish cake "isobe" fry 竹輪の磯辺揚げ

I was pleasantly surprised to discover I have not already blogged this item. This is another classic Izakaya fare. You will never see this in fancy or (not even fancy) restaurants. You have to make it at home or have it at an Izakaya. To make this you need a type of fish cake called "Chikuwa" 竹輪. Chikuwa literally means "bamboo ring" since traditionally it was made by putting fish meat paste or surimi すりみ around a small stick of bamboo and steaming it first then grilling it (if grilled it is called "yaki-chikuwa"). The bamboo stick left a hole in the center of the cylinder of fish cake. I am sure it is now mass produced using an extruder. Chikuwa is an essential item in oden. I can buy frozen chikuwa at the Japanese grocery store.

To make this dish, I cut chikuwa (2 for 2 small serving) into 4 pieces lengthwise and cut its length in half producing 8 small sticks from one chikuwa.

Batter; I used cake flour (3 tbs) and rice four (1 tbs, optional) and dried aonori  青海苔 (1 tsp, optional) and cold water to make a rather loose batter.

After coating each piece of the chikuwa sticks, I fried them in 170C or (340F) vegetable oil for 1-2 minutes or until a crispy crust formed (it doesn't have to cook long because chikuwa is already cooked). Serve hot with a lemon wedge and salt (optional).

This is a quick but perfect small dish for your sake. Nice crunchy crust has oceanic taste of aonori with soft but slightly chewy fish cake inside.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Rice cake "isobe" roll お餅の磯辺巻き

"Mochi" 餅 is steamed glutenous rice pounded into paste which is shaped into discs with one convexed side ("maru-mochi" 丸餅) or rolled out ("noshi-mochi" 伸し餅) and cut into small rectangles ("kiri-mochi" 切り餅). Instead of using a traditional wooden mallet or "kine" 杵 and mortar or "usu" 臼, nowadays, mochi can be made at home using a smal mochi making machine and, apparently, mochi can be made using a Kitchen-Aid mixer with a dough hook. The easiest way, however, is to buy packaged commercially produced mochi at a Japanese grocery store which is the route we usually take.

Especially If mochi is made at home, you could enjoy it while it is still warm and soft, however, more commonly, it is allowed to harden. Hardened mochi cakes can last at least a few weeks or longer and easily can be transformed back into a soft and edible state by boiling or grilling. After all, it does have its origins as a preserved food or emergency ration. Although it is eaten year around and many types of Japanese crackers are also made from mochi, it is a traditional New Year food (so that house wives do not have to cook rice for at least the first 3 days of New Year). I have posted mochi in New Year soup called "Zouni" 雑煮 and in a deep fried tofu pouch for "oden" おでん called "mochi kinchaku" 餅巾着 or "mochi-kin" for short.

One of the simplest and quickest ways to prepare mochi, however, is this dish called "Isobemaki". "Isobe" means "seashore" and "maki" means "wrap" or "roll", since it is wrapped in dried nori sea weed. We had this "isobemaki" 磯辺巻き one evening (one each) as an ending dish or "shime" dish. The taste brought me back to my childhood. Most of the Japanese families used to eat mochi more in quantity, in frequency, and for a longer period in New Year. When I was a kid, we used to eat mochi for breakfast and lunch at least in the first 3 days of New Year. We used to eat "isobemaki" mochi as lunch.

We bought a package of "kiri-mochi" for the past New Year. This is individually sealed in a plastic wrap and lasts for long time in the refrigerator. So one night, I decided to make this dish. It is not even a recipe but here it is.

Toasting mochi: Traditionally, mochi is grilled on a charcoal braiser but, in modern days, a toaster oven is the best choice. It tends to become very sticky so I used a small removable metal grate which prevents the mochi from sticking to the grate of the toaster oven. The small grate can be easily cleaned by soaking in water first.  I toasted the mochi like a piece of bread but I kept an eye on it closely. When it started puffing up I stopped cooking and took it out.

Sauce: This is sometimes called "sato(u)jouyu" 砂糖醤油 and can be very easily made. It is a mixture of sugar and soy sauce. The ratio is up to your taste but I use 1:1 rato. I microwave it briefly (a few seconds) so that sugar melts completely.

After I coated all sides of the cooked mochi, I wrapped it with a rectagular portion of dried nori sheet. If you hold the nori sheet on the mochi for a few seonds with chopsticks, it will stick to mochi like you see above. As you eat, you could dip it in the sauce if you like.

My wife told me that this is the very first Japanese food she ever ate. While at college she shared a dormitory house with a girl who grew up in Japan. Her family sent her a "CARE" package for New Year which included "mochi" and nori to wrap it in. My wife tasted it and immediately liked it. In her enthusiasm to share her new discovery she raced to take a piece to another friend who scowled at it critically and said, "wait, take the paper off first," referring to the nori. Every time I serve this dish my wife nostalgically laughs about that comment. In any case, this is not a bad ending for the evening of an Izakaya feast, although I do not know any Izakaya which would serve a mochi dish like this.