Monday, January 30, 2017

Spicy Japanese sweet potato and burdock root さつまいもとごぼうの甘辛炒め

Since there were extra Japanese yams left over after we made yaki-imo 焼き芋, I decided to make something different with them. There is a classic candied Japanese yam called "Daigaku-imo" 大学芋 which is deep fried yam coated with a layer of candy (or melted sugar). I decided that is not something I would like to cook or eat. So, instead, I decided to make this dish which I saw the recipe on line, especially since I also had half a burdock root left over. I substantially changed the way this was cooked. I thought it would be difficult to cook the vegetable through just sautéing it as suggested in the on-line recipe.

I garnished it with white sesame. The spicy and sweet sauce clings to the surface.

One Japanese "satsuma-imo" Japanese yam (#1), washed skin left on, cut into irregular bite sized pieces.
Half a gobo burdock root, skin scraped off and cut into bite sized pieces (cut on the bias as I turned it 45 degrees. This method is called "Ran-giri" 乱切り.
Garlic and ginger, skin removed and finely chopped, the amount is to your liking.
Potato starch for dredging the vegetables.
Oil for deep frying.

For the sauce:
1 tbs Sriracha (or more if you like spicy)
1 tbs soy sauce
1 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp sake

1. Soak the gobo in water with a splash of vinegar for 20-30 minutes, drain and wash.
2. Cook the gobo in water for 20 minutes. Drain and pat dry.
3. Soak the yam in water for 20-30 minutes and pad dry.
4. Dredge the gobo and yam in potato starch and deep fry for 5-8 minutes until the yam is cooked (#3),
5. Add 2 tbs of water to the pan and then add the sauce mixture.
6. Keep tossing the vegetables until, a thick sauce develops and coats the vegetables (#4).

The original recipe said to sauté all the vegetables dredged in potato starch. Gobo is rather hard, however, so I didn't think it would get cooked through if I just sauteed it, so I decided to precook it in water. In addition, instead of sautéing the vegetables in a small amount of oil, I deep fried them. I did not think just sautéing would work well especially if the vegetables are coated in potato starch, I also thought the yam would not cook easily that way. By deep frying, the potato starch made a nice crust (We enjoyed snacking on the deep dried yam which was very good as is.)  I added the sauce mixture and the crust added to the nice clinging sauce.

When we tasted it immediately after it was cooked and still hot (temperature wise), it was spicy but once cooled down it became much milder. This dish has a very good texture contrast between the yam and gobo. The salty, sweet and spicy combination of flavors really worked well. Although we had this as a drinking snack, this is perfect starch side dish.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Japanese yam (Yaki imo) 焼き芋

While we were in the near-by gourmet grocery store, my wife spotted "Japanese yam" from California. It is called satsuma-imo 薩摩芋 in Japan. The name "Satsuma" came from the old local jurisdiction which is now a part of Kagoshima prefecture 鹿児島県 where this type of yam was widely grown.  Satsuma-imo, which supposedly originated from South America, is not endogenous to Japan and is said to have come to Southern Japan in 17th century from the Philippines via China. Compared to the more popular yam we usually get, Satsuma-imo has a redder skin and white/yellow flesh.

Satsuma-imo is associated with a fond nostalgic memory for my wife. Many years ago, we went to Sapporo 札幌 in the winter. It was very cold as most winters are in Sapporo and there was deep snow on the ground. We were visiting one of my colleagues, who was considerably older than we were. We were all sitting around the gas space heater which was the characteristic source of heat in Hokkaido houses at that time when my colleague's wife hopped up and said she had the perfect snack for us. She produced two large Satsuma-imo and wrapped them in aluminium foil. Then she popped them into a contraption on the heating stove (although details how she cooked the potato are foggy). She explained that this (yaki-imo 焼き芋 or grilled yam) was a favorite snack for young girls of her generation. According to her, they cooked them in the coals of the heat stove and ate them after school on cold days. We sat together in companionable conversation while they cooked and the air became filled with the sweet smell of potato. After some time she fished them out of the heat and opened the foil. She broke open the red skins. The white/yellow flesh was soft and exuded sweet smelling clouds of steam. We all fell on them; devouring the hot pieces we broke off with our fingers laughing as we popped them in our mouths puffing out breath to keep them from scalding our tongues. She was 100 percent correct they were the perfect snack for that day, weather and company. That was the first time my wife ever tasted yaki-imo so now whenever my wife sees or tastes a yaki-imo, she remembers that experience with nostalgia.

