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!
Monday, August 6, 2007
Rice, miso soup, broiled fish and takuan (pickled daikon radish).
These days, many Japanese have fallen into the habit of jumping out of bed and running to catch the bus, subway, etc. without breakfast or they grab a piece of toast, a donut or whatever. When the weekend falls around or if they happen to be staying in a resort hotel or Ryokan (a Japanese style B&B), the menu will revert to a traditional Japanese breakfast. It doesn't get much simpler than this, and yet it is hearty, filling and totally Japanese. If you prefer eggs for breakfast, try medamayaki (fried eyeballs). Take a non-stick pan and melt a little butter in it over medium heat, add an egg and cook it sunny side up. When the white begins to turn opaque, drizzle the egg with a little soy sauce and put a lid on the pan. Cook for another minute or so, steaming the egg to your desired amount of doneness.
Saturday, July 21, 2007
Saturday, July 14, 2007
Following my phone call to Tony Bourdain I had Takoyaki on the mind so I searched around, found my special pan and whipped up a batch for breakfast today. I couldn't get octopus, so I substituted squid (legs only), which I boiled and chopped into bite size pieces. For the batter, I combined one egg, 3/4 cup of flour, 3/4 tsp baking soda and 1/2 cup dashi (the batter was a little too thick so next time I will try equal parts dashi and flour).
While the pan preheated, I assembled my mise en place, which consisted of the chopped squid legs, finely diced ginger and thinly sliced scallions.
To cook the takoyaki, I filled each recess in the takoyaki pan halfway with the batter, then placed several chunks of squid legs in the batter, sprinkled with ginger and scallion and topped with more batter.
Using a wooden barbecue skewer, I loosened each takoyaki ball from their individual compartments and then turned them over to cook the other side.
To serve, I arranged the balls on a plate, drizzled with Japanese Worcester sauce (see our first post for info on this ingredient), and sprinkled with bonito flakes. Eat with chopsticks or by stabbing a ball with a toothpick and popping it in your mouth!
I'm still trying to find a way to make this dish without the special takoyaki pan. One thought is to make the batter thicker and drop it on to a griddle in silver dollar pancake size, then top with the rest of the ingredients, pressing them down into the batter before it sets. You will end up with a flatter pancake like product instead of the characteristic ball shape, but the flavor will be the same. I was also wondering if I could make this in small ring molds, placed on a hot griddle.... Gotta play with that idea.
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Wikipedia has a pretty good description of takoyaki:
Hardcore fans can search the internet and find a takoyaki pan, but it would probably be what Alton Brown calls a "unitasker". Chiko and I are playing around with ideas for a takoyaki-like recipe without the need for special equipment. Stay tuned for an update.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Our annual family reunion always includes fantastic food, but how could I tie it into our campaign for good Japanese food? And then it appeared…. neatly arrayed on it’s disposable tray, all brightly colored and geometrically organized with it’s little cup of piped out faux wasabi. The bane of our existence….. supermarket sushi. Purchased by a well intentioned cousin, this was not just any supermarket sushi. This was Costco sushi! And it wasn’t just Costco sushi, this was Indiana Costco sushi (and it was a day old to boot). Chiko cast her discriminating eye on the oddly square rolls, filled with imitation crab meat and surrounded by a gelatinous white starchy substance from which it would be impossible to distinguish an actual individual grain of rice. In her always straight forward way of speaking, she simply said “Yuck, I’m not eating that!”
It’s probably not a good idea to serve
bad sushi to a Japanese fishmonger.
Bad sushi aside, this was a much needed break for the both of us. Chiko had worked eight straight days at Whole Foods, closing most nights (including July 4th). Because we had a 3:30PM flight out of Hartford, she requested the opening shift on the 5th (5:00am to 1:30) and I would need to wake up with her at 4 to drive her to work. Eight fish slinging hours later I picked her up and we headed straight to the airport. Knowing that we had a long afternoon of air travel with little opportunity for good food ahead of us, I brought along one of my homemade multigrain baguettes, some prosciutto and a soft brie like cheese from Iceland that I grabbed in WFM while waiting for Chiko to finish her shift. We boarded our flight and the pilot proceeded to pull away from the gate and then made that announcement we all hate to hear. Bad weather over Pennsylvania meant we would be delayed while air traffic controllers tried to find an alternate route and oh by the way, unfortunately the air conditioning wasn’t working and it would be very uncomfortable in the 90 plus degree weather. While all around us nerves frayed, experienced frequent fliers that we are, Chiko broke out the baguette, brie and prosciutto and we ate. Silently munching away I wondered what our plane mates were thinking about our impromptu meal (or if they even noticed).
