Sunday, June 29, 2014

Fiddlehead fern in sesame dressing こごみの胡麻和え

Fiddlehead fern is the young furled tip of the Ostrich fern (or it could be some other fern species) harvested in North America (probably in Maine or New England states). I have posted  another dish of fiddlehead fern in the past. In that post, I said this was similar to "zenmai" ゼンマイ in Japan but Jon mentioned "Kogomi"こごみ in his comment. I learned this time that fiddlehead fern (Ostrich fern or "Kusasotetsu" 草ソテツ)  is indeed called "Kogomi*" in Japanese. Although some varieties of ferns being eaten in Japan such as "zenmai" and "warabi" 蕨 do have small amount of carcinogens, sliminess and astringent flavors which require a special preparation, I learned that fiddlehead fern or "kogomi" does not have any significant toxins and could be eaten without special preparations. I did see fiddlehead fern previously in the spring and early summer  in the near-by gourmet grocery store. This is the first time I saw pre-packaged fiddleheads (see below) and could not resist getting a package.

*Kogomi" こごみ is so named since the fiddlehead fern looks like somebody is bending forward ("kogomu" こごむ or "kagamu" かがむ).



On the package, it said "tastes like asparagus and young spinach". Fiddlehead fern must be getting popular since it is being sold this way. Most of the Western recipes are for stir fry and salads. I decided to make "goma-ae" 胡麻和え or with sesame dressing.



This was quite good but the sesame dressing appears to overwhelm the subtle taste of fiddlehead fern.



This time I just simply cooked it since I did not have to worry about "toxins". I washed and removed the discolored ends with a paring knife and boiled it for 5 minutes in salted boiling water and then shocked it in ice cold water.  I then soaked it in water (I used filtered water) in a sealable container and kept it in the refrigerator (see below).



Sesame  dressing: I first dry roasted white sesame seeds (1 tbs) on a frying pan until fragrant (2-3 minutes) and coarsely ground it in a Japanese suribachi すり鉢 mortar (leave a little whole for a garnish). I then added white sesame paste or "shiro-neri-goma" 白練り胡麻 (1 tbs). I seasoned with sugar (1/2 tsp), rice vinegar (optional, 1/2 tsp) and soy sauce (about 1 tbs, but I added incrementally until the taste and consistency. You could add water if the seasoning is OK but the consistency is too thick).

I just removed the fiddlehead fern from the water, dried on a paper towel and dressed. I garnished it with more white roasted sesame.

This is such a seasonal vegetable and it was nice to have this. As I mentioned, my sesame dressing was a bit too assertive. I should have omitted the vinegar.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

English Izakaya cookbook updates 英語の居酒屋料理の本アップデート


It was sometime ago that I posted an Izakaya cookbooks page for this blog. At that time the only Izakaya cookbook written in English was Mark Robinson’s “The Japanese pub cookbook”. That book was my inspiration to re-start this blog to share our love of Izakaya. During subsequent years, other Izakaya cookbooks and cookbooks which feature some Izakaya-style dishes written in English have emerged. Apparently, Izakaya and Izakaya food have become a bit more popular among English speakers. Also, many Izakaya-style places have appeared especially in New York and San Francisco.


In any case, there are several more Izakaya cookbooks written in English and I finally updated the Izakaya cookbook page of this blog. I divided the pages into “English” and “Japanese” Izakaya cookbooks. Hope this will be of some help to individuals interested in Izakaya cookbooks in English.

jpn cookbooks

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Sea Urchin and watercress in butter ウニクレソン

We had a variation of this dish at Yuzuki in San Francisco and also learned that the original dish was supposedly invented by a small “Teppanyaki” 鉄板焼き place in Hiroshima 広島  called “Naka-chan” 中ちゃん. I decided to try this dish since I got  “Premium” uni from Catalina for the weekend: they did not have “Gold” uni (it is getting nearly impossible to get gold uni).  The “premium” uni could be OK but this batch was very soft and disintegrating when we received it. The first day, I selected the most well-shaped ones for sashimi which tasted OK but the remaining uni did not fare that well. I thought about  making pasta with uni sauce.  I then remembered this dish and decided to make it. Initially, I was going to make the one similar to we had at Yuzuki but, after looking at the original dish, which is served with baguette and I happened to have baked baguette in the morning, I made this dish as it is served at Naka-chan (we have never gone there or had the dish in this variation but I based this dish on the description and pictures).