Since we never really compared how Japanese and regular yam taste, we cooked them identically and had a "yam tasting". Both yams were wrapped in aluminium foil and placed in our Weber grill  next to the chicken we were cooking using indirect heat. The temperature was kept around 360F (I monitor both the grill temperature and the food temperature). In about the last 20 minutes, it went up to 380F. In the picture below (the second picture), the one on the left (red skin) is the Japanese yam and the one on the right is the regular yam both after cooking.

As you can see the Japanese yam has yellow flesh and the regular yam has red/orange flesh.

Upon tasting, the Japanese yam has a nice slightly firmer texture (or "hokkori" ほっこり in Japanese parlance) and it is sweeter than the regular yam. Both my wife and I ate at least half of the Japanese yam before she had time to make mashed yam with butter and soy sauce as a side for our chicken dinner.

The regular yam is a bit softer and wetter and not as sweet as compared to the Japanese yam.

My memory of  Yaki-imo is that, on cold winter days in Sapporo, we often saw a man (usually fairly old) drawing a cart down the street selling grilled yams. In the cart, the yams were cooked over charcoal in a large earthen pot lined with small round stones. Thus, this type of yaki-imo  is called  "Ishiyaki-imo" 石焼き芋 or "ishi" means "stone"  i.e. "stone grilled" yam.  I remember the vendor simply calling "Ishiyaaaaaa-ki imooooo" as he pulled his cart along. In addition, I do remember the cart also had a steam powered whistle which made a continuous shrill whistling noise.  Apparently, now ishiyaki-imo is being sold on the street in a similar manner but, the hand-drawn cart has been replaced by a truck. Jon has posted a video of this. Ishiyaki-imo is, of course, cherished in Japan by women of all ages.  I found a comprehensive comparative study using different cooking techniques by a group of young women. I also found that special Yaki-imo aluminum foil is being sold in Japan, which absorbs heat efficiently shortening cooking time and enhancing the  flavors of yaki-imo.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Kabocha dressed in garlic sauce with bacon かぼちゃのガーリックマリネ

When my wife spotted Japanese yams in the gourmet grocery store, she also found Japanese pumpkin (or squash) or kabocha かぼちゃ. We usually get kabocha at our Japanese grocery store but have not seen it in the regular grocery stores for some time. I made my usual simmered dish which we love from half the kabocha. For the other half, I decided to make a new dish. I described several dishes I found on Japanese websites to my wife. When she heard "bacon" as one of the ingredients, she asked 'what's the question that's the one'. I followed the recipe except for some minor changes in the dressing.

Bacon and garlic are a fail safe combination.

Besides lemon juice which was called for in the recipe, I added lemon zest (using a micro-grater) which added a nice citris flavor and acidity.

Japanese "kabocha" pumpkin (#1). I used half for this dish, The seeds cleaned out, cut into half inch thick and 1-2 inch long pieces. I sliced off most of the skin using a heavy chef's knife.
Bacon, two nice smoky and rather thickly cut strips.

For dressing: 1 tbs olive oil, 1 clove garlic, minced or pressed, 1 tsp lemon juice and zest, salt and pepper to taste.

1. I microwaved the kabocha in a silicon container. I checked it several times until soft or cooked through (it took a total of 5 minutes) (#2).
2. Meanwhile, I fried the bacon until crispy and rendered the bacon drippings (#3). I left the bacon drippings in the pan and set aside the bacon strips on a paper towel lined plate.
3. I browned the kabocha pieces on both sides (#4).
4. I transferred the kabocha to a bowl and added the dressing and gently mixed (#5 and 6). I tasted it and added more lemon juice.

