Saturday, September 28, 2013
Finally we met with Dave and Tobias in Tokyo. Through their blogs (Tobias’ Izakaya Sanpo has been off line for sometime because of the withdrawal of Apple’s web hosting service. Hopefully he will resume his blog sometime soon), Through their respective blogs and our shared interest in izakayas and food, it felt like we already knew each other even though it was the first time we met. We had a great time visiting Izakayas with them.
Yamariki Honten、Morioshita, 山利喜本店, 森下
I knew about this place from Mark’s Izakaya book and it was nice to finally visit. We met Tobias in front of Yamariki Honten at 4:30pm and were the first in the line that would form behind us.Tobias told us that the line would have been very long if this has been Friday or Saturday. In any case, this was a genuine Izakaya experience; waiting in line for the Izakaya to open! As the opening time 5pm approached the attendants put out the famous red lantern and hung the norens that announced the place was open for business. We were the first party to go in. Tobias got us prime seating at a table near the counter on the second floor. It was an upstairs table in a rather cozy space with a view of the large caldron of offal stew or “nikomi” 煮込み for which Yamariki is most famous. Yakidai 焼台 was behind the counter where another famous “Yakiton” やきとん or grilled pork parts was prepared.
(Picture from Yamariki web site, www.yamariki.com)
When we sat down, the waitress having identified me as the only Japanese in the company seemed to assume I was entertaining a group of gringos and began by addressing me. Tobias immediately answered in fluent Japanese and set her straight as to who was entertaining whom. Soon after we were seated Dave arrived. So many things happened quickly. Dishes started arriving and the beer and sake started freely flowing, We can’t quite recall all the dishes but here are some of the highlights.
Of course, we had to have their famous “Nikomi”. We had it with garlic bread and “tamago” 卵 or a boiled egg. The broth was savory (we were told they used red wine and bouquet garni) and the offal meat (mostly intestine) was tender but the amount of fat attached to the intestine was a bit too much for us. It gave a greasy feeling to the dish and as soon as the nikomi started cooling down congealed fat appeared on the surface further adding to the appeal of the dish. Some lesser known “nikomi” we had was a bit more agreeable to us but this is a totally personal preference. We had “Gatsu sashimi” ガツ刺生姜醤油 (fortunately “guts” was boiled not raw), several fish sashimi while we were enjoying two kinds of Jizakes 地酒 (or local sake) of the day’s recommendation. Another highlight was a fermented cube of tofu “tofu-yo” 豆腐よう consumed using a tooth pick. We were initially taken aback by its florescent pink color which suggested it could be quite pungent. Undaunted we plunged in and it was not as strong as it looked--it was quite good. It actually tasted like mild aged soft cheese and went especially well in small nibbles between sips of cold sake. The assortment of smoked items 燻製盛合せ was also excellent especially a fatty fish which none of us could identify—the consensus was (mackerel??). Dave suggested we order some more “robust” food. His suggestion was answered by ordering “hand-cut French fries” ポテトフライ which might not have been robust enough for Dave. We were fully sated and watered at this point (may be, except for Dave).
Tobias suggested a change of venue to Orihara-shoten 折原商店 in Mon-naka 門前仲町. We took the subway from Morishita to Monzen-nakacho. The story of a “bunch of foreigners” crashing the opening party at Orihara-shoten is eloquently chronicled by the legendary Jon of EOITWJ. A similar “bunch of foreigners” descended upon them again and while we may have been equally rowdy, I hope we were not more so.
Mon-Naka has a really nice “shita-machi” atmosphere 下町情緒. On the way Tobias pointed out his favorite coffee shop which exuded “sho-wa” 昭和 era charm. A few blocks from Mon-Naka station, we were at Orihara-shoten. This is a store specializing in many sakes from all over Japan. They are displayed in wall-to-wall refrigerators with glass doors. It is also unique in that you can buy whichever sake you like by the glass. There are two islands where you can stand and enjoy the sake with the snacks that are available.
Tobias’ first choice was “Gassan” jun-gin from Shimane prefecture 島根県, Non-pasteurized, non-filtered genshu made from “Sakanishiki” rice taken in the middle pressing 無濾過生原酒直汲中取佐香錦 (this was written on the red label attached obliquely). This was a quite amazing sake with some effervescence still remaining with a touch of sweetness but a nice clean taste. We had many more rounds. Otokoyma 男山 from Hokkaido 北海道, Uragasumi “zen” 浦霞禅 from Miyagi 宮城県 and many more. Some kind of citrus liquor was also offered by Tobias which we found was not our favorite but disappeared nonetheless. They also have mostly packaged snacks as you can see in the picture (must be cheese in a tube). We had a few snacks, one of which was a type of dried fish (skate wings エイヒレ?) that had been heated. It tasted great with the sake. The details of the other snacks we had totally escapes me.