After several more delays we arrived in Indiana, headed to my uncle's farm and hit the sack for some much needed sleep. Friday broke clear and warm, and following breakfast, my cousin Dan and I hit the road to start working on dinner. Lunch time arrived and we were still out shopping so Dan proposed a true American classic, burgers from the drive through at White Castle. We grabbed a sack of Jalapeno/Cheese Sliders, onion rings and two "medium sized" Diet Coke's that were so huge they didn't fit into the cup holders on my rental car. A local resident walked past proud as a peacock with his mullet and Nascar t-shirt with the sleeves cut off and Dan commented "Check out that redneck!" (as we sat in a Walmart parking lot eating our little mini burgers and each drinking from our own Methuselah of Diet Coke). Tonight's dinner would be my "Texas" Pot Roast (slow smoked chuck underblade roast, dry rubbed with spices and sliced brisket style).
Rubbed and ready to go
In the smoker
Six hours later
Because the theme for this year's reunion was Sicily, we would be serving pasta, eggplant parmigiana and I would incorporate some morrocan spices, pine nuts and raisins into the sauce for the meat. For dessert I made individual cups of panna cotta, in a choice of three flavors (almond, coffee and vanilla). Rather than using my Aunt's small farmhouse kitchen, we cooked everything outside either in the smoker or on the BBQ grill. We even used it for the eggplant parm and for baking bread.
Grilled eggplant slices
Dress with a little homemade sauce
Cheese and fresh herbs
Back on the warming rack of the grill till cooked through
Homemade whole wheat Ciabatta baked on the BBQ grill
(indirect heat, 500 degrees for 30 minutes)
Saturday's dinner would be roast pork, grilled chicken, sausages, brats etc. Aunt Carol had already done all the shopping for this, so all I had to do was cook. A couple of picnic shoulders got rubbed and put in the smoker first thing in the morning, and then I was free until two hours before dinner when I would need to start grilling the rest of the meat.
Pork in the smoker
This left time for a couple games of Whiffle Ball. When we started this family reunion, I was 19 and the youngest of 13 cousins. As the years progressed, a few of my cousins had kids and we would accommodate the little ones into our ball games, letting them try to bat and run the bases. We grown ups intentionally dropped simple pop flies, threw wildly past the cutoff man and the ball sailed into the neighbors corn field as a four year-old stumbled around the bases. In fact every child's at bat remarkably resulted in an inside the park home run, although we never let them know that their runs didn't count. As I approached the ball field I saw these kids (now 13 or 14) performing the same antics for their younger cousins and I thought how nice it is to have family.
Whiffle ball on Frankie and Bobbie Memorial Field
After Whiffle Ball and a dip in the pool, time to check on the pork and start getting the grill ready. For pulled pork I would use Boston Butt and take it to an internal temp of 195 degrees, but since we were going to slice this I took it off at 175 and got to work on the grill.
Cooked to perfection
Sliced and ready to serve
I par-cooked the chicken in the smoker for about an hour then finished it on the grill alongside with sausages. Sweet corn, fresh from the field, was boiled and dinner was ready.
Whose gonna ring the dinner bell?
Thursday, July 5, 2007
If you can find this ingredient give it a try.
Tuesday, July 3, 2007
Some people eat to live but we truly live to eat. A perfect day in our lives involves a trip to a winery, brewery or farmer's market, followed by cooking a great meal together and sharing it with friends. While we anticipate a number of blogs, this one is focused on the food we both ate at home in Japan. Japanese restaurants in the U.S. are great, and they are ubiquitous, and yet they are not what the average Japanese person eats at home.
Let's get one thing straight, sushi is a special occasion treat.... wedding food if you will. The average Japanese person eats sushi only a few times a year, but what do they eat the rest of the time? Perhaps they go to a hibachi restaurant and sit in front of an enormous grill while a red-toqued chef screams and throws food at them.... Let's get real.
