Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Saturday, October 13, 2007
My first trip to Japan began in the autumn, so some of my earliest memories are of frigid evenings and the foods that go with them. The Japanese tradition of nabe-ryori or "pot cooking" covers a wide variety of stock based soups and stews. The kitchen menu of most Japanese restaurants in the states will include staples like nabeyaki udon, a rich soup of vegetables and thick noodles. I've even seen some places that make shabu shabu, a soup cooked at the table in a large nabe pot and featuring raw ingredients (meat, veggies, tofu, etc.) that the diners place in boiling stock and cook to their own desired doneness. Less frequently seen on menus here is oden, a braised vegetable dish that is often served in sake bars and from streetside rolling carts on cold winter nights. For some reason I've had oden on my mind these last few days so I decided it would be a good way to inaugurate the season.
Oden can consist of many ingredients, but one thing that it must contain is daikon radish. In addition, for tonight's dinner I included shiitake mushrooms, potato, carrot, two types of fish cakes (kamaboko & chikuwa), konnyaku (yam cake), peeled hard boiled eggs and cubes of deep fried tofu.
The first step is to create the braising liquid. I have several clay nabe pots, but none are big enough for this dish. Instead I used a stainless steel Korean braising pot, into which I placed a square of konbu kelp and water. As the pot came to a boil, I added two teaspoons of instant dashi powder and seasoned to taste with the Japanese trinity (equal parts of soy sauce, sake, and mirin).
All of the ingredients were cut into bite sized pieces and added to the broth. The pot was returned to a boil, covered and the heat reduced to a simmer. I cooked the dish for about 90 minutes, until everything was very tender.
Spoon the ingredients into serving bowls, along with a little of the stock. Japanese like to add a little spicy Chinese-style mustard to each bite, and drink sake with their oden. Sounds like a great way to warm the body on a cold evening doesn't it?
Friday, August 24, 2007
The fishermen in this town used to harvest more than a million tons of herring per season, but due to overfishing this decreased to only 100 tons by 1955. Still, Pacific herring come back to Hokkaido every spring to spawn, and people love to eat them grilled. At this cafeteria, they grilled all the seafood to order.
Here are some botan ebi (giant crayfish), scallops in the shell,
and tsubu kai (small conch) being grilled.
Three waitresses putting seafood on the grill
as customers order it.
Normally we eat grilled food with just salt on them, or a little bit of soy sauce. No heavy BBQ sauce. We love simple seasonings to get the most out of the taste of seafood. The tsubu kai looks like a turban shell, and you have to pick the meat with toothpick. I know they do not look so appetizing, but who cares about how they look? It tasted a little bit like something between clam and octopus, if you can imagine the taste. Maybe not... But I really liked them. I knew that they were fresh out of ocean, grilled to order, with just a little bit of soy sauce, and they were hot when they came off the grill.
The other place I went during my visit to Japan was this yakitori place, near Iidabashi station in Tokyo. One of my best friends took me there. The place was very tiny, with just a counter and 4 tables. The restaurant is also a butcher shop, and all of the meat on the menu is from their store. When Japanese grill a chicken, it’s not just meat that we eat. We eat the organ meat and nearly everything but the feathers.
The top two skewers are kidneys, the bottom two are hearts.
It was very hot that day, so that draft beer tasted really good.
A typical yakitori-ya (-ya means a house) offers a variety of grilled meat and vegetables, and we order them by the skewer as we drink and enjoy casual conversation among friends about work and relationships. The seasoning is usually either just salt or tare, which means a sauce, similar to teriyaki, made with soy sauce, sake, sugar, and some other secret ingredients special to that particular yakitori-ya you are at. At this place we went in Tokyo, everything we ate was seasoned with just right amount of salt. Personally I prefer salt to sauce, because sauce tends to hide the taste of whatever I am having.
The next dish was two each of:
foie gras , quail eggs, tails, and the gizzards.
Next we ate the cartilage from the center of the
breast bone. This is a particular Japanese thing that
I really love grilled with a little salt!