We must have been the loudest, most boisterous and drunkest group among the other customers; polite Japanese groups quietly drinking and enjoying sake. The store staff observed us occasionally with worried expressions.
We engaged in conversation from time to time with Japanese customers who shared the island at which we were standing. I am not sure if the conversations were conducted in English or in Japanese but my wife also engaged in them which means someone (possibly me) must have translated or they were in English. Hope we did not offend anybody. People came and went but we persevered for several hours. At first, we thought it would be extremely uncomfortable standing up but since we were well anesthetized, we didn’t notice any discomfort. I have to say this was the most fun we’ve had in a long time.
Finally, we came to the senses and collectively decided to call it quits. We all staggered back to Mon-naka station. Navigating Tokyo metro system while intoxicated (or while sober for that matter) is not an easy task especially for us.
In any case, we went back to our hotel in Ginza safely. Thank you very much Dave and Tobias, this was one of the greatest evening we had in Japan.
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Chef Kudo opened a new Izakaya/Sushi bar and creatively named it… “Tako Grill”. The place is very spacious with light wood inside. A wide wooden counter with his working area immediately behind and the kitchen is hidden from view by a purple “Noren” のれん. He and his help were wearing the same Tako grill T-shirts and the cover of the menu is also the same as one in Bethesda (although Kudo did not offer the menu and we did not need it as he served what was the best and what we would like).
He looked the same but a bit thinner. For sake, Kudo offered the local sake from Kuroishi; Kikunoi Honjozo Genshu “Akiagari” 菊乃井 本醸造原酒 ”秋あがり”. This was a nice dry crisp unpasteurized genshu sake with lots of “umami” flavors. We liked it very much.
As we engaged in some catching up, he started serving us a series of excellent dishes. Otoshi お通し was a small local vegetable somewhat similar to small “fuki” ふき but we were told that this was a totally different local vegetable (I do not recall the name).
Sanma さんまor Pacific saury, sashimi was the best we ever had.
Okoze オコゼ or stonefish was the next offering. This is a rather unattractive looking fish from which he carefully removed the venomous dorsal fin (picture below) and then deep fried. we enjoyed the whole fish; bone, head and all.
Since this was “Tako” grill, we had to have “Tako” 蛸 or octopus. Kudo first offered us slices of octopus legs with “sumiso” 酢味噌 dressing. Somehow, the quality of the octopus was different from what we usually get in the U.S.; it was succulent and soft not rubbery or chewy. Then he took out the fresh octopus leg saying this leg was still alive and prepared for us fresh “tako no sashimi” 生蛸の刺身 (below picture). As he slapped each slices down, the muscle contracted. We have had fresh octopus sashimi before in Kobe 神戸 but this one was totally different. The one we had in Kobe was slices of the leg and had a very soft consistency but this one appeared to be the suckers (skin carefully removed) and had nice firm consistency and sweet taste. We were already on the second round of sake.
Our memory was getting fuzzy around this time forward but we had grilled and straw “wara” 藁 smoked sanma. We usually do not like innards but this was an exception. The sanma was fresh to begin with and the way this was prepared was great. Nice smoky flavor and the bitter taste of the sanma innards were perfect combination between the sips of cold sake. We also had a local nice large succulent oysters. What a treat!
Then came the “Piece de resistance”. We discussed the great things Kudo served us at Tako Grill in Bethesda and mentioned “squid okizuke” イカの沖漬け he had served us one time and how much we loved it. Without a pause, he wheeled out a container with fresh “squid innards” okizuke he had prepared (below). Actually, the first serving was consumed so quickly between my wife and I that I did not have a chance to even take a picture. Kudo gave us the second serving and we managed to restrain ourselves long enough to snap the pic.
At this point we were quite full and feeling full effects of the sake. He served us a few pieces of nice nigiri. He then joined us with a glass of his own sparkling sake and we chatted. He appeared happy to be back to his furusato 故郷 (home town).
Finally we had to say good night. He called us a taxicab and we went back to our “hotel” called “Takara onsen” 宝温泉meaning “Treasure hot spring”. Kudo arranged our stay there. This is the first time we had a room with our own private “onsen” attached running steaming hot water 24/7. But this is a long and separate story to tell.
We are glad we visited Tako grill in Kuroishi. We wish Kudo all the best. With food that great, he should prosper and we can visit him again in the near future.