As you can see, we initially served only two thin slices (toasted) baguette rounds so that we would not fill up on this opening dish of the evening.



But we needed more baguette to mop up the wonderful sauce.



Since there is no "recipe", I just “winged it”. In the picture, the original dish appears to use whole water cress with thick stalks attached but I removed thick stalks (the amount is arbitrary, I could have used more watercress). I added about 1tbs of unsalted butter in a frying pan on medium heat. When butter bubbled and started browning, I added the watercress and sautéed until it wilted. Then I added a whole tray of premium uni (120grams) (Picture above). I added about 1 tsp of soy sauce and a squeeze of lemon juice and cut the fire.

This was sublime! It tasted wonderful on top of toasted baguette. We actually had to go get some more baguette because we were not going to leave a single drop of the wonderful sauce behind. The only alteration I would make is to cut up the watercress—the whole watercress became rather stringy. Next time, I may use the thicker stalks but I will chop up the water cress into much smaller pieces. We had this with cold sake but it may also go well with sparkling wine or a crisp acidic white.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Sous vide salmon poached in olive oil サーモンのオリーブオイル スービィ

This is our continuing exploration of sous vide cooking. We love salmon which I usually brown in a frying pan and finish in the oven. (I usually cook the skin separately to make it very crispy). But when I saw this  olive oil poached sous vide salmon recipe, I had to try it.



The above is the final product. I prepared and vacuum sealed the salmon over the weekend and cooked this on Monday after coming back from work. For fish, sous vide cooking does not take that long and having vacuum sealed packages ready makes it very easy even when you do not have much time.



The salmon is fully cooked but very moist. This was cooked at 135F for 30 minutes.

I looked at several recipes and decided to take the best of two recipes to come up with this cooking method. Unless you have a chamber type vacuum sealer, it is difficult or nearly impossible to vacuum seal items that include liquid. So, if you want to "oil poach", either you have to use "water-replacing-air- method" or make the olive oil "solid" before vacuum sealing. I used the latter method by freezing the olive oil.

Olive oil: I first added 1/2 cup of light olive oil to the vacuum pouch and placed it (vertically) in the freezer. After a few hours, the olive oil was totally solid.

Salmon: One pound of salmon fillet, skin removed (I also removed the fatty belly portion for another dish.) I made two equal sized fillets and seasoned with salt and pepper, lemon zest (micro-grated) and chopped fresh dill (from our herb garden). I took out the vacuum pouch with solidified olive oil in the bottom and placed sprigs of fresh dill and the seasoned salmon inside with the frozen olive oil. I vacuum sealed (While it was being sealed one of the fillets rotated as you can see in the picture below.)  I placed the package in the refrigerator.

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Sous Vide: The temperature of sous vide was the next decision  I had to make. One recipe called for 109F but, at this temperature no pasteurization would occur (It would be the equivalent of eating raw salmon or sashimi). Another recipe called for 116F for rare, 126F for medium rare and 140F for medium. I decided on 135F which is above the pasteurization temperature. I cooked it in my sous vide for 30 minutes (see below).



Both fillets were nicely contained within the olive oil accomplishing oil poaching. I took them out, blotted the moisture and excess oil from the surface and browned in a frying pan with butter on a medium flame, 30 seconds on each sides. The salmon was very soft and difficult to flip over.