Yes, we eat chicken tails! The tail is nothing but skin and fat. The skin was crunchy, and it was pretty tasty. It is funny to see many Americans trim these fatty parts and throw them away. They trim chicken fat, beef fat, and the fatty part from salmon and swordfish. The fatty part on the fish is usually the belly part, and that’s actually the best part you can have healthwise, but many Americans don’t realize this. They always like to go low fat, then eat an entire pound of whatever they ordered, totally overeating and that’s why there is this epidemic of obesity. Anyway, if you consume everything in moderation, you would not have to worry about the fat content too much. Besides chicken fat is very tasty (think schmaltz). Anyway, I had a great time with my best friend, drinking beer, eating yakitori and talking about life….
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Even though I am Japanese, when I go back to Japan, it always surprises me how much raw food is offered. If it is fresh, we eat it raw. Not only seafood is served raw, but also eggs, horse meat, chicken, beef, you name it Japanese will eat it. Anyway, at this izakaya, I had great raw seafood, especially a Pacific fish called sanma in Japanese (the English name is saury but I don’t think it is well known in the west). Sanma is normally grilled, and I had never eaten it as sashimi until this trip. When I put a piece of sanma sashimi in my mouth, it literally melted. The taste was actually similar to yellowtail (hamachi). It was very fatty, and had a little bit nutty flavor. The eyes of the fish were so clear and skin so very bright and shiny, you could tell that it was caught on the same day it was served. That sanma was the most memorable raw fish I had that night.
Then there were of course scallops and shrimp, which are famous in Hokkaido. The special Hokkaido variety of shrimp, called Botan ebi, is very sweet and normally served with its head on. You are supposed to suck out the green stuff from the head and also eat the eggs on its belly if you are lucky enough to have it. It actually looks like a giant Maine shrimp, with a bright pink shell and transparent body. The one I had that night was about 20cm (8 inches) in length. The meat was plump and very sweet. The head had an intense flavor like concentrated fish stock. If you have ever had pasta with squid ink in Venice, you can imagine a taste similar to that. Not fishy at all, just very flavorful.
Botan ebi, tuna, salmon, scallops, and a local clam called Hokki kai.
The scallops from Hokkaido are known for their large size. They were delicious, and of course very sweet. That’s it for now. I will keep writing about other great food I had in Japan for the next few days. Stay tuned….
Monday, August 20, 2007
Monday, August 13, 2007
The name Jon from Connecticut is a reference to my call in name on the Martha Stewart channel of Sirius satellite radio. I mainly call in to Morning Living with Dean Olsher and Betsy Karetnick, but I've also appeared on a few of the other shows like Living Today, Everyday Food and Eat Drink. For serious foodies, there really is nothing better than Martha's channel as a live, interactive medium for exchanging ideas.
Friday, August 10, 2007
Mario makes this with a butter crust, which I have also done and it is fantastic but a little on the heavy side. Using a yeast dough yields something a little more rustic and not nearly as greasy. For the filling you can use pretty much anything, as long as you start with a filled pasta (tortellini is traditional, but I have also done it with ravioli). I always alternate a ground meat product (cooked meatballs or sausage) and a vegetable (kale is great, but today I was in the mood for mushrooms).
In this case, I have a spring form pan lined with parchment paper, bechamel (Italian cream sauce flavored with nutmeg), cooked tortellini, slices of cooked Italian sausage, sauteed mushrooms and shredded cheese.
Line the pan with rolled out dough, ladle in some
bechamel and a layer of tortellini.
Layer with sauteed mushrooms.
Add a layer of sausage.
Cover with more bechamel and a layer of shredded cheese.
Repeat the layers lasagna style, until you reach the top of the pan.
Top with a layer of dough and crimp edges.
Bake at 450 for 1 hr 20 minutes.
Unmold and cool completely on a cake rack.
Slice with an electric knife and enjoy.
This is a very dense pie which is a complete meal in itself. Slice it very thin and serve with a little simple tomato sauce. Chiko's coming home on Monday, so we should be back to Japanese cooking next week!