Sunday, September 22, 2013
I had a half used package of Japanese small green pepper called “Shishi-tougarahi” 獅子唐辛子 or “Shishitou”ししとう for short. I decide to make it either “Yaki-bitashi” (grilled first and then soaked) or “Age-bitashi (fried fist and then soaked). At the grocery store, I found a nice looking Zebra eggplant and decide to make “age-bitashi” with eggplant and shishitou.
Here I served the resulting dish chilled with garnish of picked “home grown” myouga and thinly julienned ginger (“Ito-shouga” 糸生姜 or ginger-threads). This was a nice cool drinking snack to start. The only problem for me was that one of the peppers I ate was atomically hot* . I had been lured into complacency with several mild peppers. Without thinking I just popped the hot one into my mouth. I had already chewed and swallowed when my tongue “caught on fire” and continued burning for sometime despite my efforts to put out the fire. My wife, however, did not suffer a similar misfortune
*Although shishitou in Japan appears to be always mild, shishitou grown in American soil for some reason occasionally reverts back to its original ancestor and is atomically hot. We equate eating US grown shishitou to Russian Roulette--you never know when you’ll get a “hot one”.
Shishi Tougrashi: I had about 10 leftover. I removed the stem and made a slit in the middle (To prevent exploding during cooking).
Eggplant: This is a small Zebra eggplant. I removed the stem end, cut in half lengthwise and then made half inch thick half moons.
Pickled Myouga: I posted this previously. I made some variation this time namely not blanching it before pickling (see below).
Broth: I took some short cut here. I used "Shiro dashi" 白だし from the bottle. This is concentrated dashi broth made from kelp and bonito shavings and seasoned with "shiro-zouyu" or colorless soy sauce. It is very strong and only need a little bit. I added 1 tbs of the concentrate into about 1 and half cup of water in a small sauce pan. I tasted it (dashi flavor was OK but needed a bit more saltiness) and added "Usukuchi-shouyu" or light-colored soy sauce (about 1/2 tbs). I needed some subtle sweetness and added about 1 tbs of mirin. I then let it come to a gentle boil and turned off the heat.
Instead of deep frying, I decided to sauté the vegetables. I added 2 tbs a light olive oil (or vegetable oil) into a non-stick frying pan on medium heat. I waited until the oil was almost smoking and added the eggplant. I fried one side until nicely brown (3-4 minutes) and then turned over (I added a bit more oil since eggplant soaks up the oil). After one more minute, I added the shishitou and moved them around for 2-3 more minutes or until the skin of the shishitou started blistering and brown marks developed.
I put the vegetables on the plate lined with a paper towel to remove excess oil. While the vegetables and the broth were both hot I put the vegetables into the broth, put on the llid and let them cool. After it came to the room temperature, I moved it to a sealable plastic container and placed it in the refrigerator for at least several hours or until thoroughly chilled.
The combination of shishitou and eggplant is excellent but if I have to choose I like eggplant better.
Sweet vinegared Myouga or 冥加の甘酢漬け
Although I previously posted about myouga and sweet pickled myouga, this year, I changed my recipe a bit taking my wife's input and re-posting it here. I think this recipe is better in preserving the unique myouga flavor.
As you can see below, despite the risk of being eaten alive by the mosquitos we managed to harvest some myouga. After removing the outer layers, I washed it several times to make sure no dirt remained attached (left upper). I then cut them into half and dried them on paper towels (right upper).
In the past, I blanched the myouga, which is part of the standard recipe, but my wife thought the parboiling reduced the myouga flavor in the final product. So this time, I did not blanch the myouga. I packed them in a sealable plastic container (middle left) and poured in warm sweet vinegar (middle right). As you can seen in the bottom row, the myouga were mostly submerged. After a few days in the refrigerator, more moisture came out and the myouga was totally submerged. We started enjoying the pickled myouga after 4-5 days.
Sweet vinegar marinade: This time I also change the recipe a bit. I added 180ml of rice vinegar, 4 tbs of sugar and 1/2 tsp of salt in a sauce pan (middle right in the picture above) on medium low flame. When the sugar dissolved and come to gentle boil, I cut the flame.
After 3-4 days, this is ready to enjoy. I think without blanching, the myouga remains a bit more crispy and the unique flavor is better preserved.
Thursday, September 19, 2013
The other day, we happened to find frozen hamachi collar in our Japanese grocery store and bought one without hesitation. This was a large one. I just salted it and grilled it over a charcoal fire in the Weber despite the risk of mosquitos.
*”Kama” in Japanese means “sickle” or “sythe” obviously derived from the shape of this particular part of the fish (see the bottom picture).