This was quite good. The bacon added nice porky and smoky flavors. The garlic with acidic lemon flavors combined with the sweetness of the kaboch are good match. We will definitely add this to our regular kabocha dishes.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Lobster omelet ロブスターのだし巻き

This year, we had lobsters from Maine for Thanksgiving. They arrived live in a Styrofoam box. We prepared the lobsters early in the day so that at Thanksgiving dinner, we would not have to struggle extracting the meat from the shell. We decided to steam the claws and bodies and then butter poach the tails in sous vide. I cut the head/body portion in half with a heavy chef's knife sending the lobsters off quickly. I then removed the claws. I steamed the claws (for 12 to 14 minutes) and the halved body sections (7 to 8 minutes) in a Dutch oven with a steamer basket. I also steamed the tails briefly (3-4 minutes) and then removed the tail meat. I discovered that it was almost impossible to remove the tail meat from the shell if I did not either quickly boil or steam them. I found that the meat would not come off from the shell cleanly and a lot of it otherwise got left behind. My wife and I then worked together to remove all the claw meat, even from the legs (my wife did this using a small wooden roller). I kept the body sections in the refrigerator until dinner (two had roe or corals). I stuffed the sections with crab meat in Bechamel sauce and baked/grilled them (a modification of what I posted before).  I also made lobster bisque from the shells of the lobsters as usual. 

We did not take any pictures at Thanksgiving dinner.  We had champagne (H. Blin Champagne Brut NV, which was just OK).  We served cucumber and the lobster meat (mostly claws)  dressed in a Japanese "Kimisu" 黄身酢. Then, we had the lobster bodies stuffed with the crab meat and Bechamel sauce.  Finally, we had the sous vide butter poached lobster tails with sautéed asparagus. This time I used a lower temperatures (55C) for the sous vide. The lobster came out better than when it was cooked at  60C.

Since we had a good amount of left over lobster claw meat, at my wife's suggestion, the next day, I made this crab stuffed Japanese omelet.

Instead of using the regular Japanese broth, I used my lobster bisque to season the eggs (I used three eggs and 3 tbs of lobster bisque). I also made an emulsified butter sauce of reduced lobster bisque, soy sauce, finished with pats of cold butter. We had this omelet for lunch the next day. Since we were still within the Thanksgiving holiday, we had a glass of chardonnay (Foley 2012).

Ingredients (for one omelet):
3 eggs
Lobster meat, Whatever amount you can roll in (#2)
Lobster bisque (#1).

Like "U-maki" or other stuffed Japanese omelets, I used a rectangular Japanese omelet pan. I poured the egg mixture in thin layers and lined-up the lobster meat about half inch below the top (farther end). When the egg mixture was almost set, I started rolling the omelet. I repeated the process of pouring the egg mixture (to make sure it flowed under the omelet) and rolling until all the egg mixture was used (#3).  When you cut it you can see the lobster meat (#4).

We knew lobster and eggs go well. Since I flavored the eggs with lobster bisque and made a sauce with reduced lobster bisque and butter, everything tied together with a wonderful lobster flavor. This was a good use of leftover lobster and much better than having leftover turkey. It was also a good way to enjoy the afternoon rather than try to go out a fight "black Friday" traffic.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

New Year "Osechi" dishes お節料理レセピ

Every year before New Year comes, I have to look through my recipes for the New Year's Osechi dishes that I usually make. For my own convenience, I decided to place my New Year's recipes in one place for easy reference. This is also posted in "Norio's New Year Dishes" tab in the heading.

Herring roe in two ways 数の子 #1 (dashi and soy sauce marinated)
I usually get salted herring roe and prepare it. Store-bought prepared herring tends to be too sweet for me.

Removing excess salt "Shionumi" 塩抜き
First, I have to remove the excess salt from the kazunoko (called “shionuki” 塩抜き) by soaking it in water or weak salted water (I taste the salted water; just a nice salty taste you can drink if you wanted to). Although you could start with water and then finish “shionuki” with salted water. I prefer to use salted water from the beginning and change it several times in 3-4 hour periods. The reason is that if you remove the salt completely, the  kazunoko will taste “bitter” (all the sodium chloride gets leached out leaving magnesium chloride behind which is bitter). So, I try to leave some saltiness behind. Using salted water prevents the complete removal of the salt even if I forget and soak it too long. While soaking, I removed the thin white membrane which covers the roe by rubbing the surface with my finger tips under water. After “shionuki” and removing the membrane, the herring roe is ready. I tasted a small piece from the edge to make sure it is not too salty. I sometimes thinly slice this and serve it like sashimi with wasabi and soy sauce but I usually marinate it.