We really liked the end result. The meat was opaque and fully cooked but very tender, moist and flavorful. It encapsulated all the goodness of the salmon and the lemon zest gave a nice lemony flavor. We really like the fact that I can prepared the pouch ahead of time and it is a cinch to just plunge it in the sous vide. I suppose I can prepare these vacuum sealed packages and freeze them. It may take only 5 additional minutes to thaw in the sous vide.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Chicken skin crackling and “jako” cucumber 鶏皮のクラックリングと胡瓜の酢の物雑魚乗せ

This was what I served one weekday evening; chicken skin crackling カリカリ雛皮, cucumber, daikon and carrot asazuke with shio konbu 塩昆布入り胡瓜の浅漬け,  cucumber in vinegar dressing with crispy jako 胡瓜の酢の物カリカリ雑魚乗せ.  I previously posted all items or similar ones. These are perfect appetizers for sake and also take care of the suggested “daily requirement” of eating a serving of  vegetables, (although the chicken skin crackling may nullify the benefit of the fresh vegetables).



We like any crispy skin especially salmon or chicken skin (although we have to admit we are not “into” pork rinds). When I prepared 4 chickens thighs for my wife's chicken curry, I removed the skin and boiled it in salted water spiked with a dash of sake. This boiling serves multiple purposes, it renders some of the fat, reduces the gamey chicken flavor of the skin and kills any potential bacteria on the surface so the skin lasts longer before cooking. After 5-10 minutes of boiling, I washed them in cold running water, put them in a Ziploc bag and kept them in the meat compartment of the refrigerator. This preparation makes it relatively easy to prepare chicken skin crackling even on weekdays. I just place the skin on a non-stick frying pan without oil on medium low heat. I then nest an identical frying pan with the bottom covered in aluminum foil on top of the chicken skins (for flattening the skin as well as preventing splattering). Toward the end of cooking I sprinkled on some salt.



Since I had some previously frozen "jako" already thawed in the refrigerator, I also decided to use it. I cooked a small handful in a small amount of vegetable oil for several minutes until the jako became crispy. I then drained them on a paper towel. I thinly sliced some cucumber (American mini-cucu) salted it, wrung out the excess moisture and dressed it in sushi vinegar. The fried jako provided a nice little addition of crunchiness.


The only addition for this asazuke from the previous versions I posted is the inclusion of salted kelp or Shio konbu.

This was a good starter for sake. (I burned the edge of the crackling a bit but it was still ok—I guess it would take more than a light singeing to lessen the delightful combination of fat and crunch of both the jako and chicken skin in this dish).

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Onsen egg with “Mozuku” in sweet vinegar 温泉卵とモズクの甘酢

This is a variation on the theme of “Onsen” egg 温泉卵. I put this dish together in a hurry on a weekday evening after work. I thawed a package of frozen “mozuku” もずく in sweet vinegar on the previous weekend but we did not eat it (we had other items and could not get to it). Since I also had a pair of "Onsen" eggs that  I had made using my Sous Vide machine, I decided to combine them into a starter dish.



I divided the mozuku into two bowls, cracked open and dropped an onsen egg into each bowl, garnished it with thinly sliced scallion, "real" wasabi and a drizzle of  "noodle" sauce or mentsuyu 麺つゆ from the bottle. That's it.



The egg yolk was nicely creamy and this combination worked very well. For this dish, we had to have cold sake.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Sous vide pork loin 豚ヒレ肉のスービィ

We like pork tenderloin and cook it regularly. Our most common way of cooking is to bake it slowly in a 350F oven (often the toaster oven in convection mode) for about 30 minutes or longer to an internal temperature of 140F. (The recommended USDA temperature has been modified and is now 140F). I often use a dry rub of cumin, smoked paprika, cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper and salt with minor variations. This low temperature baking appears to make it moist and tender. Since we got a sous vide machine, I wanted to cook pork tenderloin in sous vide.

After  sous vide cooking at 140F (60F) for 3 hours (135 to140F for 2-3 hours according to the recipe I read). We need to consider food safety but at 135F-140F (maintained for some time) pathogenic bacteria such as salmonella should not be a problem. Cysticercus* also should not be a problem. After taking it out of the vacuum pouch, I grilled it briefly on a hot charcoal fire. I did this just because it was such a nice day, the mosquitoes are not out yet and we decided to grill using the Yakitori grill. Otherwise, I could have just briefly seared the surface using a frying pan.