I served this with the usual grated daikon 大根おろし. Since I did not have pickled young ginger or “hajikami ginger” はじかみ生姜 which is a standard accompaniment for grilled fish in Japan, I put a small mound of “gari” がりpickled ginger.
This was perfectly done. It was a rather meaty, good sized hamachi kama with a good amount of nice succulent meat. It served as a perfect appetizer for two. As usual, my wife skillfully removed the meat and skin for the two of us. We had our usual cold sake “Mu” with this.
Since we generally don’t barbeque over a charcoal fire in the summer once the mosquitoes have emerged, this barbeque was a somewhat rare occasion. But, is there any better way to cook yellow tail kama for peak enjoyment? When it comes to grilled yellow tail kama, the risk of being “eaten alive” by the mosquitoes is worth it. Nonetheless we were also practical and to make good use of the fire we also grilled a butterflied leg of lamb for the entrée.
Monday, September 16, 2013
Friday, September 13, 2013
I thinly sliced the thickest potion as “sashimi” (left in the above picture) and cut the rest into sizable chunks. I skewered them (I prepared two skewers) and grilled them in the toaster oven on broil for about 5 minutes turning once. As you can see some of the edges got slightly charred. Besides soy sauce, I also made “Karashi sumiso” からし酢味噌 from “saikyou miso” 西京味噌.
The sashimi was very tender and excellent. As to "takoyaki”, we are not sure. Grilling made it a bit more chewy and warm but appeared not to add anything more. We prefer just simple “Butsugiri” seasoned with “karashi sumiso” but we need to visit this place called “Akita-ya” 秋田屋 in Hamamatsu-chou 浜松町 in Tokyo and try this before passing on the final opinion.
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
I really like collecting interesting dishes because having that perfect vessel to display and present food adds so much to the overall enjoyment of the eating experience; first feasting through sight then smell and taste. I saw this type of plate somewhere before and wanted to have one for some time. One side is curved and has a square well and the other side is flat with a slightly raised rim. Although I did not make anything special, I decided to serve some small dishes using this newly acquired plate.
On the left is black vinegar/soy sauce simmered chicken thigh and daikon (half each) served with blanched broccoli and a dab of Japanese hot mustard. On the right is small piece of salmon briefly marinated (I used noodle sauce from the bottle) and grilled in the toaster oven. I sprinkled "sansho" powder.
I think this is a neat plate. I have to come up with the combination of small drinking snacks appropriate for this vessel.
Saturday, September 7, 2013
This was second dish I made from the leftover soy beans or edamame (hulled and frozen in a microwavable pouch). I saw the original recipe on line but this is very similar to the American summer favorite succotash except for the use of soy bean instead of Lima beans and soy sauce for seasoning. The combination of butter and soy sauce is almost fail-safe and add the flavor of sweet corn, it is extremely good.
Corn: I got four ears of fresh corn. As per my wife's method, after removing the husks and silk, I placed them on a plate covered loosely with paper towels and microwaved them for 4 minutes, turned them over and microwaved for additional 2 minutes. (Of course you could boil the corn or use frozen.) My wife removed the kernels of the cooked corns for me.
Edamame: I used frozen, hulled soy beans in a microwavable pouch but fresh or frozen soy beans in pods can be also used (even better, I am sure) after cooking and removing the soy beans from the pods. The amount is arbitrary but I could have used more for the amount of corn I had.
I can think of adding other items such as finely diced tomatoes, shallot, Jalapeño pepper, red pepper etc but I made this with just corn and soy beans. I just sautéed the soy bean and corn mixture in large frying pan with butter (1 tbs) until all the vegetables are coated and warm. I then added soy sauce from the edge of the pan (so that soy sauce will be heated up quickly and become fragrant before mixing into the vegetables.) I added soy sauce in several increments as I tasted.
As we were preparing this, both my wife and I were snacking on them and without further seasoning these were good. The corn was very sweet. The addition of butter and soy sauce made it even better. This could be a drinking snack or a side dish. I served this with corn-meal crusted chicken tender loins on the top (which I did not take pictures).
Wednesday, September 4, 2013
The other day, when my wife made chow chow pickles, she used soy beans "edamame" 枝豆 instead of lima beans. Actually she prefers to use young soy beans instead of lima beans when the recipe calls for lima beans. She says that the texture and taste of the soybeans is not a starchy as lima beams. Since we had a leftover pouch of frozen shelled soybeans, I decided to use it up by making two dishes. This is the first one I made. This recipe came from "Otsumami Doujou" おつまみ道場 (in Japanese).