Marinade つけ汁
For the marinade, I make dashi broth from a kelp and bonito flakes. I season with light colored soy sauce (to preserve the golden color), sake and mirin. The amount of sake (or mirin if you like it sweet) and soy sauce are up to your taste but I tend to make a strong dashi packed with “umami” and go light on soy sauce. I gently boiled the mixture for few minutes to make sure the alcohol has all evaporated and tastes amalgamated. I let it cool to the room temperature and then refrigerate. I marinated the prepared herring roe for, at least several hours or over night in the refrigerator (The right lower image shows the roe after marinading). This should be eat eaten in a few days.

I sliced it into small bite sized pieces and then mixed them with dried bonito flakes or kezuribushi 削り節 and served. It has a very interesting crunch and is an excellent drinking companion for cold sake. After eating it, my wife asked, “Why does it suddenly feel like New Year?”

Herring roe in two ways 数の子 #2 (miso and sake lee marinated)
One of the problems with more traditionally prepared herring roe (above) is that it does not last too long (may be 10 days in the refrigerator). Sometimes, we have to push ourselves to finish all the herring roe that I prepared. So, for 2017 New Year, I decided to make miso marinated herring roe as well.  I looked up the recipes and decided on the recipe using a mixture of miso and sake lee. I was particularly interested in this recipe since it said the herring roe would be best consumed between 10 days and 1 month.

Sake lee, 300 grams, cut into small cubes
Miso, 300 grams
Sake 180 ml
Salt-preserved herring roe, 10 (salt removed, see above, #1 in the picture below).

In the food processor, I mixed the first three ingredients (warming the sake may help softten the sake lee, #2 in the picture below)
In a sealable container, I put 1/3 of the marinade and placed a layer of cheese cloth (#3)
I then arrange the herring roe in one layer (#4).
I covered the herring roe with another cheese cloth and spread 1/3 of the marinade on top.
I made another identical layer and finished with the last 1/3 of the marinade.

Salmon kelp roll 鮭の昆布巻き
One New Year several years ago, we received commercial salmon kelp roll from Hokkaido as a gift from one of our Japanese friends. My wife, sort of, challenged me whether I could make it and I accepted the challenge.

Kelp: A good dried kelp–one that gets soft when cooked and is therefore good for eating. “Hidaka” 日高 kelp is especially desirable, since it gets softer more quickly than other types of kelp such as Rausu 羅臼 or Rishiri 利尻 kelp. I soaked a 5-6 inch long piece of dried “Hidaka” kelp in water until it returned to its “natural state” and became pliable (30 minutes to 1 hour). I used 4 strips to make 8 good sized rolls. I trimmed the ragged ends to make a nice rectangular piece. I reserved the soaking liquid.

This is mostly to tie up the rolls so they don’t unravel but it does have some texture and taste. I washed and then massaged several pieces of kanpyo with salt and washed again. I soaked it in water for 30 minutes to one hour but did not cook it.

Salmon: I used fresh salmon. I cut the fillet into 1/2 inch wide strips with the skin left on. I trimmed the end to make it fit the width of the kelp.

I rolled the kelp around the salmon strip in the center and tied it off in two places using the kanpyou as shown below (this pictures is after cooking).
To prevent it from sticking, I could have put dried bamboo leaves on the bottom of the pan (but darn I was fresh out). I just used additional hydrated kelp to line the bottom (it will stick to the bottom but the rolls do not).
I placed all 4 rolls in a shallow pan in which they fit snugly (I used a square Pyrex baking pan with a glass lid). I then poured in the kelp soaking liquid. Since I also had a soaking liquid left over from rehydrating dried shiitake mushrooms (used in another dish), and the mushrooms had imparted some good flavor to the liquid I also added that. I added sake (2-3 tbs) as well. The kelp rolls should be just covered with water.
I simmered it with the lid on for 1 hour or until the kelp is soft.