* Cysticercus can be effectively eliminated by freezing. At -20C (-4F), the usual temperature of a household freezer, pork will be safe from cysticercus after one week, reportedly. (Madeleine Kamman used to say "not 20 days but after 21 days").  For heating, at 135F-140F (57-60C) maintained for 30 minutes or more, cysticercus should be also all deactivated (Reportedly 45-50C for 15-20 minutes is sufficient)

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Since we had other food, we just tasted two slices each. It was quite moist and tender but the big question was "Is it better than our usual slow-baking method?" I am not sure. I may have to try it at 135F to see if that makes a significant difference.

After I generously rubbed the tenderloin with my dry rub ( cumin, smoked paprika, cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper and salt), I vacuum packed with thin pats of unsalted butter as you can see below.

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I placed this in my sous vide machine at 140F and cooked it for 3 hours. After I removed it from the pouch, I seared/grilled it over hot charcoal fire. I poured au jus (with melted butter) over the slices.

This is certainly not bad but the time and effort it takes, we are not sure if this is worth it. We may stick to our low temperature oven method.
P.S We used this pork for sandwiches several days after we cooked it. My wife commented that she detected a slightly “off” flavor to the meat and didn’t want to finish the sandwich. I got out the plastic bag in which I stored the meat and asked her to give it a “sniff test”…my wife has an extremely keen sense of smell. She recoiled from the package and said the smell was terrible; almost like ammonia. I have to say it didn’t necessarily smell bad to me, but I have learned that she can detect smells long before I can. In general it was not a good endorsement. That was the end of that tenderloin. While the tenderloin was quite all right immediately after coming out of the sous vide, it appears that it may not last as long as when we use our usual slow cook method. With that method the meat is good for up to a week. I guess the vote is in; we won’t be using sous vide for pork tenderloin again. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Sous vide chicken breast 鶏胸肉のスービィ

Chicken breast is popular especially since it is reported to be healthier for you than red meat. One problem with chicken breast meat is that it is very easy to over cook and become dried out. In addition it is not easy to cook chicken breast evenly without under or overcooking. We particularly like the ones from barbecued whole chicken in Weber grill and chicken paillard, since the breast meat is mostly moist and succulent.  But after reading about how sous vide chicken breast is moist with juices running down etc,  I wanted to try sous vide chicken breast. The below is chicken breast cooked in sous vide at 140F for 3 hours and then skin seared/browned. It is indeed moist and nice. I served it with white and green asparagus with kimisu sauce left over from our sake tasting. I also made a quick pan sauce.


The current USDA guide line for cooking chicken is 165F but if you maintain the temperature for a specified longer duration, you can safely cook chicken at much lower temperatures. The amount of fat in the meat is also another factor (meat with more fat requires more time or a higher temperature). This chart indicates that for chicken breast, at 165F-160F, salmonella is killed almost instantly (i.e. as soon as the meat reaches this temperature, it is safe to eat) and at 140F you have to maintain the temperature for more than 30 minutes but less than 40 minutes. So if you use sous vide and maintain the given temperature for the specified duration, you should be able to cook chicken (or other meats) safely at lower temperatures than indicated by the USDA guide line. (Again try at your own risk).

I prepared bone-in skin-on split chicken breasts by removing the bone and tenderloins (for other use), trimmed the excess skin and fat but left most of the skin covering the breast meat intact. After I blotted away any excess moisture using a paper towel, I generously seasoned with salt (I used Hawaiian red salt since I had it) and freshly cracked black pepper. I then vacuum sealed it (left) using my edge-type "Food Saver" vacuum sealer.

It sealed with a good vacuum. I preheated my Anova sous vide machine  at 140F which took only few minutes since I started with the hottest water out of our tap. I placed two vacuum sealed chicken breasts into the heated water and let it cook for 3 hours (as per the recipe, at least for 2 hours). I am estimating that the internal temperature of the center of the thickest part of the chicken would be at 140F after 30 minutes (or at the most, 1 hour. Actual "cooking" or coagulation/denaturing of proteins must take more time to occur at this temperature).