As usual, I did not precisely measure the ingredients but the original recipe (2 servings) calls for;
Edamame: 25grams (boiled, shelled and cooled or in my case, frozen shelled edamame in a microwavable pouch).
Seasonings: White miso (1/2 tbs, I used "saikyou" miso 西京味噌), Cream (1 tsp, I used more), Dashi broth (1 tbs, I used concentrated "white dashi" 白だし from a bottle, about 1 tsp)
I first put all the ingredients in a small food processor and whirred them until they attained a saucy consistency. I did this by adding a bit more cream as needed. The skin of the soybeans did not homogenize completely. So I moved the contents to a Japanese mortal or "suribachi" すり鉢 and tried to make it smoother but it didn’t seem to make a big difference. So the sauce was not as smooth as I had hoped. I tasted it, it had a nice salty nutty flavor from the miso. Since this sauce would be mixed into tofu, I thought the saltiness was just right. You can always "add" more miso or salt to make it saltier to your liking. The ratio of tofu to sauce needed to be taken into account as well. In my case, I was going to serve this with a rather small cube of silken tofu (i.e. more sauce than the original recipe) so I did not add any more miso.
I put this sauce over the cube of cold silken tofu. We mixed well with the tofu before eating but how you eat this is up to you. You could eat it with spoonful of tofu and sauce on the top as well. The cream adds a richness and the miso adds a nutty, slightly sweet and salty flavor. Perfect dish for summer days.
Sunday, September 1, 2013
Aojiso 青じそ or perilla is like mint, it re-seeds itself proliferating out of control. As you can see below, the perilla in our garden is no exception. Please note the way it terraced its growth this year so “everybody” got the maximum of the available sun. The basil (barely visible in the left back corner of the perilla patch) was being choked out. So my wife decided to harvest the tall "trees" of perilla surrounding the basil.
My task was to make something from the large amount of harvested perilla leaves and I decided to make "pesto". Yes I know, it is usually the basil that gets made into pesto but in an effort to rescue the basil the perilla became the prime ingredient….somewhat ironic isn’t it? By-the-way this picture was taken after my wife’s harvest which despite its large yield made hardly a dent in the total crop.
After making the pesto, we first used it on top of buttered potatoes . This was quite good.
I also made pasta with the perilla pesto. Instead of spaghetti, I used thin Japanese Udon noodles. I cooked them as per the instructions on the package. I washed the noodles in cold running water. I warmed them up just before serving by soaking them in boiling water. I then drained them, and mixed in the "Aojiso" perilla pesto and garnished it with a mound of thinly julienned perilla.
Here is how I made the pesto. It is the same recipe I would use to make pesto from basil—I just replaced the basil leaves with perilla.
Perilla leaves and olive oil: My wife removed the leaves from the stems, washed, and dried (first using a salad spinner and then spreading on a dish towel, #3). The picture only shows a small part of the crop and, at the end, we had about 400 grams of perilla leaves (that is a lot!). I put the leaves in several small batches in the food processor. I streamed in enough extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) so that the leaves were all chopped up and a "pesto" consistency was reached (#4). I ended up using close to 750ml of EVOO (the entire bottle I opened).
Pine nuts and garlic: I used closed to 100grams of pine nuts and 6 cloves of garlic (about 30grams, skin removed and root end trimmed). I first dry roasted the pine nuts in a frying pan until the surface was very slightly browned. I placed the pine nuts and the garlic in the food processor and made a paste also adding a small amount of EVOO.
I then combined the ground-up perilla leaves EVOO mixture and the paste of pine nuts together in a large metal bowl (#5).
Parmigiano regianno cheese: I grated a wedge of P-R using a cheese grater (I used about 60grams) and mixed it in (#6). I seasoned it with Kosher salt in multiple increments as I tasted it (you can always add more later but you cannot take it back).
Using it as a topping for hot boiled potatoes (the second picture) was very good especially with the addition of butter and a bit more salt. The pasta of Japanese Udon (the third picture) was also excellent. We needed to add a bit more salt to the pesto for this dish, but addition of fresh perilla leaves as garnish made it clear that this was perilla pesto. The taste was as good as basil pesto.
We ended up with a large amount of the perilla pesto. I put a portion of the pesto in Ziploc sandwich bags, flattened them by removing as much air as possible. I then placed these in a larger Ziploc bag in layers and put it in the freezer. We had at lease 10-12 sandwich bags. Hopefully we will take it out during the winter to remember the summer bounty of our perilla…but we still have a lot of perilla left in the garden. We’ll be making pesto to last a decade.