The seasoning is essentially sweet and salty (soy sauce) which is a typical Japanese seasoning. As a rule, the “sweet” of the seasoning is added first. So I added sugar (1 tsp) over the rolls and let it simmer for 5 minutes with an otoshibuta 落 とし蓋.
I then added more sugar (1 tsp) and soy sauce (1 tbs) and simmered it for 10-15 minutes.
At the end of  cooking, the liquid was reduced in half. At the very end, I added mirin (2 tsp) and soy sauce (2 tsp) for a fresh taste.
Again, the seasoning is up to your liking; you could add more sugar, mirin and soy sauce. I did not want to season it too strongly. I let it cool in the cooking liquid. The picture above (norio there is no picture above) shows it after it cooled and was ready to be cut.

Datemaki 伊達巻
I originally got this recipe from my mother. Using hanpen はんぺん fish cake instead of ground white fish flesh or "surimi" すり身 makes this recipe very easy.

Ingredients :
Hanpen fish cake, one (about 100grams) (I use previously frozen, see #1 below).
Mirin  1tbs
(Originally I used a food processor but I modified to use my immersion blender which make it easier - no need to beat eggs ahead of time and cleaning is also much easier)

1. Cut thawed hanpen into small 1/4 inch cubes add to the mixing container and add the eggs and seasoning (#2 in the picture below).
2. Using an immersion blender process until smooth (#3).
3. In a Japanese Omelet pan (12cm x15cm) on low flame, add a small mount of vegetable oil to cover the bottom and add the egg mixture (#4).
4. Fold a piece of greased aluminum foil over the top of the pan. Then cover over the the aluminum cover pan (I also place a small baking pan, #5).
5. After 10-15 minutes, it is mostly cooked only leaving a center portion to be still somewhat underdone (#5).

6. Flip it over using a spatula and cook the other side for 2-3 minutes (#7).
7. Tip the omelet onto a bamboo sushi mat* as seen below (I am not sure which side should be down but I like the darker side up (which becomes the inside of the roll). I score the surface (#8).
8. Slowly roll and tie the mat with a kitchen twine or rubber bands (#9).
9. Let it cool down for 30-40 minutes and unroll the sushi mat (#10).
10. Cut off both the ragged ends (this is a snack for the chef) (#11).
11. I like the darker inner lines (#12) but sometime I did the light side in (the bottom picture)

*If you have it, for Datemaki one should use a special kind of rolling mat called "Oni-sudare" 鬼すだれ which will make deeper indentation on the surface of the roll.

Russian marinated Salmon 鮭のロシアずけ
I also served marinated salmon which is my mother’s recipe. This salmon dish is called “Russian marinated salmon” ロシア漬け and my mother does not know how the dish got the name or where she got the recipe*. Of course, I made my contribution (read modification) to the recipe since I think the pith of the lemon imparts a bitter taste to the dish.

Essentially, I slice fresh salmon (the original recipe uses salt preserved salmon “aramaki shake” 新巻鮭) fillet paper thin, layered with sliced onion, lemon zest (grated by a micrograter), lemon slices (without the rind and pith). As I lay on the new salmon layer I salt it. The marinade it in a mixture of sake, vegetable oil and rice vinegar (1:1:3) but I reduced the amount of oil. I tightly pack the salmon in a seal-able container and let it marinade for a few days. The picture below is this dish served stand alone on the next day.

*I googled ( “鮭のロシア漬け” the marinated salmon recipe and found this blog (in Japanese). The recipe is a very similar to my mother’s.  According to this blogger, her mother got the recipe from a Japanese magazine “Kurashi no techo” 暮らしの手帖. The recipe is reportedly published in the section called “Apron memo” quite a number of years ago, although the exact year is unclear. Even though the blogger mentioned the recipe was published some time ago, I was eating this as a kid and it is possible my mother’s recipe predates even that publication.