When the chicken breast came out, the meat was opaque and only a small amount of juice was seen in the pouch (left upper in the picture below).


Sosu vide chicken composit
I removed the chicken from the pouch. After blotting any moisture from the surface (upper right), I seared the skin side on high heat with a small amount of vegetable oil (lower left). After 1 minute, I flipped the pieces showing nice brown color (lower right) and set it aside on a plate. I then poured the juice accumulated in the pouches in the same frying pan and briefly reduced (since the pan was hot this took only 20-30 seconds). I finished the sauce with a few thin pats of cold non-salted butter. Since some salt and pepper came off the chicken into the sauce and the chicken was well seasoned, I did not add any more seasoning.


The cut surface was just very slightly pink and very moist (actually not as pink as shown in the picture). Again, we had other dishes and we just tasted a few slices with the pan juice I made. The result was better than my sakamushi 酒蒸し or sake-steamed chicken breast (especially when I use the  microwave to make it, In the microwave the chicken breast sometimes comes out stringy with over cooked areas). I was impressed by how quickly the skin browned. It must be because it had already cooked and was warm and I blotted any moisture before searing (evaporation of liquid cools the surface and make searing/browning slower). Although, this time, this was a test run of sous vide chicken breast, with this success, I will try this as a more complete chicken dish.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Grilled sweet pepper stuffed with pork ペッパーのにら豚肉詰め

This is a variation of something I posted before, pork stuffed sweet pepper. Last time, my wife did not like the skin of the pepper—she thought it was too tough. Since I had access to the charcoal fire in our Yakitori grill one weekend, I decided grill the pepper and remove the skin for this dish. I also modified the stuffing especially because spring has arrived and garlic chives are growing in our herb garden.



We added a combination of smoked cheddar and gruyere cheese on the top.



This time, without skin on the pepper and nice flavor of garlic chives, this dish was better received.



Sweet pepper: I used an entire package of small sweet peppers (9 or 10). I grilled them on a hot charcoal fire until the surface blackened. Then I placed them in a Ziplock bag. I let them steam and cool. After the peppers were cooled, I removed the skin (which was relatively easy). I made a single slit along the length and removed the seeds (like two in the front, picture above).

Stuffing: The ground pork was from the trimmings of a pork tenderloin which I hand-chopped. The amount is all arbitrary since I did not measure any of the ingredients. I sautéed finely chopped onion, shiitale mushrooms, ginger, garlic and garlic chives in vegetable oil for a few minutes seasoned with salt and pepper. After the cooked ingredients cooled to room temperature, I mixed them into the ground pork. I added a small amount of sesame oil, soy sauce and hand mixed it. I stuffed each pepper with the meat filling.

Baking: I first baked it without cheese at 350F for 20 minutes. I then added cheese slices on top (smoked cheddar and gruyere) and baked 2-3 minutes or until the cheese melted (the first picture).

This time, my wife liked it  better since there was no tough skin on the pepper. The addition of  fresh garlic chives added a lot to the flavor. We will be eating the left over as a snack a for few more days. Perfect starter.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Shouchikubai Daiginjou Sake from California grown Yamdanishi 松竹梅大吟醸,米国産山田錦

Last time I posted G-sake and G-sake Fifty from SakeOne, Gordon kindly let me know that Takara Sake Co. 宝酒造 in Berkley were finally growing Yamada-nishiki 山田錦  in the Sacramento valley and were producing Junmai Daiginjo 純米大吟醸 . After some effort we finally got a few bottles directly from Takara. After I received my shipment, they restricted purchases to one bottle per order and then finally indicated they were out of stock. So, I guess, I was lucky.

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The label reads, "Sho Chiku Bai*" Junmai Daiginjo 松竹梅純米大吟醸 brewed exclusively from California-grown Yamada-nishi 米国産山田錦全量 (polished to 45%). It is "unfiltered" Genshu 無濾過原酒 (i.e., undiluted with alcohol content of 16%) and is limited release 限定品. It had handwritten numbers and batch code(?) on the label.