Japan is to Asia what Italy is to Europe. It is a long skinny country with water on both sides and mountains in the middle. Japan has access to great seafood and vegetables. Cows take up a lot of space, which is one resource that is scarce in a skinny little country with lots of mountains. Kobe beef (like Chianina in Tuscany) is a luxury that very few people can find or afford. Pigs and chickens are a little easier to raise, so those are the meats most often eaten. The Japanese cooking style is minimalistic and focused on the quality of the raw ingredients with simple seasonings.
As You Like It:
What better recipe to start with than Okonomiyaki? Okonomiyaki is the Japanese version of New York's "dirty water dog". It is served in train stations, diners and from push carts across Japan, but is particularly popular in Osaka and Hiroshima. Literally translated, it means "The stuff you like; fried!" Yaki means grilled or fried and is seen in the names of many Japanese dishes (teriyaki, sukiyaki, etc.). Okonomi literally means "as you like it" but is often mis-translated in sushi-speak as "a la carte" (which of course in French simply means "off the menu").
Okonomiyaki is sometimes called Japanese pizza, but is more closely related to the omelet and the crepe. For the Japanese working mom, Okonomiyaki is the equivalent of a refrigerator clean out meal. Start with a crepe batter, then add cabbage and "whatever you like". Traditional items include bacon and squid (calamari), but you can put in whatever you want (or whatever is lying around in the fridge). Left over sausage? Last night's steamed carrots? If it tastes good sauteed, it probably tastes good in okonomiyaki. The technique is simple:
1 cup all purpose flour
2/3 cup dashi (bonito stock) or water
1/4 lb squid rough chopped into bite size pieces
2 cups green cabbage shredded into coleslaw sized strips (use a hard cabbage not Asian or Napa cabbage which is too delicate and watery)
1/4 cup rough chopped scallions
1/4 cup julienned beni-shoga (Japanese red pickled ginger)
1/4 lb bacon strips, cut in half
Japanese Worcester Sauce (we like Bulldog brand, or you can make your own by mixing tomato ketchup and worcestershire sauce to your own taste)
Electric Griddle or Large Non-stick Fry Pan
Two Pancake Spatulas
If using the electric griddle, place it in the center of the table and have your family/friends gather round, usually with a glass of beer or mugicha (unsweetened iced barley tea). If you don't have a griddle, have everyone grab a beverage and come into the kitchen to watch you do this in a frying pan at the range. (This is community cooking after all!) In a large mixing bowl, lightly beat the egg, then add the flour, dashi or water and stir a few times to combine. Mix in the rest of the ingredients for the batter, it will be very thick and chunky from all the vegetables. Lightly oil the griddle or frying pan, it is essential that you have a well lubricated surface or the pancake will stick. Cook half the bacon over medium high heat till brown on both sides, try to keep the bacon relatively flat. Mound half the batter on top of the bacon and flatten it with the back of a pancake spatula to about an inch thick and roughly eight inches in diameter. The wet part of the batter will start to spread out from the pancake, using the tip of the spatula, go around the pancake pushing the batter back toward the center of the pancake until it sets up. Cook about seven to eight minutes, or until a nice golden brown crust has formed on the bottom and the outer edge of the pancake is fully set. Now comes the tricky part (and the thing that will impress your guests if you do it right!) Take a pancake spatula in each hand, and work them under the pancake from opposite sides. Lift and flip the pancake in one fluid motion to the delight and amazement of your guests. If the pancake breaks apart don't worry, just push the pieces back together with the spatulas and uncooked portion of the batter will stick together as it continues to cook. Cook about five to six minutes more until golden brown and delicious on both sides. Remember that this pancake is thick and needs to cook through. Use a spatula to cut into the top and take a peek. It should be moist in the center but cooked. The cabbage will be 'al dente' when it is done. Move the pancake to a serving plate and repeat these steps with the remaining ingredients to make a second pancake. The nice thing about cooking at the table is that you can eat the first pancake while the second one is cooking. To serve, spread a layer of mayonnaise on top of the pancake, then sprinkle on the worcester sauce and dried bonito flakes. Using the tip of the spatula, cut straight down into the pancake and portion it out in wedges like a pizza. Serve on small plates with chop sticks.