Daikon Namsu 大根なます
Daikon, peeled, sliced across or on bias then julienned
Carrot, Peeled, sliced on bias and then julienned

Rice vinegar 1 part
Sugar 1/2 part
Salt a pinch
Japanese red pepper, hydrated then cut into thin rings (optional)
Yuzu juice (optional)
Mirin, Light colored soy sauce (small splash, optional)

Place all the ingredients except for Yuzu juice in a pan on medium-low flame and mix and disolve the sugar completely. Let it cool to the room temperature.

Salt and kneed the daikon and carrot, separately, let it sit for 10-15 minutes and squeeze out excess moisture (it was said that if you mix the daikon and carrot before adding the dressing, vitamin C was destroyed, which I did not confirm).

Add the daikon and carrot in the vinegar mixture in a seal-able container and keep it in a refrigerator for at least one day before eating.

Chicken patty with pine nuts and miso or "Matsukaze" chicken patty 松風焼き
I do not know when I adapted this dish for our New Year cuisine, I have been making this this for some years. It is miso flavored chicken patty with pine nuts in it. The name "Matsu-kaze" 松風 means "wind over the pine tree" must be referring to the use of pine nuts. In the picture below, I cut this into the shape of "Hagoita"羽子板 (badminton-like game which was traditionally played by girls during the New Year celebration but the the racket or Hagoita is now totally decorative) and garnished it with dried "aonori" 青のり. Here I served this with salmon kelp roll and "Matsu-mae zuke" 松前漬け.

Ground Chicken 250 grams
One egg beaten
Miso 2 tbs
Light colored soy sauce 1 tbs
Sugar 2 tsp
Bread crumbs (panko) 4 tbs
Flour 2 tbs
Mirin 1tbp
Pine nuts, roasted, 3tbs
White sesame seeds, aonori, and poppy seeds (optional).

1. Mix all the ingredients except for pine nuts in a food processor (or mixing bowl) and mix well. Add and mix pine nuts.
2. In a small baking sheet, oil the bottom and place the parchment paper cut into size so that it will adherent to the bottom.
3. Using a spatula, spread out the chicken mixture in to 1/2 inch (1.5 cm) thick to fill the bottom of the baking sheet.
4. Cook for 20 minutes in a pre-heated toaster oven at 350F.
5. After its cooled, cut the patty into rectangles or in to a shape of "hagoita".
If so desired, brush the surface with mirin and press either the sesame, aonori or poppy seeds on the surface.

Chicken patty with dried fig and Gorgonzola いちじくとブルーチーズの松風焼き
I found this recipe on line which is a variation of "Matsukaze-yaki".

Ground chicken: About 400grams.
Dried figs: We used dried mini mission figs. The amount is arbitrary but as far as I can tell, the more the better.
Gorgonzola cheese: we tried American made from goat cheese (mild) and one from whole cow’s milk (stronger). Both worked fine but we liked the stronger one, crumbled the amount arbitrary.
Eggs: two large
Olive oil: 2 tsp.

Using a silicon spatula, I mixed the ground chicken, gorgonzola cheese, dried figs, and eggs and olive oil. I oiled the bottom of a small rectangular baking sheet lined with parchment paper. I spread the mixture to make about half an inch thick layer (see below).

I baked it in a toaster oven (in convection oven mode) preheated at 350F for 20 minutes or until done.*

Because of the parchment paper lining, it came out easily in one sheet. I cut it into  rectangles.  This is a totally new flavor for this dish. Sweet nutty dried figs and salty and a bit sharp Gorgonzola is indeed nice flavor combination and made this dish more Western than Japanese. It goes well with wine or Champagne.

*This was the second try. I made this in a rectangular frying pan covered with aluminum foil as the original recipe suggested. It became sort of steam/baked and produced a large amount of liquid and when I opened the lid, it was floating in the liquid. All the cheese appeared to have leached out and it was dry and did not taste good. My toaster over baking method worked much better. If I am going with a frying pan method, I will not cover it while it is cooking.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Saltwater packed uni and uni shutou from Maruhide 丸秀の海水生うにとウニの酒盗

We recently found a new place called "Maruhide" 丸秀 to get good fresh California uni. After Christmas, we decided to order their sampler of uni for the New Year. This included fresh uni packed in saltwater, a metal tray of fresh uni, 5 different kinds of uni shuto** ウニ酒盗, and frozen uni shuto "ruibe*" 雲丹酒盗-ルイベ.