*"Sho Chiku Bai" means Pine-Bamboo-Plum.This combination is considered a very auspicious in Japanese culture.

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It happened that I received the sake just before a long holiday weekend and marked by some exquisitely pleasant sunny days. Consequently we had this tasting outside. As usual, we needed "otoshi" drinking snacks to enjoy this sake. I prepared a trio. From left to right; green asparagus (blanched) and chicken breast (barbecued in Weber, hand shredded) with "kimisu" 黄身酢 (egg yolk vinegar dressing), sashimi squid (frozen package) dressed with soy sauce, real wasabi and tobiko roe, and finally white asparagus with cream sauce (cream and reduced asparagus cooking liquid and butter).

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This time, the  "kimisu" I made is a bit thicker and richer than before.

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For frozen, the squid was not too bad and tobiko roe added an interesting texture.

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The white asparagus requires a bit more preparation and cooking but the end result is sublime. The sauce really makes it…we didn’t leave any behind.
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Now we were ready for sake tasting. We served this sake chilled. The color was clear. The sake had some floral aroma (Daiginjo smell), was nice and subtle with no distracting yeastiness. The palate was very clean with some subtle melon/apple and a hint of "umami" savory taste finishing with a slight sweet note.  It had a classic Yamada-nishiki daiginjo taste; clear and elegant. This one, I sensed, had a slightly bit more savory component than other daiginjo brewed from Yamada-nishiki such as our house sake "Mu" 無from Yaegaki 八重垣.

Albeit that this sake represented a very different price point, compared to recent batches of G-sake and G-sake fifty, this Sho Chiku Bai has a definitely more authentic daiginjo flavor profile and we like it much better. It is so smooth and easy to drink. Although we do not know what kind of California rice G-Sake is brewed from, I surmise that the sake rice they may be using must have more protein content since it has a strong savory taste. Yamada-nishiki, on the other hand, is known for its low protein content, thus, producing a cleaner and crisper taste in the resulting sake especially in the Daiginjo class. We also remembered that we tasted another daiginjo "Sho chiku bai" imported from Japan sometime ago and we were not as impressed with that as we are with the current sake. Compared to that daiginjo from Japan (which was more expensive), the all-American-daiginjo "Sho Chiku Bai" (may be except for the sake yeast) is indeed superior (and cheaper by $20).

All three otoshi appetizers went extremely well with this genuine American Daiginjo sake.  Hope we can “snag” several more bottles from next year's batch when they are released…BTW the line forms to the rear.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Indian-style Chicken curry with cream

This is another one of my wife's Indian-style curry. This is chicken curry with tomato and cream. I really like this one. We like to make this on the weekend and then quickly heat it up after coming home from a hectic day at work. Its nice to have such a hearty and flavorful dish waiting for us.


We needed something green for the photo.



Ingredients:
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 Tsp cumin seeds
3 bay leaves
3 Tbs fresh ginger diced
3 garlic cloves diced
2 onions diced
1 tbs ground coriander
1 tbs ground cumin
1 large can  plum tomatoes (reserve the juice)
4 chicken thighs deboned, skinned and cut into large cubes
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
3/4 tsp salt
light cream (to taste).

Take the first 5 ingredients and let them “bloom” in several tbs of hot oil (I use peanut oil). When they become fragrant add the chopped onions and sauté until they become translucent. Add the garlic and ginger continue sautéing careful not to burn the garlic. Once they have “bloomed” add the coriander, cumin, pepper and salt and allow them to “bloom”. Add the tomatoes and cook for a few moments. Then add the reserved tomato juice from the can. Finally add the chicken. Make sure all the pieces are submerged in the sauce. Simmer gently until the chicken is tender (about 30 to 45 minutes). Just before serving add light cream to taste stirring it into the sauce.

This is one of our favorite curries. It uses almost all the spices on the shelf but the resulting layers of flavor make it worth while. The cream really evens everything out adding a mellowness. The chicken meat picks up all the flavors and is very tender—one of the best ways to cook chicken thighs which can be pretty chewy. We eat this with white rice.