*"Ruibe" is a word derived from the Ainu アイヌ, the endogenous people of my home island Hokkaido. Roughly translated, it means "thawing food".  In the severe cold of Hokkaido, salmon harvested in early winter quickly froze. In its frozen state, it was sliced thinly and served semi-frozen or over hot rice where it thawed--hence thawing food.

The picture below shows the fresh uni packed in saltwater. It was not treated with any preservative. The only problem was that I could not bust into it no matter how hard I tried. My wife came to the rescue. Wielding a sharp knife, she cut around the lid to open it. After all these "pyrotechnics", we discovered there was a little tab that released the lid very easily--next time we'll know better.

With all the excitement of opening the container, I forgot to take pictures. We divided the contents into two generous servings and enjoyed it with wasabi and soy sauce. I must say this was the one of the best uni we have ever tasted.

**"Shuto" 酒盗:  These two letters literally mean "sake" and "stealing". The origin of this name reportedly came from the allegation that shuto is so good with sake that when people run out of sake while eating it, they are compelled to obtain more sake even if they have to steal it. There is a similar preparation called  "shio-kara" 塩辛 or, as my wife calls it, "squid and guts". It is made of strips of raw squid salted and fermented with squid guts (mostly liver) which we really like and is also perfect with sake. Shuto appears to have originated and become popular in Kochi 高知 prefecture on Shikoku island 四国. This island is famous for "Katsuo" 鰹 or bonito fishing. Instead of discarding the innards (stomach and intestine), they cut them up, salt, and ferment for 1 year or more. According to what I read,  the digestive enzymes present in the innards ferment and preserve the fish guts. Many variations incorporating different flavorings and using bonito flesh instead of innards as well as other fish exist but I have not tried them. "Uni shuto" appears not to contain fish innards.

Here are the five different kinds of "Uni Shuto" in small jars that we received in our shipment. They were originally frozen but as we received them on ice packs, they were semi-thawed. It appears that they could have been immediately frozen again and would have lasted a few more months in the freezer. I only put the "Ruibe" in the freezer and tried all five shuto at once. As per the instructions that came with the products, after they are thawed, we should finish them as soon as possible (whatever that means). We had these during the next 5 days and they were OK. I decided to use the small serving containers we acquired at Nishiki Market in Kyoto 京都錦市場 which were the perfect size for this. I served the raw uni from the metal tray in the last container for comparison.

To our surprise, the uni in the jar are almost whole. They were not too salty at all. The five flavors are shown below.

The picture below shows what the uni shuto looks like.

Although, the raw uni is the ultimate standard, these shuto are very good. We liked "olive oil"and then "original" the best. "With chili" was not too spicy and was also really good. "Chili and Yuzu" is flavored with "Yuzu-kosho" 柚子胡椒 and its flavor was a bit too strong for the delicate uni. "With squid" was good but my wife felt that the "squid" was taking up too much space from the uni. Nevertheless, this is a great find. According to "Maruhide", these are original products only available from Maruhide, Long Beach, CA. So this is a unique "American" product. Definitely, great with sake and I have to report that while eating this, my wife was indeed caught stealing some of my sake when she ran out.  We have to wait to taste "Uni Ruibe" at a later time.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Sea Urchin from Maruhide 丸秀の特選生うに

We are always looking out for new sources of sashimi items. Although Catalina Offshore products have been our go-to place, in recent years, quality tuna マグロ and sea urchins うに have been hard to come by. For uni sea urchin, we found an excellent alternative. It is a company called "Maruhide" 丸秀 from Long Beach. Uni is harvested off Santa Barbara. By far, the quality and careful preparation and packaging are the best. It tends to be a bit expensive but not overly so. It comes in a metal box with a transparent plastic front. The uni is sandwiched between the bottom sponge sheet and the top special absorbent pad (see below) so it doesn't slide around in the box getting turned to mush during shipment. This is 3.52oz or about 100 grams.

Upon opening, it is nicely shaped with the bright yellow color of California Uni.

As soon as we received it, we had to taste it. So, we had a small amount around lunch time. It was indeed sublime. Creamy but not too soft or liquefied. Although it is treated with alum or myoban ミョウバンas per the back label, we did not detect a chemical or bitter taste, which sometimes happened especially with U.S. prepared uni. Actually, the company also sells uni soaked in salt water that doesn't use myoban, This product is called "uni in salt water" 生うに海水パック or Shiomizu-uni 塩水うに which we would like to try next.

In the evening, we had more uni as sashimi. Since we did not have any other sashimi items, we had uni with avocado slices and skinned and sliced Campari tomato.  As a "shime" ending dish for the evening, I made a small donburi with golden egg threads, nori, and cucumber over vinegared rice.

The next day, we finished up two trays of uni with another simpler version of uni donburi. I also made a sort of salad with cucumber, tomato, broccoli, wakame sea weed and shrimp dressed in kimisu 黄身酢.

This version of donburi made with only nori worked better since we could really enjoy the uni.

This is by far the best uni we can have had either in restaurants or at home.

This time I got the uni with kazunoko 数の子 from JAL Shopping but we learned that we can also get uni directly from Maruhide.

Digression addendum:
We recently had a snow storm (the first measurable accumulation of the year). The temperatures were very low with highs in the low 20's. This was the scene at the feeder in our backyard. Depending on how you count them there are over 20 birds lined up to get on the feeder. Most of them were cardinals.

We often supplement the feeder by distributing peanuts. Everybody loves peanuts--birds, squirrels and we have even observed foxes eating the peanuts we put out).  The cardinals beg for peanuts when they see us at the window. On this day, a female cardinal came and pecked at the window next to which we were sitting. In response, we got up to put out the peanuts shown below--who is better trained the cardinal or us?

This male cardinal is posing for his close-up.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Norio's new Izakaya cookbooks 2015 and 16

Apparently I forgot to add the link to my 2015 Izakaya cookbook (volume 7 1/1/2015-12/31/2015).  I added the link below (1/9/2017). 2016 version is also coming which you can purchase.  PDF files of all cookbooks are also available from the link posted under the image. These links are available in the "Norio's Izakaya cookbooks" tab in the header.

Volume 8: (1/1/16-12/31/16)
Volume 7: (1/1/15-12/31/15)
Volume 6: (1/1/14-12/31/14)
Volume 5: (1/1/13-12/31/13)
Volume 4: (1/1/12-12/31/12)
Volume 3: (1/1/11-12/31/11)
Volume 2: (5/1/10-12/31/10)
Volume 1: (9/5/09-4/30/10)

Monday, January 9, 2017

100% buck wheat soba 十割蕎麦

As a part of the Sushi Taro Osechi box, we also got Chef Kitayama's 100% buckwheat flour soba noodles or "Juwari soba" 十割蕎麦 ("Juwari" in Japanese means 100%). This year, a concentrated sauce was also provided. As I mentioned before, making soba from 100% buckwheat flour is very difficult (20% regular wheat and 80% buckwheat flour is most common). Using 100% buckwheat represents Chef Kitayama's prowess and passion for soba making. As before we could not eat it as "Toshi koshi soba" 年越しそば or "Welcoming-New-Year soba", so we had this as a lunch on January 2, hoping it would bring us the same good luck as having the soba on New Year's eve.

Since it was rather cold outsdie, we decided to have it warm.

It does not show well but I added mitsu-ba ミツバ as garnish.

The picture below was before pouring in the soup. I diluted the accompanied sauce with my dashi broth (from kelp and bonito flakes I made few days ago).

As a topping, I used red and white fish cake 紅白蒲鉾 in a decorative cut. I also added New Year's omelet roll or Datemaki 伊達巻 that I made. I garnished it with chopped scallion and mitsuba.

The 100% buckwheat flour noodles had a unique texture unlike standard soba noodles. It was nicely firm, slightly brittle with a lovely fresh soba smell. We also detected a slight nutty flavor. We really enjoyed this distinctive artisan soba very much.